What happens when you combine the warm heart of a travel agent with the cool brain of a financial wiz… then throw in a guitar? You get Travellers Choice’s Managing Director, that’s what!
Not many managing directors would surprise a room full of shareholders by pulling out a guitar and singing an affectionate tribute to a departing chairperson. But then, Christian Hunter isn’t your average leader.
If there is one thing those who work with him agree on, it’s that Hunter doesn’t take himself too seriously.
“TC does it all”
He demonstrated his self-declared willingness to “destroy songs on the guitar” again last month. To promote Travellers Choice’s current Choose Day campaign – Hunter closed the group’s 2023 conference by delivering his own version of Oasis classic Wonderwall, retitled “TC does it all”.
“I don’t believe that any group feels the way we do about agents now,” he sang, unfazed by the odd high note proving a little out of reach.
“The thing about Christian is he doesn’t have an ego,” says Australian Travel Industry Association CEO Dean Long.
“It doesn’t matter whether he’s talking to a frontline travel agent or a senior government minister, Christian is Christian. It’s one of his most powerful traits as a leader.”
A higher call(ing)
That affability and approachability is a prominent reason why Travellers Choice members never hesitate to contact Hunter. And why new members are surprised to find that the head office number they receive is, in fact, Hunter’s direct line.
“In many organisations, it’s incredibly difficult to access, let alone have a conversation with the managing director,” says Travellers Choice chairman Trent Barlett. “But Christian is always available. More than that, he’s genuinely interested in understanding members’ issues and finding ways to help.”
In your shoes
In that regard, Hunter has an advantage. Unlike many Australian travel industry leaders, he started his career at the coal face, working for almost a decade as a travel consultant and agency manager with A. T. Mays (then the UK’s fourth-largest retail chain).
“The technology is different today, and the products have evolved, but customer interactions and the day-to-day challenges of running an agency remain the same,” says Hunter. “I understand what our members do on a daily basis because I’ve been in their shoes.”
At the same time, Hunter has the financial skills and business acumen required to run a highly profitable member-owned group, as attested by Travellers Choice’s $2 million-plus profit in the last financial year. That, too, is the product of hands-on experience.
It’s in the DNA
Arriving in Perth in the early 2000s, Hunter found part-time work at Travellers Choice while completing his Bachelor of Commerce at Perth’s Curtin University. Upon graduation in 2004, he joined the group as the company accountant. Before long, he was leading the finance and administration teams and driving the development and delivery of member services and preferred sales.
He has led Travellers Choice since 2012, during which time the company has established itself as Australia’s leading network for independent travel businesses. With four NTIA awards for Most Outstanding Retail Travel Group and exceptionally high membership satisfaction scores, Travellers Choice secures results most organisations only dream about.
“Our aim has been to consistently set the benchmark when supporting our members,” says Hunter. “We’ve done that not just by providing innovative and evolving products and services, but also by nurturing a culture that encourages connections, cooperation, and complete transparency.
“That’s now part of our DNA.”
The heart of the matter
Bartlett says the strength of the Travellers Choice culture was never more evident than during the pandemic.
“We had exceptionally high member retention throughout. This was a testament to the way everyone pulled together and to Christian’s ability to ensure people never felt alone. They always knew they had support through the toughest of circumstances.
“Ultimately, the reason Christian stands apart is because while many leaders claim their customers are at the centre of everything they do, Christian really lives that. He always has members’ best interests at heart.”
Work hard, play hard
As his musical escapades reveal, he’s also determined that everyone in Travellers Choice has a bit of fun… even if it’s at his expense.
“My mantra has always been this: we spend a lot of time at work, so it’s vital that we have fun and enjoy what we do. And I’m always happy to put myself in the firing line. If I can bring a smile to peoples’ faces, then it’s a job well done!”
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