The Cost Of Being Disruptive & Innovative At The Same Time

person_outline Jürgen Himmelmann
Jun 12, 2015

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Dear reader,

I’m writing this from my office in London, after having just read a negative media piece about The Global Work & Travel Co.

Over the past year, I’ve had to sit and read a few whopping tales. I’ve read that we were insolvent, that our sales force lies, or that we’ve engaged in questionable business practices. Some of the stories are outright lies, some are gross exaggerations or out of context, and some are just plain and simply unfounded, unfair or wrong.

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I used to get mad when I read negative stories about us. No one wants to have their credibility questioned – especially when I know in my heart-of-hearts that we’re doing everything we can to bring a new approach to the travel industry. Today, I don’t get mad anymore. No, rather than mad, I get excited – because I realize it means we’re making a real difference.

In the last year and a bit, over ten thousand people got to experience a new culture, in a totally unique corner of the world, and got paid for doing it. It’s called a “Working Holiday”, and it’s taking the traditional perceptions of travel and turning them inside out. I’m excited to be a piece of it, but being disruptive to an established industry has a price. We’re the new kid on the block.

In just a few years, The Global Work & Travel Co. has taken all the stereotypes about travel… and destroyed them.

Travel is for the rich? Nonsense. We’ve proven travel can be for a stereotypical ‘broke student’.

Travel is expensive? How about MAKING money by traveling?

Travel is for old people who can take a break during retirement? How about advancing your career by traveling?

Travel is a great way to observe a culture? How about living, breathing, and being an actual PART of that culture?

The Global Work & Travel Co has helped create an entirely new category when it comes to travel, and it’s one that the rest of the industry – and the media surrounding this industry - just hasn’t come to grips with. We’re taking what used to be a “niche” industry, and going BIG. We’re taking this mainstream.

Young people don’t just have to stay at home and work in a fast-food joint anymore. They don’t just have to backpack around impoverished while they visit a region on a shoestring. Thanks to our work, young people can pick up, go abroad, find seasonal work in a new culture, live there, make money to fund their stay, and be a part of the economy and culture… then pick up and do it all over again, all without breaking a sweat. It’s an entirely new travel demographic… the younger contributor.

There’s an old expression – “You don’t get to make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.” I can assure you – it’s true. Eggs do get broken when you completely reinvent an industry. And the travel industry is being broken wide open, on several fronts.

The entire travel industry is under siege – in a good way for the consumer. Think about the new disruptive businesses you’ve seen in the past two to three years. Both Uber and AirBnB have been tremendously disruptive to the established transport and accommodation industries. And both companies have taken tremendous media backlash for doing so. As frustrating as this is to deal with, I’ve realized that negative media stories are merely the cost of being part of a revolution. It’s only human nature to be adverse to change.

Building a new industry means entirely new ways of going about business. Some media personalities understand that but others certainly don’t. The sad thing about breaking eggs is just how annoying it can be to get the yolk on your hands.

The Global Work & Travel Co. is breaking the mold and causing a stir. We are doing stuff so entirely crazy, so different, so new, that it requires a unique approach to the way we reach out to customers.

For example, when someone expresses an interest in a working holiday or gap year, we do something our competitors, up until now, have avoided doing – we actually take the time to call them back and get to know them. We’ll engage with them, figure out what they actually want to do, and present some options.

We don’t do anything that people can’t do for themselves if they really wanted to– we’re pretty clear about that. But we do make it much easier to get a working holiday visa, line up job interviews before or after arrival and during your travels, find accommodation, organize airport pick-up and transfers… we’ll even give our travellers a mobile phone, and help them with a tax return at the end of their trip.

Come on – a tax return?! How many existing travel agencies help their customers with a tax return from their gap year? We have to, and we want to, because what we’re doing is disruptive, unique and totally different to the established, stale, travel industry.

And what happens when you’re totally unique? We get crucified in the national media of two countries because our business practices are unique. Do we have an assertive sales team? You bet we do. You know what we have on the walls and PCs of our sales floor? Thank you messages from customers, actually thanking us for convincing them to take that leap. This isn’t a traditional sales model where we can sit back and hope people sign up through our website. We are offering life-changing experiences, which requires a uniquely customized approach for every customer.

We’ve been ‘investigated’ by a government agency under suspicion of charging travellers to find work (we don’t). All we do is connect someone willing to do the job with an employer who needs the job done, as part of making a gap year easier. It’s part of our standard working holiday package but again – that’s disruptive and there are no mechanisms from the government on how to deal with that. We have a lot of long-time bureaucrats who don’t understand what on earth we’re doing. - Seriously, is someone going to try and "ban" gap years?!

Why would we get investigated? – For the same reason Uber and AirBnB do; because we’re unique, and we’re paving the way for how young people will explore this world into the future. Your local travel agency can’t line up a job for six months on a beachfront hotel in Australia, or on a world-class ski-hill in Canada while travelling. But we do, every, single, day.

And you know what else happens with startling regularity? A government bureaucrat discovers what we’re doing is honest, ethical, and legal, and closes an investigation. But of course, no one hears about that, it just isn't as juicy for the press.

We accept the scrutiny that comes with being completely new and different. We just want it to be fair. Rather than face a barrage of anonymous reviews written by estranged competitors or total strangers with an uninformed opinion, we have now outsourced our review collection to a third party, making sure real customer reviews are collected and published in a fair, professional and transparent way.

Our customers leave totally honest, unscripted, unbiased reviews on ConsumerAffairs.com – and every single one of those reviews comes from a verified customer. If you’re not a genuine customer, you can’t leave a genuine review. We don’t tell you what to say – we just need to know that the review actually comes from a real customer and not a keyboard warrior, aka a “troll”.

And unsurprisingly, our review scores on a verified review site are several degrees higher than anywhere else. We don’t have anonymous and fictitious complaints from a jilted competitor posing as an upset customer.

This media scrutiny means we HAVE to be better than our competitor if we’re going to survive. But we’ll accept it. We take huge pride in what we do, and if increased scrutiny is the cost of being disruptive to an old, stodgy, tired industry… we’ll gladly take it. It puts us in the same category as the Uber’s and AirBnB’s of this world.

We aren’t perfect, and we admit that. Sometimes, our customers have legitimate complaints. We’re the only travel company I know of that now has a 24/7 standby emergency number, bouncing between our three offices, just so we can deal with a situation where a traveller lands in a foreign airport and their scheduled ride isn’t there. We do everything we can to learn from those complaints, apologize, make things right, and move on.

That doesn’t mean we’ll bend over and accept illegitimate abuse though. The problem, I’ve discovered, with creating a whole new industry category is that sometimes – we just don’t know how to deal with the customers in that category. Our customers are millennials, with wildly different views and expectations.

One prospective traveller had trouble landing a job. When we investigated, it turned out she was doing Skype interviews from her bed. Wearing only a sheet. In the arms of her boyfriend.

Another true story - a British customer booked his working holiday, through us, to Australia for his gap year. He flew halfway around the world before a stop-over in Singapore, when he stepped outside the airport to smoke a cigarette. Startled away at the excessive heat and humidity, he thought “if it’s this hot now, and I’m only half-way there, imagine how hot & humid Australia will be?!” So he turned around and flew home, on the spot.

I only wish I was making this up. He demanded a refund. He didn’t get one.

The fact is – sometimes, the customer is NOT always right. We’re hugely proud of what we can accomplish for our customers, but if they’re in the wrong, they’re in the wrong. We can’t make magic happen.

Over ten thousand people have chosen to book their travel with The Global Work & Travel Co. in the past couple years. We’ve received complaints, who hasn’t? – but we’re very proud of the fact that our complaints are actually extremely low if we compare them to the volume of customers serviced.

The travel industry is, by its very nature, rife with complaints. Given the natural ‘complaint heavy’ tendency of the industry, combined with our disruptive business model, it’s a miracle we’re not overwhelmed. But we aren’t. We have an army of loyal, happy Global Travellers, far more than what the media ignorantly focuses on, – and we’re thrilled to have been able to serve them.

So – I’d urge you – go break an industry wide open. Try something new. Be bold. Be visionary. Be different.

Just be prepared to wash some of that egg yolk off your face, even if you don’t deserve to have the eggs thrown at you in the first place. It’s just part of the game of doing things differently.

Yours truly,

Jürgen Himmelmann
Co-Founder & CEO

Jürgen Himmelmann

Jürgen Himmelmann

Jürgen Himmelmann is the CEO and Co-Founder of The Global Work & Travel Co., an award-winning travel company promoting Gap Year and Ethical Volunteering opportunities. Stay up to date on The Global Foundation, or be inspired with new travel inspirations by following Global on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.