Through our combination of amazing people, innovative technology and our ability to customize, we’re able to deliver unforgettable experiences for our clients. People have so little time today — it’s the most precious resource for all of us — they want to make sure they get the most out of their travel.
As a part of my series about “exciting developments in the travel industry over the next five years”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alison Hickey. With a background in engineering and quality assurance, Alison Hickey, President of Kensington Tours, leads a team of intrepid professionals with a shared passion for service excellence. Previously, she held leadership roles at the Bank of Montreal, United Way of Greater Portland, Acklands-Grainger, Maple Leaf Foods, and Procter and Gamble. She holds Master’s degrees in both Applied Science and Industrial Engineering from Dalhousie University. Over the course of five years, Alison has cultivated a culture of anticipating client needs and exceeding expectations at every touchpoint throughout the customer journey.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to the travel industry?
I was introduced to Jeff Willner, the founder of Kensington Tours, and I was really intrigued by his vision for the company. There are so few opportunities in one’s career to build something really big, and it was immediately clear that Kensington was one of those opportunities.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Above all, it’s about our people. We hire and nurture the best people out there, people who will go above and beyond to create one-of-a-kind experiences because they’re passionate about the power of travel to connect people with something unique. They’re good communicators who are able to really listen to clients and understand not just what they’re saying but what they mean. They’re central to how we create custom-tailored travel with private local guides — experiences that are truly personal, that are unforgettable, and that allows our clients to see the world in a different way.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I have been fortunate throughout my career to have had many mentors along the way. When I was at Maple Leaf Foods, I worked with a woman named Maryanne Chantler who taught me so much. She was a master of change management at a very senior level. We had just merged with another company, and she really championed the integration process. She was really thoughtful at managing up, and at the same time, she empowered her team to get things done. Seeing a woman who was smart, funny, charming and really good at what she did early in my career had an incredible impact on me.
Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?
Our innovation starts with the technology platform we’ve built in house. I think we’re pretty unique in that. It houses our data in one place, so it’s the heart of our relationships with our clients, and it also connects us with our teams on the ground around the world. This allows us to respond to our clients’ needs and build customized itineraries for them really quickly. We can spend more time and focus on adding value, looking for ways that we can serve our clients better. There’s a great quote from Issy Sharp, the founder of the Four Seasons, that I take to heart: “Systematize the predictable. Humanize the exceptional.” That’s what we’re trying to do.
Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation?
Through our combination of amazing people, innovative technology and our ability to customize, we’re able to deliver unforgettable experiences for our clients. People have so little time today — it’s the most precious resource for all of us — they want to make sure they get the most out of their travel. With Kensington, we can help clients see destinations in a way that others can’t. They feel that they’ve been listened to, that they’re seeing the authentic place, and they’re also getting unique access so they’re maximizing their time. That goes a long way to helping tailor once-in-a-lifetime travel experiences for them.
How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?
When you’re able to create unforgettable personalized experiences for consumers, you’ve demonstrated your relevance in a memorable way. In these days when people’s time is limited and attention is short, travel brands that aren’t able to deliver personalized experiences are going to find it increasingly difficult to differentiate themselves in such a cluttered marketplace. Sticking to the status quo means you’re going to have to fight harder for the consumer’s attention and to continually prove your relevance.
You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?
For me personally, the perfect travel experience is about the people I’m with, family or friends, and we’re definitely walking. Ideally, we’re in someplace with history, with a local guide, and we’re exploring small alleyways and uncovering history, and enjoying small bookstores and coffee shops. A place where there are stories, and where I feel like I’m a part of it all.
Can you share with our readers how have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’m really proud of our team and our shared commitment to giving back. Part of what makes them so good at what they do is that they feel a deep connection to our world and to the people who make it home. That connection really is one of our founding principles. So since our founding, we’ve been helping to build schools and other education projects in East Africa. And we’re supporting Nekton, which is an amazing not-for-profit foundation that does research into how and why the oceans are changing and is working to protect 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
People can follow us at @KensingtonTours on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.