60 seconds with Tech: Tolly Von Der Heyde, Business Analyst

As we continue to grow our Tech team, we'd like to introduce you to some of the fantastic talent we already have on board. In our '60 seconds with Tech' series we'll introduce you to various people within the department and take a closer look at their role and some of the projects they're working on.

What first attracted you to SE?

I have family within the hospitality industry and my new role is focused on analytics and project management which is my skill base. Also, the interview process was really friendly!

What does a typical day at SE look like for you?

Reasonably varied between supporting the team as the first line of support and moving forward the core project of the quarter.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

The team I work with are very welcoming and supportive of each other.

Your favourite holiday destination and why?

The Alps (specifically the three valleys) because I love to ski!

What 3 items would you take with you to a deserted island?

A book, a flare and a towel, you should never go anywhere without your towel.

Any interesting talents or hobbies to share?

I love sport! Rugby, surfing, skiing and skeleton luge are some of my favourites.

Why would you recommend SE as the place to be to others?

I would absolutely recommend SE as a place to work! The combination of an incredible group of people all with a positive attitude towards work has made it an awesome first month!

If you’re interested in applying for a role in Tech, discover your next opportunity here.

60 seconds with Tech: Mahrukh Tariq, Salesforce Business Analyst

As we continue to grow our Tech team, we'd like to introduce you to some of the fantastic talent we already have on board. In our '60 seconds with Tech' series we'll introduce you to various people within the department and take a closer look at their role and some of the projects they're working on.

What first attracted you to SE?

The work culture. Love the vibrant holiday vibe going on while getting work done! 

What does a typical day at SE look like for you?

Identifying where we can help our revenue and operation teams to boost our sales through salesforce. Looking at how we can provide solutions to keep the salesforce processes aligned with our business and analysing salesforce data to figure out where we can improve. 

What do you enjoy most about your role?

Exploring what the business is about and how we can make it better. 

Your favourite holiday destination and why?

Japan. For their culture, history and cherry blossom trees. 

What 3 items would you take with you to a deserted island?

A word search book, a good pair of shoes, a good camera. 

Any interesting talents or hobbies to share?

Taking pictures of sunsets, exploring new music and going to the cinema. 

Why would you recommend SE as the place to be to others?

For the vibrant work culture, free food and discounts on travelling.

If you’re interested in applying for a role in Tech, discover your next opportunity here.

60 seconds with Tech: Product Analyst, Darshana Sridhar

As we continue to grow our Tech team, we'd like to introduce you to some of the fantastic talent we already have on board. In our '60 seconds with Tech' series we'll introduce you to various people within the department and take a closer look at their role and some of the projects they're working on.

What first attracted you to SE?

How supportive the atmosphere seemed, and how lovely everyone was to talk to even in the early recruitment stages!

What does a typical day at SE look like for you?

No two days are the same, which is great! Typically, I’d have some meetings to understand stakeholder requirements for a piece of analysis, followed by speaking to the data team to source the data needed for this – and then the fun bit, which is actually carrying out the analysis and putting it into a digestible format for end users.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

I love how much creativity I can use in helping to solve important business problems. I also love that there is continuous growth and learning potential, both when it comes to useful technical skills as well as more about the business and the travel industry as a whole – I learn something new every day.

Your favourite holiday destination and why?

I would have to say Italy – the food is incredible, the history is so rich and the weather is almost always amazing!

What 3 items would you take with you to a deserted island?

My crockpot, my kindle and hair straighteners…a lack of electricity and internet might be an issue though!

Any interesting talents or hobbies to share?

I love cooking and trying out new recipes, but I’m an absolutely rubbish baker!

Why would you recommend SE as the place to be to others?

There is so much support and encouragement from across the team when it comes to onboarding and longer-term career and skills development. We hear it a lot, but the team is incredible – everyone is genuinely so kind and patient.

If you’re interested in applying for a role in Tech, discover your next opportunity here.

My first Hack day: Kirsten Grieve, Data Warehouse Engineer

Our monthly Hack days are such a great initiative at Secret Escapes. So, having recently changed to a more technical role, I jumped at the chance to take the reins and participate in our May Hack day (my first) alongside other members of the SE Tech team.

I saw this as a great opportunity to try out a new challenge. Plus, as you have to present your findings back to the team at the end of the two day event, it’s also a good way to get more experience presenting to a wide ranging technical audience.

My feelings before Hack day…

Having never done a Hack day before, I was a bit apprehensive about what to expect. 

Initially, I was a little nervous about what the scope of my proposed project to tackle should be, with only two days of hacking to crack it (technically a day and a half, as the second half of day two, is presenting your findings back to the business!) 

I was also a bit concerned about potential blockers I might encounter, but overall I was quite excited to have the freedom and flexibility to shape the project as I liked and take some time away from the day to day to explore and play around with new tools. 

Prepping for Hack day…

The project I chose to work on was around experimenting with different data diagramming tools to see if they would be fit for the current data landscape at Secret Escapes. 

We are currently upskilling, as well as hiring more analysts within the business, and I thought having some clear annotated diagrams of our datasets for new starters would be a great resource to give a basic overview of the data landscape. 

My prep:


1) I selected the dataset to use

2) I decided upon some success metrics with these tools which I could then use to score each tool I tried against

3) I did some research on the tools out there, read some blogs and from this decided on which tools I was going to try out

So, how did it go? 

All in all, a really good experience!  At first, it felt a bit alien to be extracting myself from the regular day to day project/backlog work and look into something completely new. 

I particularly enjoyed being able to determine the scope of work. If I ended up being interested in a specific aspect of a tool I could spend more time investigating this further, while at the same time if at first glance I knew a tool wouldn’t be suitable for SE I could write up my findings quickly and move on. 

I spent the most time looking into the first tool just to get familiar with the dataset and how to navigate the process, but once I got going I ended up looking at more tools than I expected. Not all of them worked and some of them worked very differently from what I’d read but I enjoyed the discovery component. 

Presenting back to a Technical audience was interesting as it’s not something I do very often (I usually present to either non-technical stakeholders or within my own Data team). Overall, I received positive feedback on my approach and presentation. 

In terms of the next steps, I’ll be kicking off wider discussions within the team as to whether we look into using any of these tools to improve our documentation. 

What I learnt…

  1. Prep is key – If I hadn’t made those decisions upfront, I probably would have used up a lot of the first day working through these.
  2. Stuff won’t work – One of the tools I was looking at that I thought was quite promising tried to overwrite our current setup in the backend – not my intention at all!
  3. You need to make quick decisions – you’re working on a tight schedule so you don’t have time to sit around and deliberate. For example, in one tool I was trying to work out how to connect Snowflake directly to a system to import the table DDLs, but after 30 mins with little success, I decided to park it and moved on to the next tool. 

Would I do it again?

Yes! 

I would 100% do it again, and I’d encourage anyone else who is thinking about it to give it a go! 

It was quite empowering to be given the freedom and flexibility to pick and run a mini project outside of the day job to work out. 

The experience will definitely stand me in better stead to have more informed and confident conversations on the tools out there. 

And, it was pretty fun to try out some new tech too!

Want to join our Tech Team? Find your next opportunity now!

Meet the Execs: Leo Purcell, Product & Product Design Director

Looking to make your next move in Product or Product Design? Meet Leo our Product & Product Design Director. Leo provides an insight into what it's like to work in his team and what he looks for in a stand out candidate with some handy career advice dos and don'ts.

How long have you been at Secret Escapes, and how long in your current role as Product & Product Design Director? 

I’ve just passed my 5th birthday at Secret Escapes. I joined with a mission to build a tour operator business at Secret Escapes – basically, helping us to turn hotels into holidays – but for the last year or so I have been responsible for the Product team, and for the last couple of months for the Product Design team too.

What’s the biggest risk you have taken in your career and has it paid off?

My wife was 8 months pregnant with our second child, we had just moved to a new house that we basically couldn’t afford and I rolled the dice. I quit my job to take a chance on a new opportunity. Did it pay off? I made the move because I wanted to get out of traditional retail and into e-commerce. Fortune favours the brave; I haven’t looked back since.

What has been the best career development opportunity for you here at SE?

My experience of Secret Escapes is that it is a meritocracy. If you collaborate to deliver results, opportunities come your way. My move into Product is a testament to that.

What is most important to you when fostering your team culture?

A few years ago whilst I was working in a fairly broken organisation, the CEO gave the senior management group a book called ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’. It basically explained why we were all so unhappy at work. The book, and that experience, taught me the importance of trust. Trust enables risk-taking and healthy debate, which in turn builds empowerment and engagement which, when pointed at the right goals, makes the good stuff happen. If I can foster a trusting atmosphere within my teams, and a trusting environment for them to interface within the wider organisation, the results will flow from there.

What have been some of your favourite projects or recent successes? 

Being in the travel industry during the pandemic was really stressful. But it was also an incredibly productive time at Secret Escapes. We swarmed around our mantra of ‘don’t waste a crisis’ and basically transformed the business. We pivoted our customer and supplier value proposition, with the Product team dropping multiple new features for our member, supplier and internal user customer groups.

Now the world is getting back to new-normal, it feels like we are emerging a far stronger business than before. It’s an exciting time.

What do you enjoy most about your job and why? What about the challenges?

Being at the intersection of customer, business and technology in a successful e-commerce business is a pretty cool place to be, right? I enjoy the challenge of imposing predictability on an unpredictable world, and the infinite variety of working with a big bunch of talented people.

What’s one thing that sets SE apart from other companies?

The attribute I value most at Secret Escapes is the supportive, collaborative atmosphere. It’s one of those intangible qualities that is hard to measure or contrive, but it’s been a constant enabler for me at Secret Escapes 

What is the one stand-out thing you look for in a candidate?

The question I constantly ask myself throughout the recruitment process is ‘can this person make stuff happen at Secret Escapes?’. Of course, that means different things for different roles, but fundamentally it covers hard skills, experience, cultural fit and a believable track record of contributing to results that can be measured in terms of business impact. 

And once we find that candidate and they join the team, the question evolves into ‘how can we enable this person to make stuff happen?’

What is the best thing about your team?

They are a bunch of heroes. Resilient, inquisitive, driven, persevering, honest, generous, talented. I could go on…

What is one piece of advice you would give to other professionals?

Don’t wait to be asked – has taking responsibility and showing initiative ever been a bad move?

Don’t think everyone else will have had that same thought you just had – what’s obvious to you may not be to the people around you. 

Do always view the world through a lens of empathy; seek to understand rather than assume.

Do have those conversations that feel uncomfortable if they also feel right.

Where’s your next travel destination and why?

If my family is in earshot, Costa Rica with a stopover in New York. Otherwise, bikepacking in Slovenia

BHM 2021: The Bristol Bus Boycott

30 April 1963 marked the Bristol Bus Boycott, which arose from the refusal of the Bristol Omnibus Company to employ Black or Asian bus crews in the city of Bristol. To understand why the Bristol Bus Boycott happened, it’s important to understand the history in the UK at the time. In the late 40s and throughout the 50s, mainland Britain faced a labour shortage after World War II, and looked to its Caribbean colonies to help fill the gap. Thousands of people, known now as the Windrush Generation, answered the call and arrived in Britain between 1948 and 1971. By 1963, there were an estimated 3,000 people of Caribbean origin living in Bristol. Many experienced racial discrimination, were violently attacked, denied housing, and, despite labour shortages, were refused jobs because of the colour of their skin.

In 1955, the Transport and General Worker’s Union passed a resolution that banned people of colour from working as bus drivers or conductors, and the Bristol Omnibus Company did nothing to dispute this. In response, a Jamaican man, Roy Hackett, helped set up the Commonwealth Coordinated Committee (CCC) in 1962, with the purpose of uniting the Caribbean community and supporting any Black person who was facing discrimination. Another Black-led organisation at the time was the West Indian Development Committee (WIDC), run by Paul Stephenson, Bristol’s first Black youth officer. Together, the CCC and the WIDC campaigned against racial injustices and their biggest fight was in 1963 against the Bristol Omnibus Company.

A plaque at Bristol Bus Station commemorating the boycott

Paul Stephenson brought the company’s racist policy to public attention. He put forward a well-qualified man named Guy Bailey for a vacancy as a bus conductor with the Bristol Omnibus Company, but when the employers realised Guy was a Black Jamaican, the interview was cancelled. In response to this, there was public outcry and, inspired by Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the CCC and WIDC called for a boycott of Bristol’s buses.

The boycott soon attracted national and international attention, with an array of big names lending their support to the campaign, including Prime Minister Harold Wilson, local Labour politician Tony Benn, and famous West Indian cricketer and diplomat Sir Learie Constantine. With pressure growing on the Bristol Omnibus Company, it was finally forced to end its ban in August 1963. 

A significant milestone in achieving racial equality, the boycott resulted in the employment of the first conductor of colour on 17 September 1963, Raghbir Singh. This demonstration ultimately influenced the passing of the Race Relations Act 1965, making “racial discrimination in public places” unlawful, and subsequently the Race Relations Act 1968, which extended protection from racial discrimination to employment and housing.

To find out more about the Bristol Bus Boycott, listen to the The History Hotline’s episode – available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

“Paul Stephenson’s life, as readers of this book will see, offers living proof that history is made by the people who make the effort.”

Read Paul Stephenson OBE’s autobiography, which details his hugely influential life and his role in the UK’s Civil Rights movement. Available from the Bristol Museums website.

World Mental Health Day 2021

1 in 4 of us will experience mental health problems each year, and having a colleague in your corner can make all the difference. The World Health Organisation recognises World Mental Health Day every year on the 10th of October (this Sunday).

We wanted to take this opportunity to highlight some information and resources available to you, and to let you know about what we have planned for next week.

Information and resources

There are lots of resources available on our SE World site, but here are a few we thought were particularly relevant:

Soon we’ll be launching a new global Employee Assistance Program that will give all our global employees access to 24/7 online support and six face-to-face counselling sessions. We will be sharing more details about this very soon.

On Monday 11th October at 11 am, we’ll be running a virtual yoga session. You’ll just need some comfy clothes for this calming breathwork and simple stretching session, which is suitable for everyone, from beginners to seasoned yogis. We’ve added this to your calendar

On Tuesday 12th October at 11 am, our meditation master Monica Auro will be running a session – we’ve added this to your calendar

Mindful colouring is proven to help us relax – so we’ll have a selection of colouring materials in the office for you to take a creative break throughout the week

Tea and talk: On Thursday 14th at 10 UK time, we’ll be meeting for 45 minutes to have a cuppa and a chat – we’ve added this to your calendar

Spending time outside can benefit both your mental and physical well-being. At 12.30 pm on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday we’ll be heading outside for a relaxing walk together – come along and take some time to clear your mind

Healthy breakfast: Look out for healthy breakfast options next week to help nourish your body and mind for the day ahead!

The kindness form is open!

This month, we’re trying something a little different! As well as our usual virtual messages, we’ll have physical kindness cards in the London office. Write your lovely message and pop it in the “kindness box” in the kitchen, then we’ll deliver it to your recipient (UK-based only). Please make sure that you put first and last names so we can get your message to the correct person!

Our new kindness cards were designed by the wonderful Warsan Abdullahi! If you’d like to help design some cards, please get in touch with wellbeing@secretescapes.com, or speak to Warsan!

Submit your kindness note here, or pick up a card in the office! 

BHM 2021: Tilbury Docks, Essex & HMT Empire Windrush

Taken from Germany by the British government as reparations at the end of WWII, the Empire Windrush began her life as a troopship and became an emblem of something much greater; the UK government’s systematic failing of a generation. On 21st June 1948, the Empire Windrush landed at Tilbury Docks in Essex. Over 800 of her 1,027 passengers gave their last place of residence as somewhere in the Caribbean. Most had embarked in Jamaica, but some had also joined the vessel in Trinidad, Bermuda and Guyana. They had been beckoned to Britain by the promise of job opportunities created by the UK’s post-war labour shortage. 

Many passengers ended their journeys in London, settling in places like Brixton and Clapham, while others continued north to Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester, to work in the staff-starved NHS and transport systems. Those who landed at Tilbury Docks may have been the first passengers to arrive from the Caribbean under this scheme, but they were not the last. The British Nationality Act of 1948 gave the right of settlement in the UK to any person who had been born in a British colony, and between 1948 and 1973, it is estimated that almost half a million people moved from the Caribbean to the UK. 

Windrush scandal protests in 2017

Those who arrived during this time—dubbed the ‘Windrush generation’—were not given any documentation on arrival, because as citizens of British colonies that were not independent, they had the right to permanently work and live in the UK. However, in 2012, Prime Minister Theresa May introduced the ‘Hostile Environment’ legislation, designed to make the UK ‘unliveable’ for undocumented migrants. Stories began to surface of members of the Windrush generation being unlawfully detained, deported and denied access to public resources, including the NHS, bank accounts and driving licenses unless they could prove their right to remain. 

Proving this was an impossible feat for many; especially those who had arrived as children on their parents’ passports. The Home Office—who in 2010 destroyed the landing cards which proved many people’s settled status—demanded one official document for every year they had lived in the UK; an unfeasible burden placed on the backs of those who had done nothing wrong. 

The Windrush Scandal is far from over. In 2020, an independent enquiry into the scandal found that it was “foreseeable and avoidable”, and a compensation scheme was announced. But there are a huge number of cases that have not been resolved, thousands of people awaiting compensation, and the policy which allowed this to happen in the first place—Theresa May’s ‘Hostile Environment’ legislation—is still in place today. 

Watch & Read

To find out more about the Windrush Scandal, watch Sitting in Limbo, a BBC drama which focuses on the life of Anthony Bryan, a Jamaican-born British man who was a victim of the government’s ‘Hostile Environment’ legislation. Bryan had lived in the UK for 50 years when the government’s policy identified him as an “illegal immigrant”.

“How do you pack for a one-way journey back to a country you left when you were eleven and have not visited for fifty years?”

Read Amelia Gentleman’s book ‘The Windrush Betrayal: Exposing the Hostile Environment’, an exposé of the Windrush scandal that shocked the nation, and led to the resignation of Amber Rudd as Home Secretary.

Celebrating 10 years of Secret Escapes

2021 marks the ten-year anniversary of Secret Escapes. 

Since our launch in 2011 we have welcomed over 60 million members globally and delivered great value deals on dream escapes to some of the most incredible destinations around the world. While a lot has changed over the past decade, one thing still remains the same; we’re committed to delivering irresistible discounts on luxury travel to help our members discover corners of the world they might never have imagined. 

To celebrate, we’re looking back over our key milestones from the past ten years.  We’re incredibly proud of the company we have built, the people we have employed and the successes we’ve all contributed to along the way; from hiring our very first employee (Dan Evans, who is still part of the team), to reaching our 5 million member mark and acquiring the businesses that make up the Secret Escapes Group today.

We’ve been financially supported by some of the world’s greatest investors: legendary venture capital firms such as Index Ventures, global powerhouses like Temasek, no greater household name than Google and (among others) the UK’s greatest home-grown venture capital success story, Octopus Ventures. They have believed in us, celebrated success with us, stood by us in tough times, and have truly been an integral part of the Secret Escapes story.

2011

The big one! Day one. The Secret Escapes Group launched and our website went live in the UK with just 5 deals (they must have been good ones!).

2012

We launched our very first TV ad – the one everyone remembers to this day. Starring Camilla Arfwedson, whispering a slogan that has since become synonymous with our brand, “the worst kept secret in luxury travel”.

2013

We expanded into Europe and Scandinavia, with Secret Escapes launching sites in Germany, shortly followed by Sweden. In just two short years, we had reached over 5 million members in the UK, Germany and Sweden.

2014

We acquired two new brands, Travelist  (a flash deals brand in Poland) and Germany-based JustBook, a mobile-based specialist in business travel sector bookings.

We expanded even more with Secret Escapes launching in Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, and later in the year, the US.

2015

We expanded to four new territories; Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium.

2016

We spread our wings in Asia, expanded to France and made more moves in Eastern Europe.

2017

We acquired 100% of Slevomat Group (Slevomat.cz, Zlavomat.sk and Skrz.cz), Central and Eastern Europe’s leading travel deals and experiences company.

2018

We acquired the assets of TravelBird and restarted the website as part of the Secret Escapes Group.

2019

We launched our iOS App in January 2019.

We acquired Empathy Marketing Limited, welcoming Ireland’s leading marketplace for premium hospitality and e-commerce into the Secret Escapes Group. 

We appointed Kate Swann, as Chair of the Secret Escapes board.

We sent 6 billion emails to our members this year alone!

2020

The global COVID-19 pandemic turned the world of travel upside down, but in the face of adversity, the Secret Escapes team rose to the challenge, helping over 100,000 members in a single month.  

When lockdowns eased, we inspired our members with a wide range of refundable deals – perfect for a ‘Staycation Summer’  to get around international travel restrictions. 

In November, we launched our Android app!

2021

We bounced back after the toughest 18 months faced by the travel industry, offering a wide range of domestic and international stays to our travel-hungry audience. 

The Secret Escapes Group sustained strong performance despite months of widespread uncertainty and changing guidance on where and when people could travel.

The future…

Looking back over the past ten years shows just how far we’ve come, but we certainly aren’t slowing down yet. 

As we return to the office, trialling our new, more flexible way of working, we’re excited to see our core values, ‘We are good people’ and ‘We make stuff happen’ continue to be at the centre of what we do. We look forward to sharing plenty more irresistible deals on luxury (albeit not-so secret any more) escapes with you in the years to come!

Your £500 referral trip: Jasmine in Bali

One of our core values at Secret Escapes is 'We're good people' and one of the ways that shows is in our employee referral scheme. If you successfully refer a candidate for a role, we reward our employees with £500 credit to put towards their next big trip! We caught up with Jasmine, our Senior ATL Manager who took her husband to Bali for a magical getaway!

Where did you go, which hotel(s) and for how long?

We decided to spend 10 nights in Bali, moving around to three different areas & staying in some amazing hotels. We chose Plataran Ubud & Spa in Ubud, Plataran Menjangan Resort and Spa in West Bali National Park, and finally Plataran Canggu Resort and Spa in Canggu.

Who did you take? Why did they deserve to go on this trip with you?

I went with my husband who definitely deserved to come and share the experience of Bali with me (and also to look after me as I was 5 months pregnant at the time!). 

Was this trip for a special occasion or simply using your well-deserved annual leave?

It was originally planned for my 30th birthday, but then also turned into a mini babymoon! 

How would you rate the hotel and any of the amenities? Did anything standout?

Everything was brilliant, the staff were very accommodating and lovely. The final hotel was very luxurious with our own villa and pool. 

What’s your favourite experience from this trip?

Getting to see how chaotic Bali is and visiting different areas of the island was great as they all had very different and unique appeals! 

Would you go back to this destination or hotel?

Yes! 

What’s one top secret tip you learned on this trip you could share with our employees and members? (e.g. local bar or restaurants, breathtaking viewpoint, popular beach, best swimming spot, local delicacies…)

If you want to relax in a beach bar one day, Potato Head Beach Club in Seminyak has a really low spend cap for the main beds which I don’t think people always realise, so you can live in luxury for the day at the expense of a few drinks and a meal – plus, it’s a stunning spot to watch the sunset! 

I personally think it’s best not to drive and to instead get cabs everywhere because the roads were too crazy for us to attempt to be safe! And finally, we went at a really lovely time of year at the end of February when the Balinese were celebrating a festival and in the lead-up, the streets were being decorated and the day of the festival itself was very lovely! 

Where would you like to go next?

Greece!!