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Erin Johnson - International Tourism, 2001

Erin Johnson - International Tourism, 2001

Erin Johnson - International Tourism, 2001

“Persevere!” says Erin Johnson, speaking from Silversea Cruises’ office in St James’, London. “I didn’t become a Marketing Director overnight, it’s taken a lot of work and a lot of hard hours. Don’t give up, if it’s a dream you have to work within the industry in a senior position then keep going.”

Erin’s grandfather was a commercial pilot and seeing the places that he took his family was something that stuck with her. “I’ve always had a keen interest in travel” she explains, “But I think the expectation was that I’d end up doing something like Geography. The more I looked into it myself, I felt that a course that would help me work in industry for a year would stand me in good stead. Then I found this International Tourism degree, and Leeds Met as it was at the time, was one of the places that offered that. I just got a really good vibe from the university and the subjects that made up the course.

“I remember my first day really clearly. My parents dropping me off in Kirkstall, I was in halls with five others. Of course, we didn’t know each other, but we went to the Students’ Union on the first night, and just became ensconced in university life.

“All the people on the course were from such diverse backgrounds. I was one of the youngest, coming straight to university from school, but there was this real camaraderie about us all trying to gain something meaningful out of our years at university.

“Most of all, I remember the relationships we had with the tutors on the course. They made us feel very informed, we had some really good speakers who had been in industry before, so you really felt that you were learning something. The emphasis on helping students find a meaningful placement was excellent as well.”

It was on her placement year that Erin first got a taste for marketing, and when she returned to university for her third year, it was cemented in her mind that she wanted to pursue it. “Before that, I didn’t know what I wanted to do within the industry. It became very clear after that year that I wanted to concentrate on marketing, so in my third and fourth year those were the subjects I excelled in.”

Graduating with a first class BA (Hons) International Tourism degree in 2001, Erin’s first role after university was sales and marketing coordinator for SeaVacations, a wholly-owned general sales agent for the Carnival Corporation. “In my head I kind of just thought I was going to work for an airline, because of the family connection” she recalls “but in my final year, I think I must have been researching something for a paper and I was looking at Travel Weekly and in the classified section at the back there was this job.

“I was very, very lucky to find someone who gave me a chance. Whilst I didn’t have the experience, they saw that I’d been to university and was leaving with a first class honours degree and I’d had a year in industry, in marketing, so I could speak about that experience. I went to the interview in London and was offered the job the next day. I literally had a week after finishing in Leeds to starting in London.

“I was very lucky to work for that business for 15 years in various guises. It was very much an admin role to begin with, but that gave me a grounding into a very busy sales and marketing department. That role progressed into marketing supervisor, marketing manager then head of marketing.”

With the desire to access the UK market themselves, the brands that Erin was working on split, with half of the operations moving to Southampton. “I really had to think about my life situation. I’d just got married and bought a home. It wasn’t the right time. So I applied for the head of marketing role at Carnival Cruise Line and got that.”

“Working at Carnival was a really exciting time. We launched a television advert, which allowed me to get into the creative agency side of things. That’s one of my biggest achievements, really getting Carnival Cruise Line on the map and having it recognised as a name within the industry, as well as seeing the advert on TV during X Factor in December, that was amazing.”

Then in 2016, Carnival decided to take a different course with their marketing efforts and Erin found herself looking for new opportunities.

“I just thought ‘oh, what can I do?’ I’d been there a long time, and all I’d thought of was cruise, and then a couple of conversations happened and I got the role at Silversea.

“My team and I, we are jack-of-all-trades. On an average day we might get in PR enquiries, digital enquiries, be working on trade events or direct mail campaigns, and because of that we have a very broad knowledge of all categories within the marketing sector, which is great.

“I work very closely with our head office, working on key messaging that needs to be nuanced for the UK market, but the job changes everyday. I love the variety. I love that we sell dreams to people, going on holiday is an amazing experience and to be able to showcase Antarctica or the Galapagos Islands to guests is so exciting.”

Outside of work, Erin was also recently inducted into the Association of Women Travel Executives (AWTE) Most Influential Women in Travel, Tourism and Hospitality list, one of only five people to be given the gong this year. Erin says: “It’s a really great honour because it’s something that’s voted on by your peers in the industry. It’s not something I would ever have decided to raise my own hand for, but it’s nice to be recognised by people that you work with. It’s very humbling.”

Recognising Erin’s achievements in the industry, the Dean of the School of Events, Tourism & Hospitality Management at Leeds Beckett has invited Erin to join his advisory group, to share her insights into the industry, setting the direction of travel in educating the future talent for the sector. “I was thrilled to be asked to be honest.” Says Erin. “Education is something that I’m very passionate about, both of my team members have been to university and we all understand the value of a degree. I know there’s a lot of talk at the moment about people not being able to afford it and actually ‘is it worth it?’ But for me, if someone has done a degree then it means that they can apply themselves. They know that they have to spend a certain amount of time and be disciplined enough to complete something. That’s a really good skill, and if I was looking for someone to employ it would really show that they are committed.”