Breaking Travel News interview: Donna Jeavons, UK & Europe sales and marketing director, Contiki
Youth-focused travel brand Contiki revealed it would move into sub-Saharan Africa for the first time earlier today, unveiling a series of new trips to Zanzibar, South Africa and Zimbabwe among others.
Despite covering Morocco and Egypt in northern Africa, the call of wild adventures proved too much for millennial travellers, many of whom urged the company to expand its offering.
Whether staying in hotels, safari lodges or permanent luxury safari tents, Contiki clients can look forward to comfortable beds, en-suites, patios and swimming pools after a big day of adventure.
Speaking to Breaking Travel News in London, Donna Jeavons, UK & Europe sale and marketing director for the company, explained Contiki was seeking to cater to a desire for a great immersion in a destination among younger travellers.
“We are very heavy on research and focus on what our customers want and what we are seeing is that they want the local experience, the immersion,” she explains.
“The stats show that a quarter of young people today do not drink at all, and that is a reflection of their mindset; we have seen the rise of health bloggers, fitness bloggers and it is a very different generation coming through these days.
“We are tailoring our product to make it more immersive, more local; our In-depth Explorer product has seen a rise in sales, offering a chance to see one destination in detail.
Contiki is the youth brand of the Travel Corporation, offering coach-based trips to those aged between 18-35 to destinations around the world.
As a South Africa-founded company, it was only natural TTC would eventually take Contiki into its home continent.
“Obviously, the founders of the Travel Corporation are from South Africa, so it is a destination that is close to their heart,” continues Jeavons.
“From today, we are selling the new range, while the first departures will go out in April next year.
“We are starting with a South African route and an east African route, as well as two treks around Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and a Zanzibar beach break.
“People can be as active, or relaxed, as they like.
“We are fortunate, as part of the Travel Corporation, we have operations in Africa we can lean on, but we have also had members of our team down there sourcing product.
“Obviously, it needs to fit with our audience, it is not basic camping, but it will be a mixture of hotels, lodges, and pre-erected tents.
“This is definitely what we are seeing, a move toward more adventurous trips.”
Of course, it would be possible to argue the truly adventurous to book their own trips, without the guiding hand of a tour operator.
Jeavons, however, argues the experience Contiki offers makes a trip with the company just as exciting.
“I think it is that expert knowledge of the destinations, people can book it themselves, but when they get there, they are very much not on their own,” she adds.
“I think, if they travel with a company like Contiki, they can share the knowledge of the people that have already been to the destinations.
“Some of these destinations, the Travel Corporation have been going to for many years, and we know some of the best places.
“We have skilled up our trip managers, so they know the local haunts and the places that aren’t necessarily the hotspots – obviously everybody wants to see the Eiffel Tower or Machu Picchu, but also they want to go a local coffee shop or restaurant, the up-and-coming places.
“There is a balance between the highlights and the insider places that you might not know about if you were new to a destination.”
For solo travellers, Contiki also offers a social element, meaning those looking to explore together are well catered for.
Jeavons adds: “Between 60 and 70 per cent of our guests are solo travellers – and I think our trips are a great opportunity for people who do want to travel on their own.
“Maybe their friends cannot make it, or they are unable to get the time off work, for whatever reason, but they still want a social aspect to a trip, we can offer that.
“We really make an effort to make sure everybody integrates together; on the first day we will do speed dating, where everybody mingles on the coach and has say a few things about themselves.
“The trip manager, too, is trained in bringing the group together.
“If you are travelling on your own, we will pair you up with another traveller at no extra cost, so there are no single traveller fees, and this means you have a buddy from the very first day to help you integrate.”
She adds: “We are seeing the rise of solo travellers, and they are going further afield.
“Whereas it used to be Europe as a first step, first-time travellers now tend to travel all over the world.
“A trip with Contiki can be really empowering in this way; you can travel further, but you have the security of a group, and a company, that knows what they are doing behind you.”
Contiki has also been able to tap into a growing trend among younger travellers to head further afield – but also to share those experiences with their friends through various social media channels.
“We have seen strong growth, as a company, over the past couple of years,” Jeavons explains.
“People are just putting more emphasis on experiences, rather than material things, and this seems to be very much a trend among the upcoming generation.
“A lot of places that were perhaps unknown before are now being seen by a wider audience and are considered more achievable as holiday locations.
“With the recent press coverage of Facebook, people are perhaps more sensitive to how they use these platforms.
“But, sharing imagery, people still want to showcase where they have been.
“It also educates the audience about what is out there – and what is possible.
“This is also plays into the decline of Club 18-30 – people are aware of the possibilities now.”
As part of the travel corporation, getting travellers hooked young can also pay off in the long-term.
Jeavons concludes: “We are the youth brand of the Travel Corporation – hopefully people come to us first and then graduate up to the open age brands.
“We are strict in enforcing the age criteria, it is what travellers want, they want to travel with likeminded people, and that is what they buy into and we cannot deviate from that.
“There is some cross promotion between the brands – which customers now have to opt into, given the new General Data Protection Regulations – but this is one of the nice things about the Travel Corporation, whatever stage of your life you are at, we have something to offer you.
“Whether that is Contiki when travellers are younger, the same with Bus About, and then on to Trafalgar, or Uniworld, which are aimed at a slightly older demographics.”
Contiki runs over 300 trips in 50 plus countries every year, each designed to get to the beating heart of a destination, understanding the local way of life.
Find out more on the official website.