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Expert insight on kick starting a career in Travel and Tourism

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The range of job opportunities in the UK travel and tourism industry is vast. It is the fifth largest employer in the UK and as demand for travel increases, leisure time grows, the job opportunities increase too.

Vicki Wolk @ AbtaVicki Wolf, Education Partnerships Manager at ABTA – the Travel Association explains some of the industry’s job opportunities, and how to take your first step on your chosen career path.

What makes up the travel and tourism industry?

If you are planning your next holiday, then you’re probably booking airline tickets and accommodation, reading articles on top destination tips, checking travel advice, buying a visa and researching the best value and exciting activities to book abroad often with the help of a travel professional who can guide you through the bewildering range of options on offer.

All these exciting things make up the travel industry and there is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to make your experience memorable as well as safe and secure.

The travel and tourism industry includes jobs across a number of sectors, from airline and airports, trains, cruise ships, tour operators, technology providers, government bodies, theme parks and attractions to health and wellbeing.

These jobs create domestic, inbound and outbound tourism, which include short and long haul travel, back packing, winter sports and other specialist trips. Did you know that the economic contribution of overseas travel totals £28.3 billion to UK GDP in spending on travel arrangements and in preparing other aspects for overseas trips?

By working for a UK travel company, you may make a career virtually anywhere in the world or a successful and fulfilling position in the UK.

What is it like to work in the travel industry?

Global issues including security, health issues and extreme weather make for a challenging environment. It keeps things interesting, as you never know what is going to happen. But, you need to be prepared for whatever comes your way.

However, whilst the big issues come and go, the industry’s main priority is to provide great customer service at all times.

This means everyone who works in travel has an essential role to play in ensuring that their customers have happy holiday experiences. It is very much a people orientated industry so those who work in the industry tend to be friendly, open-minded and very positive about their jobs.

What roles are there?

Working in travel is not just about being a travel agent or tour guide, though these are great careers; graduates can also find position in marketing and communications, product development, accountancy and finance, consumer law, public policy, technology and sustainable development.

The Take Off in Travel website, the A-Z of careers in travel, provides many case studies of how people found their career path in the industry.

How do I get a job in the travel industry?

There are many routes to finding a career in the travel industry such as learning on the job through a travel apprenticeship scheme, which means you can earn some money whilst studying. There is also the academic route with a number of Tourism Management undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, which often catch the eye of travel companies looking to recruit future managers.

Many graduates also come with a wide variety of degrees including English and Journalism, Foreign languages, Public Relations and marketing, who find careers in travel marketing and communications.

I know of cases of graduates who took a year out abroad after studying Maths, Accountancy and Performance Arts degrees, worked as a tour rep, and then found a permanent role in product development at a travel company’s head office back in the UK. So we’ve room for all sorts!

However, if you are undecided on what you want to specialise in, then an internship is a good opportunity to test the water. ABTA offers a one-month summer internship program to students from ABTA Partner universities, which gives them experience in departments such as Public Affairs, Communications and Sustainability.

How far and how fast can my career progress?

If you stay focussed, ambitious and show initiative, it is relatively easy to move up the career ladder. Many of the big graduate schemes develop leadership skills and many who complete them, often go on to become managers and leaders within their company. Travel is also an ideal arena for entrepreneurs.

What are the main travel sectors for ABTA Members?

Depending on who you are, you have a particular preference for how you like to travel and ABTA Members often specialise to service these various needs. Some customers want luxury, others the convenience of an all-inclusive holiday, others the independence of backpacking. The business travel sector provides tailored travel arrangements and cost savings to many business around the world.

All of these sectors require travel agents or account managers, which work on selling travel to holidaymakers or business travellers.

 Sales offer great opportunities to earn commission and deal directly with people, here more than ever, you need to be a ‘people’ person. Check the Take Off in Travel website to find out which companies operate in which sector.

What kind of person is suited to working in the travel industry?

Those who are fun, interested and love to travel; often the right attitude is valued more as much as an academic qualification. Knowing another language or two will clearly will help your employability too. But, the industry is not only for the extroverts amongst us. There is such a wide range of career options that you will find your niche.

A theme that does run through people who work in travel is adaptability. It is an ever-changing industry and you often have to think on your feet to deal with challenging situations and adapt to constant changes in the market.

One last thing?

Travel is a force for good in the world. It brings people together, celebrates our differences and recognises our similarities. Being part of an industry that gives people amazing memories and experiences is a great privilege and very satisfying. 

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