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Travel industry embraces Open Mindset at Karryon’s first event talking about mental wellbeing

Committed to connecting people ‘Together in Travel’, yesterday we hosted the first of our Open Mindset series to discuss mental wellbeing.

Committed to connecting people ‘Together in Travel’, yesterday we hosted the first of our Open Mindset series to discuss mental wellbeing.

Committed to connecting people ‘Together in Travel’, yesterday we hosted the first of our Open Mindset series to discuss mental wellbeing. 

At Sydney’s Hyatt Regency, 80 members of the travel industry came together for the opportunity to discuss both the challenges we’ve faced as individuals working in travel, as well as strategies to implement in our own lives.

Sponsors of Open Mindset including Norwegian Cruise Line, G Adventures, Mastercard Cash Passport and Air New Zealand with Dani Tuffield and Matt Leedham from Karryon

Most importantly, the discussions also focused on when and how to get help and the importance of speaking up and understanding that you are never alone. 

Karryon General Manager, Dani Tuffield, greeted guests, introducing First Nations man Brendan Kerin from the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, who officially welcomed us to Gadigal Country. 

The Gadigal people are custodians of two songline stories, and Brendan shared with the crowd the songline story of the eel.

Brendan Kerin from the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council
Brendan Kerin from the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council

“The name of the tribe you gathered on here today is Gadigal, and on behalf of those Gadigal ancestors, we believe this spirit is still in the lands and in the waters on behalf of Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, as the cultural authority on these lands, it gives me great honour to welcome you here today —  welcome to Gadigal country. 

Karryon Founder and Head of Storytelling Matt Leedham took to the stage to discuss why we created this Open Mindset event.

“Our mission at Karryon has always been to connect people together in travel. So, when we created the idea for Open Mindset, our intention was clear — to create a series of purpose-led events that bring people together and help evolve our wonderful travel industry through inspiring positive change,” he said.

Matt Leedham presenting at Open Mindset
Matt Leedham presenting at Open Mindset

He thanked the sponsors of Open Mindset: platinum sponsor Norwegian Cruise Line, gold sponsor G Adventures, and silver sponsors Mastercard Cash Passport and Air New Zealand.

“Your support and commitment are a testament to who you are as pioneering brands and businesses – and we can’t thank you enough,” he said

He continued, “As someone who was diagnosed later in life with ADHD, I know all too well the mental struggles and the stigma that can permeate work and personal life. Talking about our mental health, especially in our work, can often feel impossibly difficult and a sign of weakness.

“But it doesn’t have to be that way for anyone anymore, and, as I’m sure you’ll all agree, it shouldn’t be that way working in the travel industry either. Why? Because our mental well-being matters. It matters greatly,” he said. 

Matt then introduced our guest speaker Joe Sattout, an IT Executive who’s held senior leadership roles at Amazon/AWS and Microsoft and is a passionate Mental Health Ambassador and volunteer at Beyond Blue and Vinnies.

Joe Sattout, volunteer speaker for Beyond Blue at Open Mindset.
Joe Sattout, volunteer speaker for Beyond Blue

Joe took to the stage to share his personal story. 

“It’s really humbling to be here, and I think the messaging and the significance of this event, particularly in the travel industry, where it’s one of the more prominent industries that were impacted by the pandemic. It’s really good to see things are looking up now, but it’s also important now that the messaging is right and we continue to educate and inform. This event is the first of its kind I’ve seen in this industry, so kudos to Matt and the Karryon team,” said Joe. 

Joe’s presentation focused on anxiety, depression and suicide, and he went on to share his personal and poignant story of his own mental health challenges and as a survivor of suicide. 

He spoke openly about his childhood trauma that stemmed from relentless bullying throughout most of his schooling years, the cultural stigmas within his Australian-Lebanese family and community, and a general lack of understanding and information when he was younger around mental illness. 

“The most confronting statistic there I think we should all be aware of is that on average nine people — and we don’t hear a lot about this — but nine people take their lives every day as a consequence of their suffering and mental health. It doesn’t discriminate (although we can see that it is more prominent in men, with seven of the nine being male), but it doesn’t discriminate by age, starting from 14 all the way through to older,” said Joe. 

Joe shared his turning point — after years of living with anxiety, depression, panic attacks and social isolation — which involved connecting with a Beyond Blue counsellor. 

“I think some advice that I can give to anyone out there is finding a counsellor is not an easy thing. You’ve got to find someone that you can connect with and don’t settle or compromise on it. That’s my advice. It took me three or four turns to find the right counsellor. And a mental health ‘buddy’ is key,” said Joe. 

Other strategies that Joe uses to keep his mental wellbeing in check include: 

  • Finding ways to manage stress and learning to say no to people or situations that are not good for you
  • Practising mindfulness
  • Finding a sense of self-worth and/or achievement
  • Volunteering or participating in social activities
  • Exercising regularly and eating well
  • Developing a sleep routine
  • Limiting alcohol or drugs
  • Connecting with family and friends
  • Volunteering or participating in social activities
  • Making time for hobbies and things you enjoy
  • Learning something new

*Please see the information at the bottom of this article for contact numbers and resource details for Beyond Blue.

Walk for Wellness

Ben Angell, Vice President and Managing Director of Norwegian Cruise Line APAC
Ben Angell, Vice President and Managing Director of Norwegian Cruise Line APAC

Sponsoring the day’s event, Ben Angell, Vice President and Managing Director of Norwegian Cruise Lines APAC, took to the stage and began by acknowledging his team.

“These guys are the best in the industry, in my opinion — we have an incredible group of people.  Every decision that we made around Walk for Wellness and every decision that we make at NCL is made as a group, so we are literally a collaborative team. That level of collaboration allowed us to ideate and come up with Walk for Wellness,” said Ben. 

During the difficult months of 2020, when his team was trying to decide how they were going to stay motivated, Ben says what kept coming to the fore was that it wasn’t just about his group or NCL as a whole.

“It’s about our team members in the Sydney office and across Asia Pacific, and it was about ourselves. And what shone through to the group of people in that room is that we wanted to do something different, and we wanted to do something that actually acknowledged how tough the time was,” he said 

Members of the Norwegian Cruise Line team and Karryon at Open Mindset.
Members of the Norwegian Cruise Line team and Karryon at Open Mindset.

Initially, it was going to be a “one and done” event, as it required a huge amount of work for the team, a lot of it outside of their normal business hours, but the feedback has been “phenomenal” — with 90 per cent of their trade partners responding in a survey that they felt their overall wellbeing had improved. 

For this year’s Walk for Wellness (still with a week to go until the end of October), NCL aims to set an official world record for the longest distance walked by travel professionals during the month of October.

“We doubled our participation rate to the best ever on record. We’ve got 2,200 participants walking, and this month to date, we have walked the equivalent of six times around the globe, as a group,” he said. 

The company has pledged to donate $1,000 for every milestone reached throughout the challenge period to a local mental health charity, Mood Active. 

Our panel opens up

Joining us on stage for our panel discussion was Penny Spencer, Managing Director, The Spencer Group; Pete Rawley, CEO and Co-Founder, Evolution Travel Collective; and Tania Myles, Marketing Manager, TravelManagers Australia.

Open Mindset panel
Open Mindset panel with (L-R) Matt Leedham, Penny Spencer, Pete Rawley and Tania Myles.

Matt posed the question to the panel, are we all burned out? What’s the state of the mental wellbeing in the travel industry? 

Penny Spencer, who celebrates 25 years in business this year and is a founder of the TIME mentoring program, responded that emotions are mixed. 

“I think what’s happened is there is a bit of post-traumatic syndrome. I know I’ve got it myself. You know, I sort of feel like, oh, God, is just going to happen again? I can’t spend any money. I don’t want to make a rash decision anymore….but on the other hand, I think what’s happened is people have a lot more balance now,” said Penny.

“So you’re working from home….you’ve got a bit of balance. You’re also going on holiday again, everyone’s pretty excited about that. From a mental health point of view, there’s a little bit of, yes, I’m really happy to be back. Yes, it’s been awful and frantic, and all of those things, but life is getting back to normal, and I’ve got more balance in my life. So I feel that there’s a bit of both,” said Penny.

Penny Spencer speaking on the Open Mindset panel
Penny Spencer speaking on the Open Mindset panel.

“Definitely, there were days that I thought, I just can’t do this anymore. So I put on my heels in my red lipstick and walked into the office with a smile. Because that was what got me through the routine. And I think routine is really something that you have to do to help with your mental health,” said Penny. 

Pete Rawley spoke with emotion and candour about his own mental health challenges and his own dark times over the years when work had become all-consuming and he lacked balance. He agreed that there’s a residual form of PTSD in the industry.

Pete Rawley at Open Mindset
Pete Rawley from Evolution Travel Collective.

“Everyone wanted to be really grateful that they were back again in the industry. So there was a little bit of, I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining because there’s a lot of people who still aren’t with us in the travel industry.

“There’s a lot of people who went through a lot of trauma, and so forth. So what I’ve found is that that’s been bubbling under the surface, and people have been really trying to suppress it… but bubbling underneath, people are really feeling that pressure,” said Pete.

During the pandemic and living in Melbourne, Pete said they started walking every morning and tagging #mentalhealthmatters. 

“All of a sudden, there was all this feedback that was coming back from the industry about ‘oh, this is great’. J ust to get some engagement back from people….and that connection piece,  that would then move into private conversations with people within the travel industry.  It just started opening up conversations, and that connection was really, really important,” said Pete.

Tania Myles from TravelManagers speaking on the panel
Tania Myles from TravelManagers Australia spoke on the panel.

Tania Myles, Marketing Manager at TravelManagers Australia, said the burnout was real. 

“We lost people to other industries through that period of time, and we’re now seeing some return which is really positive. But it almost felt like we went from really uncertain times to suddenly overnight, someone flipped a switch, and we just had to go — but there was no real time for us to process what had just happened,” said Tania. 

Aside from the pandemic, Tania said they are a business of people who work from home.

“That comes with real advantages like being your own boss and running things the way that you want to …but we’re also mindful of the isolation factor that can come with that. For us, we need to find a balance that enables people to set their own schedules and run their own businesses,  but then also create space that enables people to come together again,” she said. 

Tania also spoke about the TravelManagers’ network assistance program launched in 2018 which offers six free counselling sessions per year to everyone in their National Partnership Office and all of their PTMs.

“It’s not uncommon for a business to offer that to their employees, but it is uncommon for it to be offered to contractors, which is what our PTMs are. So we’re really proud to have been able to launch that program and keep it going since then and right through the pandemic,” said Tania.

“I can’t give you any feedback other than my own because it’s completely confidential, but I’ve used it, and it’s been entirely beneficial for me when I needed it. But I think a program like this can’t exist in contrast to the support and the culture of the business, and our organisation is purposefully flat,” she said. 

“It is a unique selling point from a recruitment perspective. But I would actually prefer it if it wasn’t. I would prefer it if this was something that was just standard across the industry and everyone in the industry had access to a program like this,” said Tania. 

Open Mindset panel and Karryon
Open Mindset panel and Karryon

To conclude the event, a number of prizes were drawn and presented by Steve Callahan with thanks to sponsors, Mastercard Cash Passport. 

Tickets to Open Mindset were booked through our partner Humantix – the humane ticketing platform with lower booking fees that all go directly to the charity. Raising $800 from ticket sales for our foundation partner for the event, Beyond Blue, Matt Leedham announced that Karryon had matched that amount and that $1600 would be donated to the mental health charity.

** If this article has raised any concerns for you or you’d like to speak to someone, please see the Beyond Blue contact details and available resources below.

Beyond Blue resources
Beyond Blue resources