An insider’s perspective of working in the travel industry
I am lucky enough to have worked in travel for the last decade. It’s an incredible field, who wouldn’t be drawn to it?! The lure of experiencing far-flung destinations, the crazy industry deals, living and breathing travel, what a dream! Here I impart my experience working in the industry, the pros and cons, some potential roles, and my story.
Pros of working in the travel industry
Purpose & fulfillment: Travel is a joyful and uplifting world to work in. There are tough days, but for the most part, there is great purpose that comes from opening up the world for people.
Travel deals: Being on the inside unlocks many perks. This is dependent on the company and job, but I was lucky enough to have free or heavily discounted travel too many times to name. I’ll get into that in my story section.
Vacation time: Travel companies are more generous with vacation time, they encourage employees to travel. By year 7, I had 6 weeks of vacation annually. Some travel tech companies, like Tour Radar, give unlimited vacation.
Career Growth: Travel companies tend to be progressive with growth, giving opportunities to those with strong results, rather than seniority. There is lots of room for movement within the industry. ***The airline industry differs when it comes to the flight crew, specialized, and technical roles.***
Equal Opportunity: The industry tends to be accepting of varied ethnic backgrounds, is notoriously female-dominated, and LGBTQ+ friendly. My experience was very positive when it came to equal opportunity. Although, I can’t speak for all companies!
No Degree Needed: You can have a successful career without a degree. Career opportunities tend to be based on performance, with lots of chances for progression.
Flexibility & autonomy: Travel companies are moving towards more flexible workplaces. This includes remote work, independent contractors, part-time, shared roles or seasonal employment.
The people: Many roles within the travel industry are fun, with high variety and interactions with like-minded travelers. I met some of my best friends (and fiance) in the industry.
The pay: While the money can be good, travel is notoriously low paying. This is evolving, especially in travel tech and airlines, which usually pay well. Many of the travel agency roles are commission-based sales roles, so you can earn a lot, but it’s dependent on your skills. The lower pay can equalize when considering the travel discounts and other perks, such as time off.
Work Travel: Traveling for work sounds glamorous, and it might be for the first few weeks, but it can get old. Not all jobs involve work travel, which is a common misconception. Sales reps for travel brands and airline crew often spend 50% of their time on the road, whereas most hotel staff rarely travel.
Sales Roles: Travel agents, sales representatives and business development managers at airlines, tour operators and agencies are mostly commission-based jobs. You write your own paycheck, but it takes time to build a business. There are employees that don’t enjoy this inconsistency in pay.
The Learning Curve: Most of the roles in the industry aren’t easy. It’s not a phone-it-in kind of job. Generally, there are many systems and skills to learn.
Constant change: The industry is evolving at an alarming rate and is impacted by changes in technology, the economy, and political or environmental developments. A common saying we have in the travel world is ‘the only constant is change.’ If you like predictability and consistency, this may not be the industry for you. This is a positive for people who like a dynamic environment.
TRAVEL INDUSTRY ROLES
There are many facets of the travel world. Some of the big players include airlines, tour operators, hotels, travel agencies, tourism boards, and of course, tech companies or online agencies (OTAs). Here are a few of the most obvious job choices.
Travel agencies, surprisingly, are not a thing of the past. Agents offer expertize and customization in a way the internet never can. Flight Centre is a great example. They are the fifth largest travel company world-wide and are diverse in their portfolio of brands. They employ leisure consultants, corporate experts, group teams, luxury agencies, and wholesale agents, all in the sales realm. There are also roles in IT, marketing, recruitment, training, HR, finance, management, and graphic design, among others. Travel agents get some of the best perks in the industry, including free or discounted travel.
Independent travel agents are huge in North America. Independent agents run their own business, possibly as part of consortia like Virtuoso.
Corporate travel agents specialise in business travel. Companies have employees that need to travel for work. Agents save those businesses time and money by booking that travel for them. Some firms have in-house travel agents, others outsource to agencies like Corporate Traveler and American Express. There tends to be good income and job security in corporate travel.
Interested in learning about travel agents? Read my article on Travel Agents Uncovered: https://www.novatravels.org/travel-agents-uncovered/
Tour operators span from local food tours to multi-day expeditions to Patagonia or even Everest. The adventure travel market is an exciting arena, featuring brands like Intrepid Travel, G Adventures, and Exodus. Luxury tour operators sell quality products, like high-end safaris with Abercrombie & Kent. There are countless tour operators and this segment is known for having happy workplaces and excellent perks. They are not known for paying high salaries, although there are always exceptions.
Roles within a tour company includes guides, business development, inside sales, trainers, finance, IT, HR, marketing, and management.
Intrepid Travel: http://www.anrdoezrs.net/click-9205825-12239281
Airlines are likely the first companies that come to mind when you think travel. They have many roles including flight crew, inside sales, customer service agents, ticketers, sales reps, admin, dispatchers, ground attendants, aviation technicians, aviation meteorologists, operations, IT, marketing, branding, training, and management. The airlines have the potential for top-end wages and strong career progression. They tend to require more technical training.
Tech & Online
When you think travel tech you likely think of Expedia Group. They have acquired many brands including VRBO, Trivago, Hotwire, and Travelocity. They are a tech giant, along with the likes of Airbnb. Tour Radar, Priceline and Culture Trip are examples of smaller companies.
Roles with companies like Expedia or Airbnb include software development, marketing, data analysts, customer service, managers, product, admin, IT, collections, analytics, franchise onboarding, travel agents, and data scientists.
Hotels & Accommodations
Hotels are a huge part of travel. Hotel jobs include reservations, front desk, concierge, housekeeping, food, and beverage, marketing, sales, management, purchasing, advertising, and accounting. Working for hotels includes perks like heavily discounted hotel stays. There isn’t much work travel, except with senior roles. There is a strong potential for career advancement with hotel groups.
Tourism boards are often great places to work. Their objective is to boost visitors, revenue and sales to their destination. They also aim to enhance the traveler experience in their region. Tourism offices liaise with partners like travel agencies, local businesses, governments, and contractors. Working at a tourism board involves hosting partners, throwing events and marketing their destination. There are many great perks that come with working for a tourism board, like free or discounted travel.
The cruising industry is vast, powerful, and ever-growing. Traditional big-ship ocean cruising is not everyone’s cup of tea, but there are boutique alternatives. River cruising is a luxury market and adventure cruising is booming. Polar and Antarctic expeditions are some of the most expensive and exciting products out there. Cruise lines can offer great job security and impressive pay. It’s popular to work onboard ships as a way of seeing the world.
Travel writing is the most elusive and coveted job of them all. Most travel writers work freelance and it takes time, talent, networking, and luck to make a living traveling and writing about it. Although, more content creation roles are popping up all the time. The top travel writers contribute to revered publications like Conde Nast Traveler (CN Traveller in North America), The Times, or Lonely Planet. There are other roles within these publications, in marketing, editing, publishing, and so on.
I thought I would share my own story to give an example of a career within the travel industry. So here goes!
I am an Australian who has lived in Canada for the majority of the last fifteen years. I began as a travel agent in 2009 with Flight Centre Travel Group (FCTG) in Sydney. Right away I was so busy that I couldn’t handle all the business that was coming at me. I was getting so many referrals I had to turn new customers down. To my bosses chagrin, I ended up leaving only 6 months into my new career. I was homesick for Canada and the mountains of BC were calling. I moved to Vancouver with a job at the Flight Centre on Commercial Drive. I was shocked by how different the travel market was. Canadians are less accustomed to using a service like a travel agent and are used to doing it themselves online.
Even still, I saw swift success in Vancouver and within a year I was running the Commercial Drive location, with a share in the profit of the business. I was able to improve results over 400%, before moving to the location in Kitsilano and doing the same there. After two years of managing stores, I moved into the coveted regional manager role of Vancouver. I oversaw 24 agencies at one time, from luxury experts to business travel and group teams, and leisure specialists. It’s the best job I’ve ever had, which I was lucky enough to do for five years. I then moved into a project manager role, overseeing the training and recruitment of all new hires to the Canadian retail business. I worked as a leadership trainer at the same time. My favourite position was working with store leaders to improve their skills in managing their businesses. I absolutely loved it.
My experience working in the industry is incredible. With zero business background, I was tasked with running a region of $50 million in sales. My degree is in writing, which couldn’t have been more useless for this line of work. The roles I earned were always based on my results, behavior, and merit. I learned about running events, managing people, booking travel (and the millions of systems involved), sales and coaching others, leadership development, finances, writing business plans, marketing, product, project managing, and running meetings. I could walk away and run my own business, no problems. And that’s exactly what I did. This year I left to start my own freelance travel writing company (novatravels.org), with a bit of specialty luxury travel consulting on the side.
Then there’s the travel. The places I got to visit with work, and the deals I was able to gain for my personal journeys, was life-changing. Some of the trips I visited while on the clock include Paris, Berlin, Singapore, London, Macau, Vegas, NYC, and Portugal. Then there are the personal trips where I could use my industry discounts, including flying business class for the first time, staying in 5-star hotels, going on safari with Intrepid Travel in Zimbabwe. This sounds like the mega-brag part of the article, but this element is the whole reason people work in the travel industry! The experiences that I have had are everything. These are the moments in my life that I live for.
Lastly, I have walked away with an incredible network and made lifelong friends. I even met my fiance, through the industry, he works at Intrepid Travel. I had customers invite me to their weddings, booked someone’s first trip overseas, helped families reunite, and created custom adventures for travelers. I have been fortunate enough to teach agents how to grow their business and skillset, advance their careers, or embark on a new industry. It’s the people I have met, the places I have been, and my passion for travel that has made this a journey I wouldn’t change for a second.
I hope you enjoyed my personal insight into the travel industry. This is an example of just one of the many other pathways to be taken. The travel industry is dynamic, varied and ever developing. It’s an exciting world to be part of!