For our latest Inspirational Women in Travel we speak to Kim Whitaker who is the self proclaimed Managing Queen (why limit yourself to being an old-fashion Managing Director?? We agree!!) of Once Travel. In our interview she talks about what inspires her and the challenges she has faced in building her business from scratch.
What inspired you to work in the travel industry?
I started my business at age 23, afterreturning home to Cape Town after a year travelling abroad. I loved meeting new people everyday, and the way that traveler see new destinations with new and renewed eyes. I was hooked on the travel bug and decided to open my own business – a youth hostel in Cape Town.
How did you begin working in the travel industry and what was your first role?
My very first job in the travel industry wasworkmen as a ski instructor in Austria. I was waitressing after work, and cleaning hotel rooms over the weekend. Over 5 seasons, I really learnt the value of hard work and delighting guests.
How did you get to where you are in your career today?
Hard work, long hours – doing every job in the business, and really getting to know our guests. Aftersix years I joined a team of entrepreneurs and co-founded Once in Cape Town, a bustling youth hotel in Kloof street.
What attributes would help someone aspiring to your role?
Determination, optimism bias, empathy and respect for your team. Having a desire to serve people is key in the hospitality industry! After-all as I was reminded by an amazing entrepreneur recently, service is simply “people serving people.”
Describe a typical day at work in 100 words?
I wake up at 4:30, to work on my my masters dissertation (I am doing a two year EMBA degree at UCT GSB) after trying to do a 5 minute meditation and body-scan using the CALM app. After the family starts waking up at around 7am, we sit together (2 young kids and my husband) and have breakfast. Then there’s a mad rush blur where by some miracle I manage to shower, Brush teeth, hair and get out of the house – invariably I forget something! After dropping the kids off at school I walk or uber to the office. My first team meeting is at 8:45, for 15 minutes with my executive leaders. Thereafter it’s a joyful craze of meetings, emailing, strategising and executing fun ideas with our team! We laugh a lot.
What is your most memorable moment working within the travel industry?
Probably the first day of opening. I was 23 years old, I had no idea what to do and we had one guest off gumtree!
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve encountered in your role and how did you overcome this?
My biggest challenge I’ve encountered was in 2016, we mis calculated our finances and didn’t plan our cash flow sufficiently. It cost us dearly and we had to operate very lean for a few months. It was a challenging time.
What drives you to succeed?
An inherent desire to touch people’s lives and make a difference. Whether a guest who has a life-touching moment, or a staffmember who has a shift in perspective or anopportunity to grow
What would be your top three tips for women who are interested in starting a career in the travel and tourism industry?
Do it. Do it. Do it.
What one change could help more women become leaders in the travel industry?
Transparency (how the world really works, and how to work it)
How do you relax when not working?
I go for a walk with my dogs on the beautiful table mountain!