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Katrina Barry, Contiki: Travel to change the world

With sustainable tourism fast climbing the travel and tourism agenda, we’re discussing the topic with travel industry leaders and change makers and asking them how they think we can #Traveltochangetheworld.

With sustainable tourism fast climbing the travel and tourism agenda, we’re discussing the topic with travel industry leaders and change makers and asking them how they think we can #Traveltochangetheworld.

In our latest ‘Travel to change the world’ interview, Katrina Barry, Managing Director of Contiki shares her thoughts and ideas on how we can all do our bit to sustain the industry and leave a legacy of goodness.


What was it that inspired you to join the travel industry?


I am a relative ‘newbie’, only joining Contiki three years ago so you could say this is my very first job in the travel industry.

However, I’ve always been a passionate traveller. I’ve lived and worked across 5 countries and, throughout my life, travelled 61 countries.

So, when Contiki approached me, and I learnt more about what they do to help young people see the world – it was a natural fit between all my passions – developing people, developing businesses and seeing the world. It’s a win, win situation.


What concerns you about the industry today in terms of its long-term viability?

Cambodia Laos - contiki

A key risk in today’s industry is not embracing the experience economy or the democratisation of travel.  For example whilst Airbnb has revolutionised the accommodation market, it is also harming hotels.

We can either embrace the change and seek to reinvent our business models to take advantage of these shifts or resist. Let’s use Barcelona as an example where, as a city, they are currently campaigning against Airbnb – they want organised travel, to support hotels etc.

Ultimately as the saying goes, if you don’t adapt you die.   

We need to embrace the shifts across our travel industry and find ways to innovate with the resources available around us.


Do you think travel can change the world?

Contiki - Asian Adventure

I believe travel makes us all better humans. It’s fun, we’re having the time of our lives and we get to see the world in all its colour – the highs, lows, cultures, ethnicities, new people we meet along the way, new ways of living.

It’s these experiences that give us perspective, understanding, tolerance, and broadens our mind. This is what makes us become more well-rounded individuals and essentially better human beings – that’s enough to get me excited to get out of bed.

We’re changing lives.


Are you seeing any positive changes that you really admire? 


Across the industry, we are seeing a wave of new-age travellers increasingly looking for more authentic and local experiences with the chance to engage meaningfully rather than just see the big sights, party, take a few pictures here and there.

Slowly, people’s perceptions of and attitudes towards travel are starting to shift. We all want to learn and experience as much as possible, but we also want to leave places with a positive impact.

As a result, operators are increasingly finding ways to help travellers engage with local communities respectfully and authentically. Companies and local guides will take you to the backstreets so you can engage with locals, they’ll take you to local street food markets, and allow you to immerse yourself with a great deal of flexibility.

I admire this change across the industry as travel becomes more about enriching experiences for travellers, but also positively impacting and giving back to local communities.


What projects is Contiki undertaking in this space?

Image credit: Ock Pop Tok

Image credit: Ock Pop Tok

Our company began a partnership known as ‘Ock Pop Tok’ in mid 2016 through TTC’s TreadRight Foundation.  It seeks to support local artists and artisans via passenger engagement in the local culture in a sustainable and culturally aware manner.

Ock Pop Tok is a Laos based social enterprise working primarily in the field of textiles, handicrafts and design. Meaning “east meets west”. It brings the fascinating world of traditional Lao handicrafts alive for visitors.

Our beautiful Living Crafts Centre which overlooks the Mekong is the heart of Ock Pop Tok. It’s set in a tropical Mekong garden and serves as a resource centre for travellers to learn about textiles, crafts and culture.

Contiki’s Asian Adventure, Big Indochina and, from April 2017, the Cambodia and Laos Uncovered trips visit this place during an included bike ride around Luang Prabang. Travellers have the opportunity to observe local artisans working on their latest creation, interact and ask questions, and also purchase locally made products that have been crafted using ethically sourced materials.

This is just one example of many authentic local experiences we offer our travellers that also positively impact the local community.


What do you think is the biggest challenge the industry faces in terms of the issue of ’sustaining’ itself?

Couple trying on hats at floating market

Couple trying on hats at floating market

I think the key challenge is not embracing and integrating technology into every touchpoint along their journey.

If you’re not innovating, your brand is likely dying or falling behind. By not accepting the rapid change and fast paced nature of technology, social media and the digital world – you become late adopters to the tech game and won’t be able to sustain your brand.

Customers are demanding personalisation, fast customer service and technology that enhances their travel experience – right from the dreaming phase to the actual travel experience.

The industry is moving faster than it ever has and if we don’t sustain or adopt new technologies and new ways of thinking, we won’t make it into the next chapter.

Do you think travel can change the world? Share your comments below.