Paul Tavener, sales performance manager at Viking Cruises, was the overall winner for cruise line categories in Cruise Trade News’ Rising Stars. He speaks to Katherine Lawrey about his career.
Paul was desperate to get a job in travel when he left school. But an interview at Fast Track Holidays posed a challenge: “I had no sales experience, so I sold my passion for holidays instead.”
The approach worked and he got the job with the Swindon-based company, which sold holidays via Teletext.
Paul focused on cruise, so he was in the right place at the right time, when the company was bought by Virgin Holidays and he made the transition to Virgin Holidays Cruises.
This merger gave him the best of both worlds: an entrepreneurial family business environment provided by Fast Track and the more corporate input of Virgin Holidays, which still retained “brilliant characters”.
Under Virgin’s ownership he gained experience across the business, including the product and commercial department.
Then one day a phone call out the blue changed his tack: “I was told ‘wear a white shirt, we’re seconding you to sales.”
He was given an underperforming team to manage, and in just one day, he turned them into one of the highest converting teams in the call centre.
“I combined my product knowledge with my sales experience, and I spent all day with the team talking to them, listening to their calls and pitching in with advice and coaching so they offered the right products,” he said.
“They were a really demotivated team so I made a conscious effort to give them lots of praise.”
Thrown in at the deep end, he had no option but to learn on the job, but over time he also benefitted from Virgin Holidays’ training and coaching programmes.
“I had to think on my feet, and I wasn’t afraid to try new things,” he said.
Paul spent four and a half years at Fast Track Holidays and Virgin Holidays Cruises, the latter two in a senior sales manager role. He then moved to London and spent a couple of years outside travel and tourism, working in catering and hospitality.
“I picked up some new skills but I missed the buzz of travel and looked for the right opportunity to return,” he said.
In December 2012 he joined Viking Cruises as sales team leader. At fi rst he managed a team of reservations consultants, now he manages the team leaders.
“I didn’t know much about river cruising when I spotted the role,” he admitted.
“But I did my research and when I found out Viking was expanding into ocean cruising, I knew it would be an exciting time to join.”
The role draws on his key strengths of people management and coaching.
“I enjoy selling and I can still dip in and out of it,” he said. “But I wouldn’t want to do it permanently. I prefer the leadership side, and helping someone develop the confidence they need to make it as a sales person.”
A Euro themed sales incentive is just one example of his fresh thinking. “We had a live draw. We split the call centre into four groups, and for the first round, everyone had to collect as many points as possible.
“Then we progressed to the knock-out stages and consultants went up against one another for the elimination rounds.
“It really worked to encourage people to go the extra mile,” he recalled.
“They were even coming in early to try a get a head start on those bookings.”
With a love for the people and products at Viking, he sees a long-term future with the company. “They really value their team,” he said. “I’m hungry to grow myself and they like to grow their people.”