A Chat with Toby Paramor: Looking into the Heart of the Youth Travel Industry
The inner workings of Toby Paramor, founder of Stoke Travel and a dear friend to all at Global Hobo, is a mystery to many. Does he really live on the couch of his office? What is the legal status of his presence in Spain? Is the logo of his company, featuring two people fucking in a tent, some sort of metacommentary on patriarchal notions of promiscuity?
Among the corporate hustle, Toby generously found the time to submit answers to what he described as a set of “prying and, dare I say, kind of unexpectedly obtuse interview questions”, which is fairly rich criticism seeing as he wrote them himself.
In his own words — and in what may end up an extract from his soon-to-be-ghostwritten memoirs — here is some fascinating insight into a rather unconventional CEO.
Whilst all advice deters me from the potential manipulation of the powerful travel press gang… well, fuck it. I hope you treat my generously candid responses kindly come publication.
It has been reported that not all of your staff are legally working in the EU, and in addition, suffer from a lack of decent legal protections and rights afforded. Is this a commonly rife practice in the travel industry, or are you renegade abusers?
Wow. Straight to the juggernaut. I have always said to my team that a collection of talented individuals without personal discipline will ultimately and inevitably fail. Character triumphs over talent. Performance equals character plus behaviour. In other words, if integrity is a central leadership tool and everyone in a team does exactly what they say they will do, well then, clarity, certainty, productivity and momentum are the results.
You have been historically accused of selling sex to sell your tours…
*Interrupting* Well hang on a minute there. Firstly can I just say that my ex-wife’s sister works tirelessly in Vietnam with the United Nations in the sex trafficking… wing. (Do they call it that? A wing?) So I do have some knowledge of the industry and I can tell you that we don’t “traffic” much, and if we do it isn’t young girls and boys who were seemingly not otherwise dedicated to achieving higher grades at school. Where they should be.
The #metoo movement has exploded in recent months in your industry. What has been your strategy to navigate its turbid waters?
If I were given the ultimatum as follows — that we have been tasked with creating the perfect salad from only three ingredients — and at my hypothetical disposal, we have been provided with two salad ingredients, namely violently sawed attempted-cubed oranges (have you ever tried to cube an orange? its a nightmare) and thinly grated raw carrot. Say I am then tasked with conjuring the perfect third ingredient. What would that ideal third ingredient be, you ask?
Well, many people would, of course, follow the colour pattern and suggest, say, a roasted pumpkin (easier to cube if not too small and not overcooked), but here at Stoke, the natural third ingredient to such a hypothetical would have to be cinnamon powder. Aldi here in Europe sells a fantastic easy-to-dispense variety for less than 2 euros. It will get you through many a curiously fresh summer salad. How they do it is a mystery to us all. What are their overheads? How do they divide the euro cents between agricultural production in the developing world, refinement, transport, packaging, quality control, a purposefully lame attempt at branding that reinforces our impression of a bargain and so on? Surely cinnamon doesn’t play a part in their loss-leading strategy.
Where do you see the future of the tour company sector?
Organised tours for adventurous youths are dead. Companies are going belly up left right and centre. In these days of smartphones getting you to your destination and providing you with all the information that you could possibly require, not to mention relative decreases in the cost and therefore accessibility of air travel killing the requirement of a tour bus… well, the whole industry is a shoddy proposition and highly unadvised as a commercial investment. Stoke Travel and associated brands — the Stoke Brew Co, the Stoke Threads Co, the Stoke Bar Co, the Stoke Media Co, the Stoke Retreats Co (an idea inspired by Global Hobo’s writing workshops, whose intellectual heights we can only dream of reaching) the Stoke Boat Co etc. — are Europe’s premier not-for-profit… um, organisation.
People often ask, “Did you rescue two drowning refugees during your end-of-year staff charity trip to Greece?” To which I say, “Yes.” It was quite the Baywatch moment, less the tits. Hardly any tits. And in addition to the awkwardly unappreciative refugee adolescents in question, there were several well-integrated-to-society witnesses.
Rumour has it you are launching a new venture in Lisbon with a giant floating hostel?
Yes that is true. It is called the Stoke Boat. 600 and something beds. A theatrical procession. The boat was actually built in 1961 and christened ‘The Funchal’ (do boats get baptised also?), but because our company is called Stoke, and it is a boat, and despite the calamitous risk of disaster bestowed on the changing of a boat’s name, we figured that since it is not actually moving, we could just call it the Stoke Boat.
There is a little black speck or dot on my screen here (possibly a stubborn coffee grain that has found itself stuck — Ethiopean blend) that is aligning up perfectly with the text to appear as if it is a full stop. Period. Very confusing for the typist. Where are your readers based, by the way? Will they understand if I say “full stop” during the interview? Or are they a period crowd? Is it meant to appear that this is a conversational rather than written interview? I know that you guys do that sometimes.
End of interview
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Gemma Clarke is the editor-in-chief of Global Hobo. She spends her time contracting tinea in foreign countries, taking afternoon naps in her van and drinking red wine through a (bamboo) straw.