So You’re Thinking of Working In The Travel Industry?

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Before the world stood still to deal with a global pandemic, the travel and tourism industry contributed towards 10% of the world’s economy. Over the previous five years before 2020, the tourism industry kept growing and was responsible for one in every four new jobs. It therefore comes as no shock that many people’s lives have been affected by the pandemic.

So You're Thinking of Working In The Travel Industry?
Madagascar | © Meike Simms

Think about how many people are involved in your travels; the hotel porter, local tour guide, AirBnb host, cabin crew, street food vendor and coach driver, to name a few! The thought does bring an overwhelming feeling of sadness, however, I am confident that as soon as tourists return, the same people will be ready to deliver a safe and incredible travel experience once more.

The Power of The Travel Industry To Change An Area

Tourism has the power to evolve a country. Sri Lanka, for example, came out of a thirty-year civil war in 2009, which left the country in a poor state. Once its borders opened up to tourists again, people naturally wanted to explore the country. Sri Lanka economised on this influx and tourism soon contributed to one fifth of the island’s economy, transforming many Sri Lankan lives which had previously been decimated by the long standing conflict. Other well known examples of tourism changing a country’s economy include Vietnam, Israel and Nicaragua.

Are you thinking of joining the tourism sector but are unsure of how?

Then good news! You don’t necessarily need a qualification in tourism or extensive travel history, just a passion for travel is usually enough to get your foot in the door! I will tell you my story which led me to the tourism sector.

Volunteering In Kefelonia

My journey unknowingly began when I was 16. I went on my first solo (well, semi-solo) trip to Kefalonia, a Greek island off the western coast of Greece. I was volunteering in a team of fellow travelers (Wildlife Sense) to research sea turtles nesting on the island’s beaches. I learnt a lot about myself. I had been very depressed at home and I hadn’t really acknowledged the fact until I was out of the situation and able to reflect on it fully. The trip allowed me to begin my path of personal self healing (although that’s a whole other story). From there, my travel bug began to really itch.

So I decided to continue pursuing scientific research abroad in order to expand my travel horizons, as well as continue to study. Therefore, I decided to study Zoology at university, allowing me to go on more scientific research trips to Borneo, Sri Lanka and Iceland.

After graduating university, I was a bit stuck on what I wanted to do. I knew I didn’t want to do a masters, which most scientists do, as I hadn’t taken a gap year and I needed a break from education. I then discovered a voluntourism gap year company who offered internships, and my career in travel began. I knew I wanted to do something conservation related but I wasn’t sure what, so being able to motivate people to help save the natural world seemed to be the perfect solution!

Trip to borneo | © Meike Simms
Trip to borneo | © Meike Simms

Working For Tour Operators

I worked for UK tour operators who ran tours outside of the UK but sold to UK clients. The role of the tour operator is to sell pre-made or custom-made packages by the travel agents on the ground, in the exoctic destination.

The most well known examples include Intrepid, G Adventures and Audley. Customers come to tour operators because they want the best inside knowledge and access to accommodations and deals, without the hassle of booking everything separately themselves.

After interning for a few months, I was promoted to the sales team. Selling fantastic experiences in amazing destinations which you are passionate about is certainly appealing, which is why most people who start in travel end up in sales. The other reason most people begin in sales is the benefit of commission and work trips, the travel sector’s biggest draw.

Benefits of Working in Travel Industry

After two years of hard work, I finally got my first work trip! After that, I had at least one trip a year, pretty common for employees of tour operators. Depending on the role and demand on sales, you can earn a few trips a year! I was lucky enough to be sent to Costa Rica, Madagascar, Georgia and India over my few years working for Wild Frontiers Adventure Travel, testing out luxury hotels I could only dream of affording to stay in. You can also pay for agent trips out of your own pocket. These are usually free or heavily discounted trips that have been offered by an agent but there is no business need to go so you can go using your own holiday time and well earned cash.

Zip Line through Costa Rica | © Meike Simms
Zip Line through Costa Rica | © Meike Simms

The work trips entice most people to work in tourism, although after the pandemic, tour operators may not be offering such benefits as freely as before.

So what else did I get out of working within the travel industry?

An unexpected aspect of the role was the amount of contacts I made across the globe. Everyday I was emailing someone from a different country, building relationships and business partnerships. When I went out on a work trip, meeting my contacts in person solidified these ties and created lasting friendships. I also learned so much about how different countries operate and cultures communicate, allowing me the skill to easily communicate and work with people from across the globe. A transferable skill in any job role or sector!

On top of all this, I genuinely enjoyed working with every person I met in travel. There will always be characters in any workplace that may rub you the wrong way, but in the tourism industry most people are fueled by their adventurous spirit and genuine love for meeting new people and exploring new places, so that was a rarity for me. Tourism is all about providing lifelong memories and sharing your passion for a destination, something all tourism professionals share!

So have I used my travel sales skills (another transferable skill!) to convince you to work in the tourism sector?

Here Are My Final Top Tips For Working In The Travel Industry

There are various avenues to start working at a tour operator. Sales is the most common, where good knowledge of a destination or region from personal travels, or being multilingual, is usually enough to start with.

If your specialism lies elsewhere, then travel companies usually have a Marketing, Product, Finance, Administration, Customer Support, Human Resources and IT department. And work trips do get offered to departments outside of sales too, although not as many a year. Lastly, there is the option to study tourism at university, but do not worry if you’re not interested in a degree in tourism, most people I knew working in travel did not take that route into the industry!

Sea Turtles in Costa Rica | © Meike Simms
Sea Turtles in Costa Rica | © Meike Simms

I would encourage anyone who is interested in tourism to explore the many positions available, in or out of their own country. If you are worried about getting into the sector after the pandemic, I hope I have motivated you to not give up on your dream! Travel is back on the rise, with vaccinated travelers given entry to most countries now, so now is the time to give it a go!

My Reccomended Companies

Here are some links to companies that I recommend traveling with or applying for based on my experience and recommendations from within the travel industry.

Sea Turtles in Costa Rica | © Meike Simms

Tour operators:

Volunteering Abroad:

If you liked this article why not check out our other articles on working and travel section from our experience travelling contributors. Here are our readers top 3 articles

  1. Working as a fitness instructor in Greece
  2. Get the low down on season life
  3. How to become a full time adventurer
Follow Nicole:

Owner of Travels and Wandering | Lecturer by Day, Nomad at Heart Adventure Travel Tester | Outdoor Instructor | Mountaineering and Outdoors Researcher | Strength and Conditioning Coach | Yoga Instructor | Personal Trainer | Fitness Pro | Endo Warrior, Pelvic Congestion Syndrome, Spoonie

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