How to be a leader: sustainable travel expert Nikki White

Sensemaking / How to be a leader: sustainable travel expert Nikki White

31 Jan 2011

Since 1996, Forum for the Future’s Masters in Leadership for Sustainable Development has been training the sustainability leaders of the future. Each issue, we track the career of a Forum alumnus.

Nikki White

Class of: 2008-09
Currently: Head of Destinations and Sustainability at ABTA, The Travel Association

Why I chose the MProf
I’d been working in advertising, at a time when more and more people were beginning to ask questions about sustainability and how it linked with communications. I realised that not many people knew about this in the advertising world, so I did a short course in ethical enterprise in Scotland – and just thought, “I need to know more”. Someone up in Scotland had got onto the Masters Course, so that’s how I heard about it.

What I learnt
I realised quite how limited I’d been just focusing on the business world. Working in different sectors held quite an appeal for me, as I’d been in the same one since I graduated. So the chance to understand how government and the public sector work was just fascinating. I learnt a lot about myself, and about leadership – which was great, as I’d come from a director position in my previous role. I knew I’d do things differently in the future.

Career to date
Before the Masters I was at the advertising agency Fox Kalomaski, which specialises in travel – a lifelong fascination for me. I was there for 13 years, and I know it’s unusual to stay with an organisation for so long, but a lot changed in the time I was there. By the age of 30, I was on the board, which was my big personal success. Now I’m at ABTA, in charge of crisis management. So, when something like a hurricane hits, we’re in touch with the tour operators and liaising with the Foreign Office, trying to keep everyone calm...

What I plan to do next
I’ve only been at ABTA a year. We’ve made a lot of progress getting sustainability on the agenda, with two key elements: thriving destinations, and responsibility in a finite world. But there’s still a huge agenda to work on. One of the most interesting things for me is integrating health and safety with sustainability. I don’t think the two have been tackled together often, but there’s so much cross-over. We need to look at the livelihoods of the people in the travel destinations, their public health, the infrastructure of water supplies...

Advice for future leaders
Be comfortable in your own style, and take confidence in it. You’ll find it’s like a burden lifted – you don’t have to fit in with anybody else!

Nikki White was in conversation with Katie Shaw.

What might the implications of this be? What related articles have you seen?

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