The Man Behind Contiki

How one simple note stuck to a noticeboard led John Anderson to a multi-million dollar business

The Collective - Contiki resized
hoto courtesy of John Anderson


In 1962, at the age of 23, New-Zealand born John Anderson headed to England on a year-long trip. Some 20 years later he returned home with a wife, four children and a multi-million dollar business.

He put up a notice in the Overseas Visitors Club. It read: “12-week tour (camping), 15 countries, departing 29 April, cost: £100, only two seats left!” Already John’s business prowess had begun to show. “Often if you make something hard for people to get, they want it even more,” he says. “It’s a ploy I’ve often used.”

The notice worked a charm. John filled a 12-seater red Commer van, nicknamed it ‘Tiki’ (a good luck Maori charm) and away he – and his paying customers – went. The tour was a raging success and just three days after returning to London, John turned around and ran another one.

But when the second tour arrived on the French Riviera with 10 days to go, John realised he did not have enough cash to complete the trip through Spain and back to London. So, thinking on his feet, John says all that stood between an early return to London and his group of passengers was the roulette table at the Monte-Carlo Casino.

“I had nothing to lose and I knew how to play roulette,” he says. He put aside enough funds to get his crew directly back to London (if he lost) and put the remaining cash on the gaming table. Amazingly, he won enough to complete the full itinerary. “I came back to the camp that evening as though nothing had happened, as if I’d simply been into town. And I nonchalantly said, ‘Ok, we are off to Spain today!’”

Back in London, John took what he learned, revised the itinerary, increased the price and ran more tours over the next couple of years. At the end of the third year, Tiki Tours Limited was formed (the ‘Con’ for continent was added later).

“Contiki was actually one of the very first companies to start the coach tour business. There were few coaches in those days. I mean, not like [today]. It’s a huge industry now,” says John.

These days, John still travels the world on the professional-speaking circuit, sharing Contiki anecdotes (and there are plenty) as well as business tips and insights. Here are our favourite pieces of wisdom from the globetrotting entrepreneur.

“I’m an entrepreneur. I believe entrepreneurs are born, leaders are made. Not everyone will agree with me but entrepreneurs have few negative thoughts. We can be very dangerous people as we are ideas people with positive attitudes and we can get quite carried away.”

“I say, ‘Always be aware of failure, but never, ever fear it’, because if you do, you won’t do it,”

“I always say, ‘You’ve got to watch for opportunities’, and when they present themselves to you – grab them!”

“Never analyse an idea to death because if you do, you will end up not doing it, because you will find too many things that could go wrong. If it stacks up and feels right – just do it!”

“The strength of any company is the strength of the leader. Show me a company in trouble and I will go straight to the top – weak leadership. Show me a successful company and I will go straight to the top; that’s where the strength of any organisation lies.”

Read the full story in Issue 7 of the Collective

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