They say that a good leader inspires and empowers. That they are visionaries who not only foster a collective sense of purpose and create a culture of collaboration but also nurture potential. And they say all this about Toni Ambler, TTC Tour Brands’ Managing Director.
At the core of Toni’s leadership philosophy lies a beautiful harmony between innovation and an unwavering focus on what truly matters. Yet despite an innate ability to embrace cutting-edge innovations and foresee the potential ahead, she remains firmly grounded, ensuring that every decision is rooted in the essence of what is truly important.
Why we do it
“When I first started working for Contiki, I went on a famil with a whole bunch of customers,” Toni tells Karryon.
“It was a coach full of about 40 people from all parts of the world coming together. There was one American who worked for Subway, the sandwich store, somewhere in the middle of America. She had been saving, working at Subway for three and a half years to be able to go on her Contiki trip. She had saved up and had done every shift that she could possibly do.
“And she’d never seen the ocean before. I remember we rolled into Nice in the south of France and she saw the Mediterranean for the first time. And then she went for a swim in the ocean for the first time and she had this group of 40 people with her on the coach supporting her and it was just so emotional.
“Travel changes you right? You come home a different person and in that particular moment I realised this girl was never going to be the same again.”
Toni has so many stories like this. Some are incredibly moving and profound. Like the blind man travelling on a Trafalgar tour who made his way through Florence back to his hotel using the memory of the sounds and smells he encountered with his tour guide. Other stories are just a celebration of the joy of travel.
“These stories still stay with me today, which is probably why I work my ass off to make these brands a success.
“When things get busy, I remind my team that we’re not selling toothpaste. We are literally changing people’s lives. Power through it because your work could be somebody’s life going through a Sliding Doors moment.”
A Contiki legacy
Toni started with The Travel Corporation (TTC) as Contiki Holidays Group Brand Manager back in 2011. But the brainwashing started in her childhood.
“My dad was actually a Contiki employee in the late 60s and 70s,” Toni says.
“He did all these amazing trips like taking travellers across Checkpoint Charlie into East Berlin for the day. They used to do the overland trip so they would start in London and then travel all through Europe. Then they’d go through Iran and Afghanistan and end up in India. And then the travellers would just jump on a plane and go home from India back to Australia or New Zealand.”
Toni and her brother grew up listening to his stories.
“He had these amazing slides and it used to be like a weekend event. We would sit and watch and look at all these pictures. And I can remember thinking, ‘I want to do that one day’. It was so much more interesting than Cinderella and Snow White.”
So when the call came through to take on a brand manager role in the UK with the company, Toni got on a plane and moved over.
She was only going to be gone for two years. She ended up staying for 11. Got married, had kids. And then came home and ended up running the business globally.
“Dad always wants to know what has changed in Contiki. What’s the new trip? Where are you going next? What are you working on?”
Her dad is turning 70 this year. And his five best friends are all people that he used to work with at Contiki. Toni grew up with their children. She says they’re all spawns of Contiki.
Having it all
Toni’s own children are eight, five and two. And speaking at CATO’s first International Women’s Day Luncheon, Toni was asked if a woman, particularly a working mum, can have it all.
“Yes, but not all the time at every point in time,” she said.
“Life’s an absolute juggle, whether you’re working or not, whether you’re a mother or not. But if you’re working and you’re a mother, you’ve got a constant plethora of balls up in the air. Some of those balls are glass, and some of them are rubber. If a rubber ball drops, it’ll bounce back up. Whereas if a glass ball drops, it’ll shatter. I’ve learned over time to figure out what my rubber balls are and what my glass balls are.
“You can make it as big and as macro and as ethereal as you like with that analogy, but you can also make it really quite practical. For instance, in early May, I had to be in Sydney to meet with a couple of our agencies and we had this full planning day. But it clashed with Mother’s Day at school and I just had to write back to the guys and say we’re going to have to start at midday because I have to be in Brisbane for breakfast and I just signed off #glassball. Missing Mother’s Day was just non-negotiable for me.”
Toni says that while what people will be juggling is different, what is universal is the need for us to know our worth and feel comfortable pushing back when we need to.
“I try and demonstrate by example that just because you’re going off on maternity leave your career doesn’t stop now. In fact, for me, it was just the beginning. My career took off when I had kids which is just a case study to show that you can have it all to a certain extent. You just have to work really bloody hard for it and do a lot of overtime after hours, work when babies are sleeping and just always be a little bit of a hot mess.”
Wellbeing and welldoing
It’s a hybrid workplace for Toni and her team. And Toni understands the need for flexibility.
“Some people are more productive in the office and other people are more productive at home,” she tells Karryon.
“And I think as leaders and managers, it’s about trying to find that perfect balance. We don’t want to lose the culture and the identity of the people who make the brand. But at the same time, remember it’s not about inputs, but output.”
“So I don’t care how many hours you’re on your computer every day or how many hours you’re in the office if you are delivering what the business needs. You do you because it’s about mutual respect.
“The micromanagement of, ‘Are you logged on? Okay, good. You’re driving results for the business’. Well you’re not. If you are at the gym for an hour in the middle of the day, and that’s making you the best version of yourself and you’re going to deliver more over the course of a week because you’re fit and healthy and feeling strong and happy in yourself. That’s what I want to see and that’s my leadership style with the team.”
Her unwavering commitment to the well-being of her team, the happiness of her customers, and the preservation of authentic travel experiences drive Toni’s choices. Through this delicate balance, Toni paves the way for a future filled with possibilities while holding close the core values that make her leadership not only innovative but deeply meaningful.
Blazing new trails
From the echoes of her father’s captivating tales of his time working for Contiki to the resounding impact of the stories of her customers, Toni’s passion for exploration and fearless dedication to her family and career have forged a path that redefines the very essence of having it all. A leader, an innovator, a storyteller, Toni Ambler’s visionary approach inspires unforgettable experiences, guiding adventurers to embrace the unknown and create extraordinary narratives of their own.
TTC Tour Brands includes Trafalgar, Insight Vacations, Luxury Gold, Costsaver and Contiki. To learn more about these brands, head to ttc.com/brands.
Share this story