Our Amazing Team
The Travel Corporation (TTC) has a very service-driven culture. We believe that our people are our greatest asset. We respect our people and encourage their ideas and creativity. We are committed to attracting, developing and retaining the best talent, so as to provide some of the best, most memorable holiday experiences, consistently. We put our team first, and at the heart of everything we do. Happy staff make happy guests and in turn, happy executive management and owners.
We are very proud of our team, across all of our businesses – we work hard to engage them, support them, provide them with appropriate on-going training & rewards, thank and recognize them on a continual basis. We recently held quite remarkable Staff Appreciation parties in Cologne for our Uniworld team (99.3% of our team from 2015 returned for the 2016 sailing season) and in London for our Red Carnation Hotels team. This is one way of us saying “thank you” for the prior year’s outstanding contributions and service excellence. My mother, Bea Tollman, also carefully selects a year-end holiday gift for each of them, over 4,000 gifts each year, which is also quite unique in the travel and tourism industry.
Recently, we truly enjoyed attending the elegant annual Staff Appreciation event Uniworld organized, in Cologne Germany. 350 Uniworld team members shared this memorable gathering with my parents, my sister Toni and I.
Dancing to “Simply the best”
During the event, individual team members received awards in recognition of their efforts to maintain Uniworld’s leading position as the very best in river cruising. One particularly touching moment was when the winner of Captain-of-the-year award, donated his cash prize to support the cancer stricken four year old son of a team member. (This was after we’d held an art auction the day before and raised E11,000 from our team, which was then matched by TTC, and then my parents donated another E10,000 as well for his continued medical treatments). We were very moved and we are all immensely proud being part of this great team!
Then last week, we also had the privilege of attending the 15th Annual Red Carnation Hotels’ Staff Appreciation weekend and party at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London. Once again, the team outdid themselves in throwing a spectacular party with 850 people in attendance.
The Executive Team, shown here, gathered for a group photo prior to the festivities, as we do every year –including my sisters Toni and Vicki, sitting either side of our amazing Mom. Our mother made a brilliant speech, reiterating how our team are the most important and valued asset of RCH, how proud she is of all they do every day and how if one works hard, one can really progress and grow with us, citing several examples of people who started as dish washers and housekeepers, and today are some of our top executives.
During the event, many individuals received awards in appreciation for their personal efforts in making our unique Red Carnation Hotel Collection an industry leader. The last award of the night was the General Manager of the Year for 2015 – deservedly won by Niall Rochford of the unique, “best hotel in the world – 2015” (as awarded by Virtuoso) Ashford Castle. When he came on stage to receive the award and prize (an all paid trip to any RCH property with his family), his entire team came on the dance floor to recognize him, and in turn, he invited them all up on stage to receive the award with him, being he noted in his speech that this award was thanks to and for them as much as it was for him – how magnanimous is that!
One can never rest on one’s prior year’s service excellence laurels nor take great staff morale for granted. We are regularly reviewing our retention stats, our guest service results and feedback (using various tools including the Net Promoter Score which quantifies what % of your guests are very passionate about and promote one’s brand/s – Trafalgar, Insight Vacations and Uniworld last year were all over 85% on FEEFO, which receives unsolicited and unfiltered feedback and comments from our travellers. We are confident in these results and so transparently share all such FEEFO feedback on each brand’s website. (This is the Trip Advisor-equivalent site for travel.)
In future blogs, I will conduct one or two interviews with different team members, so they can share some of their insights, experiences and views about our business and themselves. This month we interviewed Sherwin Banda, President of African Travel. This is one of our LA-based companies, which specializes in offering tailor-made, luxury trips to the continent of Africa.
I first met Sherwin a couple of years ago, when he was the highly regarded, award-wining General Manager of The Table Bay Hotel in Cape Town. He impressed me greatly with his sincere, warm and engaging personality. One could tell immediately when meeting him that his approach to guest service and putting his team first, were identical to ours. We are very proud that he is a member of our executive team.
Sherwin’s human qualities and natural leadership skills have contributed to the success of our organization and his career. I thought it would be interesting to share some of Sherwin’s wisdom and experiences with you.
Tell us about your background. Why and how did you start working for TTC and African Travel Inc.
I’ve been familiar with The Travel Corporation for many years. I was born and raised in South Africa where I had the privilege of experiencing the Red Carnation properties firsthand, so I knew this was a company that understood meaningful service. As a hotelier, I worked closely with the tour side of the business and forged close relationships with all partners, and interacting with each of the TTC brand professionals was always a pleasure. When I was asked to relocate to Los Angeles and represent African Travel, Inc. as President, it was an incredible honor. I am extremely proud of our product and love that I introduce our guests to my home continent – her people, landscapes, food and activities – every day. A wise man once told me that if you do something you love, it will not feel like you’ve worked a day in your life. He was right!
What are the key ingredients for a successful career in the travel industry?
People do business with people they know, like and trust. Cultivating honest relationships based on trust is essential and this must be supported by diligently delivering what we promise. I am blessed to work with professionals who are as passionate about Africa as I am. At African Travel, Inc. we invest in our people to ensure their knowledge and skills continue to grow as we evolve both personally and professionally. I also believe in having a strong and stable home life, which allows me to do what I love. The support of family and friends is a necessity for success. I truly believe it takes a village.
What would you say is your personal business mantra?
Know and embrace your moral and strategic compass. It’s easy to get swayed by great opportunities or quick fixes. I enjoy setting strategic goals for success and then sharing the objectives with my team. This enables the team to verify our accomplishments regularly, to ensure we’re on track to achieving our plan. I believe a unified team is an unbeatable team.
The biggest challenge you ever had?
All the biggest challenges I’ve ever experienced were centered around the most important relationships in my life. Walking with friends and loved ones through difficult journeys have always stayed with me. Their spirit and tenacity has influenced me greatly, and I live to honor their legacy and memory. I am because of them who went before me.
And the biggest accomplishment?
Without a doubt, my son is my biggest accomplishment. I wasn’t sure that I’d ever be blessed with fatherhood and I certainly couldn’t have imagined how much it would change me for the better. Watching life unfold through the eyes of a toddler reminds me to always be present and curious about the world and everything it has to offer.
How do you start your working day?
My day begins with an early-morning gym session and a nourishing breakfast. Once I get to the office, I make it a point to greet every member of my team and do a quick check in. I believe it’s important to know not only how their work week is going, but also how their families are, and if there is anything they need from me. This ritual gives me a quick sense of what’s happening in the office and where my focus is needed the most.
Tell us about your favorite vacation?
I am passionate about travel and spending time with loved ones is my top priority on vacation. My best vacation to date was returning to South Africa after spending 12 years abroad. I got to rediscover my own country in its diversity and fell in love with my culture all over again. It was only then that I realized the impact of the stories I had heard as a child and how they come full circle as an adult. Returning to the bush and experiencing the awe and splendor of nature after such a long hiatus, was a life-changing experience for me.
When you fly, do you prefer an aisle or window seat?
I love a window seat. There is something magical of looking out over the horizon and being above the clouds. That’s when I know there is a greater force than just me at play in the world.
Any special items you pack when travelling that you feel are indispensable?
My iPod. Listening to music is an escape and it transcends me to another place. I would be miserable without it.
What are you reading at the moment?
“Open” – An autobiography by Andre Agassi.
Thank you Sherwin for sharing these insights with us.
People are at the center of our organization and our core values. One of our key messages is T.E.A.M., Together – Everyone – Achieves – More. We are so proud of our team – leading them is one of the best aspects of my job. Thank you team.
“Train people well enough so they can leave, but treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” – Richard Branson