Say hello to the inspiring people in the industry who’ve chosen ‘travel for life’ as their career. They are ultra passionate, much-loved and inspire others by going above & beyond in their roles.
We spoke to Chris White, the Chief Executive Officer of Southern Cross Travel Insurance about everything from the crazy cost of medical care in the US to being able to stand in the shoes (or hiking boots) of your customer.
What is your role in your organisation and what does your day normally look like?
My title is CEO, but fundamentally I am just one of the executives who form the senior leadership team. My days are always different depending on what’s happening internally and externally.
As with many CEOs, my day is usually packed with meetings. However, I like to take an active interest in our customer experience, such as what’s happening in our contact centre, social media feedback, and our emergency assistance cases.
What is happening at your organisation that’s important for the industry to know?
Our senior leadership team has recently come together to support and lead the business through transformational change. This sort of all-encompassing change, from processes and technology right through to strategy and roles, can be confronting and challenging. It’s important that we bring everyone along on the journey.
What lesson have you learnt recently that you are now implementing?
I have always known that most people find change challenging, but I am constantly reminded that you can never over-communicate it. Given my role, I know the most about what’s going on in the business but, that’s not always the best test of our communication. So I go and ask people who are the furthest away from the decision making, to see if they know what’s going on and why.
The challenge with change is that you will sometimes make mistakes and get things wrong. Having people in your team who are comfortable telling you that is essential.
Were there any statistics that surprised you? If so what were they and why the surprise?
The cost of medical care in the US has been a real eye-opener. If you are unlucky enough to have an emergency medical event while in the USA you can expect your medical bills to mount up very quickly. A single day in hospital can cost $10,000 USD, never-mind specialist surgery or medical evacuation via air ambulance. It’s quite astounding and often underestimated by travellers.
Who inspires you within our industry?
I think the emergency assistance profession and the associated support people who look after our customers in times of absolute peril are a unique and inspiring group.
When the chips are down, these are the people who respond 24/7 to care for complete strangers who can be alone, isolated and critically unwell.
It’s enormously traumatising to have a major medical event when you are far from home, especially if you are in a country where you don’t speak the local language. It takes a special kind of person to respond to that situation.
What message would you share to a student entering the industry for the first time?
Being able to stand in the shoes (or hiking boots) of your customer is crucial, no matter your role. Also, a natural curiosity and love of travel, people, cultures and exploration really helps to understand what motivates people to want to travel, as well as connect within the industry.
How did you get started within the industry?
Although my background is in financial services, this is my first rodeo in the travel sector. I have been fortunate enough to travel a lot with my family, which certainly attracted me to this role.
What is it about the travel industry that you love the most and why?
The world has become so accessible. I can’t believe how many places my two teenagers have been to, compared to myself at the same age.
A trip can be deeply planned and researched or just taken on a whim. I also love that people still have the desire and curiosity to explore and discover new places. You may not be the first person to have left fresh footprints on that deserted Thailand beach at sunset, but it can feel like you are, and that’s truly magical.
What is it about your organisation that you love and why?
Our team understands the mystique and draw of travel, but they also know how a wonderful memory can be darkened by a lost bag or sprained ankle. We all genuinely want to do what we can to help people remember the good times, rather than the bad.
Travel can be stressful and does not always go to plan — we know the things you don’t need to know about until you need our help. Customers also often send us postcards, photos and emails sharing their journeys and experiences with us, which we love to see.
What has been your most memorable trip?
About 20 years ago (before we had kids), my wife and I were island hopping around Greece, putting our student loans to good use. It was the very start of the summer season, and we were among the first batch of new tourists. What made it memorable was how the locals were enormously welcoming and grateful for the business. We had an amazing range of restaurants, beachside bars and accommodation to choose from. All the while touring quiet country roads on our mopeds – magical.
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