The Business of Wanderlust – The story of John Anderson, Founder of Contiki Holidays {Part 2}

Posted on February 1, 2013




[mass noun]

  • a strong desire to travel:a man consumed by wanderlust

John Anderson Contiki

If you missed part 1, find it here. All caught up? Great! Now on to part 2!

The Business of Wanderlust – The story of John Anderson, Founder – Contiki Holidays {Part 2}

As part 1 of the interview drew to a close, John spoke to me about the many love stories that came to be on Contiki tours including his own…

Me: I have never been on a Contiki tour, but I have spoken to so many people who have been on one, and everybody recounted their time touring with Contiki with such fondness. They talk about friendships that have lasted years and decades, and countless people including yourself have found their life partners while on tour. Do you recollect any special story that totally stands out amidst the box of life-changing experiences?

John: I would have never found my wife If I had not taken that tour (laughs)! Its amazing Sabeen, how many people it has touched. Its amazing how many times it changed their lives. You mention about meetups, there are still reunions going on forty years on!

Me: Wow !

John: Not too long ago, I went to a reunion of passengers who had traveled on Contiki, it was twenty member touring party who took the tour in 1965, and sixteen of that original group had turned up for the meetup! Fifty years on! Unbelievable isn’t it?

Me: That is seriously unbelievable John…

John: When it comes to marriages, I have a great story for you. There was this girl who contacted me to tell her story. She said that she was quite an introvert and her mother forced her to go overseas to Europe on a trip. She eventually met her life partner on the trip! When they got married, the bridesmaid and groomsmen were passengers, when they had children, their godparents were passengers! The stories do not end there. Few days ago I was having lunch where a guy mentioned, not only did he meet his wife on a tour, their daughter Catherine was conceived on a tour, and then, listen to this, twenty years later , Catherine found his life-partner within a Contiki staff while she was on a Contiki tour. So thats a full circle right there, from two strangers meeting, the conception of their child, and the she ends marrying a staff of Contiki! I think its amazing.

Me: It is fascinating to hear these stories.

John: Do you know, we get five or six marriages of one tour? In a tour of 50, you often get two or three, with the odd trip pulling of five or six ! Things happen when you throw a lot of young people together, particularly if they are single, and really why not, love is a beautiful feeling!

Me: Absolutely. Moreover, the environment itself is so uninhibited, people be themselves, having a good time and you are in that happy sort of mode, after-all holidays are all about being happy.

John: Come to think of it, Contiki is a great company to work with because its all about fun, young people, experiencing things together, the staff is young and vibrant, particularly those on the road in Europe, some of them are simply outstanding, a lot of them of-course come back and make careers, and often they say their training with the company, what it had taught them later in life to achieve, and go on to do great things. I don’t have a Prime Minister yet ( laughs ) but captains of industries are certainly present amongst the contiki alumni.

 Me:John, tell us a little bit about your autobiography – Only Two Seats Left. It is about your journey with Contiki. What inspired you to write a book?

John: It’s a story that had to be told, how an idea became an international iconic brand in several countries, and I thought I have got to tell the story, because I am the only one who knows it and I have been there from start to finish. Secondly, I wanted the people who were involved in the beginning to know what the company went on to do. I realized that is is eventually going to be a business book where I would share the learnings of my life, in a story form. So the book is an autobiography related to travel and business but in-fact when you read it, it reads like a novel. There are two murders in there, a chapter on my court cases, Its just a very entertaining read and I hope it inspires readers to go out there and achieve great things. I was a B-class boy in school for goodness sake and I went on to establish an International company. Its all about the right attitude, getting the right people around you to help you and do solve problems and innovate.

Me: John I recently read a quote by the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, and hit me quite strongly, especially as someone who is trying to start out too. The quote goes like this – “Entrepreneurs must be willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time” – Would you say it’s been true for your journey as well?

John: Oh, absolutely. Particularly, the brave entrepreneurs. Quite often a brave entrepreneur comes up with an idea that at first glance seems crazy, and the more risky it seems to be internally, the more hindrance he faces from people, both internal and external. Its not easy for people to see through the founder’s vision, not at all. I touch upon all sorts of risks taken by me in the book, including an idea of moving our headquarters to Hong Kong for better taxation instead of keeping it in UK. Everybody thought I was crazy. If you listen to all the negative response, you will never do it. You have to hold very strongly to your core beliefs, because if you don’t others will convince you that its not worth giving it a go. Of-course, you should definitely listen to and analyze all the feedback you get from your close ones, so that most decisions you take is driven by rationality and data. I didn’t always listen, I was a bit bloody minded, entrepreneurs are a bit like that, they do not like hearing No, and this you will read in the book, I was advised not to do Hotel and Resorts by a few close ones, but I did and that undid me! So sometimes you have to draw the line, take feedback in, rationalize and act judiciously.

Me: You have a wonderful life story John, but is there anything that you would go back and change?

I’d say, on the business side, I would have gone with a business partner much early on. Two heads are better than one, you share the decision making and you share the risk of capital, you also get there twice as quick! So yes, if you can, get a co-founder while starting a company. On the personal side, however much I would hate to admit, what I would change is , when you have your own business, it consumes you, and the business became more important than your family. I have four children, I would often go to work in the morning when the children were in bed, and then when I got back in night, they were already asleep. I did not give my children a whole lot of time up until their age of five. Now I often advise people who are starting a business, make sure you get your balance right, sure if you can get the company up and running it will enable you to provide in a much a better way, but always look to keep a balance.

Me: Thank you John, that’s a great piece of advice. We have come to fag end of this interview! Here is my last question – What would you have to say to our readers about life, love and following your dreams?

John: (Smiles) I will give you my favourite quote by Arthur Rubinstein, the renowned classical pianist – “Love life, and life will love you back, love people and they will love you back”.

Me: Wow

John: And about following your dreams, it’s all about attitude, belief in yourself, belief in what you want to do, and go for it. That’s exactly what I did.

Me: You have a sensational life story John Anderson, thank you so very much for speaking with us.

John: Thanks for having me, Sabeen. You take care, go forth and make your dreams come true and I hope your readers find this tete-a-tete valuable ( Smiles ).

What a personality, what a remarkable life story. A big THANKYOU to John Anderson for being a guest on Mumchic and sharing with us his amazing story which I am sure has inspired many.

What is your favourite part of John’s story?

Linking up with the gorgeous Grace  via With Some Grace for FYBF.

Only Two Seats Left is available in all good book stores and also online here.

Disclaimer :This article is NOT a paid endorsement for either John Anderson or Contiki Holidays. John agreed to be interviewed for the article after I contacted him and requested him share his story with us.

Posted in: Musings