Say hello to the legends of the industry who’ve chosen to work in ‘travel for life’. We find out what they’ve learnt on their own personal travel journey and what insights they have to share.
These are the ultra passionate, much-loved folk that continue to inspire others by going above and beyond in their everyday roles and living the ‘travel for life’ mantra to the max.
We catch up with Darren Wright who after an illustrious career in the travel industry spanning 23 years, recently got promoted to Global Head of Branding – Leisure brand for Flight Centre Travel Group, as the Chief Brand Officer responsible for strategy and consistency.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR CAREER JOURNEY IN TRAVEL
I started in travel back in 1996 as a consultant with Flight Centre on the Gold Coast.
I was looking for a marketing role at the time but nothing was going so I started selling travel as a foot in the door. It was a good grounding to move into travel marketing but I was not a great consultant to be truthful as I was a little too relaxed in my style of selling.
I went on to become the Marketing Manager for the Flight Centre brand and then Great Holiday Escapes before leaving to be the Marketing Head of Virgin Blue airlines in the early days.
5 years on I left VA to start AirAsia X in Australia which took me to Malaysia as Chief Commercial Officer to build the airline globally. After 5 years I moved back to Australia to launch Scoot airlines, mixing my time between here and Singapore as we grew the airline across Asia before starting back at FCTG in late 2014.
I swore I wouldn’t go back to FC and always said I had the tattoo of the captain removed from my butt… But, here I am.
The last 5 years back in FC land has been incredibly enjoyable. From managing the whole of marketing across all Australian leisure brands, moving into the product space for the in-destination business and now taking on the global brand challenge to take the leisure brands to another level of customer awareness and traction.
What got you into the Travel Industry?
I have always been in the industry in some way, shape or form. As a lifeguard at ‘Wet & Wild’ on the GC in my high school days to working as a waiter at the Sheraton Mirage and various pubs around the coast during college and Uni.
I also worked in Bali as a surf guide taking paying punters surfing over my winter Uni break which really got me interested in travel and the excitement it brings people. Getting paid to surf was also a dream job.
I have an Associate Diploma in Tourism and Hospitality and a Bachelor Degree in Marketing so bringing those together made complete sense. Living in Brisbane at the time I came across Flight Centre’s story and thought “I want to work with those guys”.
The rest is history…
WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT WORKING IN THE TRAVEL INDUSTRY?
Travel is an unusual business in the way that a lot of the experience is an intangible asset in the hands of the customer, matching needs, wants and then emotions and expectations for a truly amazing travel experience could be seen as one of the toughest things a travel expert can do.
The role of the consultant is paramount to this but how a digitised experience fills the gap for quick, easy or modulated requirements are just as relevant.
The industry is one of the biggest communities I have ever experienced and it’s really enjoyable to be a part of it all.
Competition is fierce but so is loyalty and support networks are always there to help everyone get ahead.
TELL US ABOUT A RECENT, AMAZING TRAVEL EXPERIENCE
HOW HAS WORKING IN TRAVEL CHANGED YOU?
I am not sure if the industry has changed me, or more that it has shaped who I am and how I approach work and life.
Travel is a 24/7 business. We are always on the go, always looking for new opportunities to bring the excitement of travel to the front of the conversation, and always looking for new experiences and reflecting on old ones.
The airline industry, especially the LCC’s, was a tough gig. To launch a brand in a new market with little resource and high expectations versus reality was always the rub that left many customers feeling a little jaded.
I would jump on the aircraft before they departed out of the GC to Asia and thank passengers for flying with us, then I would end up throwing bags on the luggage belt in the backroom to meet on-time performance targets, or front the media for a new route announcement wearing shorts and a business shirt!
I have learnt plenty of things over time. Hard work reaps rewards, but always look for ways to work smarter, and at times it’s wise to look back to see the future.
From a marketing point of view, never think you know your customer. Let them tell you what they want and how they want it, then meet that need with agility and speed.
Most of all having fun and never taking yourself too seriously are the keys to success.
WHAT’S THE FUNNIEST THING YOU’VE EVER SEEN ON YOUR TRAVELS?
Too many things to mention, most of which are probably better shared over a Rosé or two.
However, I did fly out of London once and managed to grab my partners passport instead of mine.
I didn’t realise until the check-in lady at Heathrow said “this is not you!” and I started to argue it was until she showed me the picture.
That made me laugh, then cry!
DO YOU THINK TRAVEL CAN CHANGE THE WORLD?
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The more we travel and experience new cultures and meet new people we broaden our understanding of not only ourselves but also the people we meet.
Moving outside of our comfort zone to try something new or challenge our way of thinking makes us all better people.
Tourism can also help communities. Some of the Flight Centre teams in our Head Office have taken part in the very excellent ‘Merry Muster’ organised by Kristin Bonner.
Lots of FC employees have been bussing it out to western towns affected by drought and enjoy some long lunches, go shopping and inject some needed tourism spending into those communities as well as delivering donations, foodbank and care packages. Find out more here.
I do, however, think we need to be careful not to abuse the privilege of travel as over-tourism is starting to be a real concern in certain parts of the world.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE AN INDUSTRY NEWBIE?
Our industry is an amazing career choice. Travel is one of the better industries for strong equal opportunity pathways right through to senior management and there is always a need for bright, committed and passionate individuals.
Look for a good mentor, set your sights high and be prepared to work hard and enjoy the benefits.
Keen to share your ‘Travel for life’ story or that of a colleague?
We’d love to hear from you. Email us at [email protected]
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