Were you always the person to pick the travel agent career card when you played “The Game of Life?” If so, and you have a passion for exploring the world and helping others get there, you might want to consider a career in the travel and tourism industry.
In addition to a career as a travel agent, students who pursue this career field can find jobs in management, marketing, customer service and accounting in a variety of settings like hotels, food service, transportation, sports and entertainment.
Education & skill requirements
Students who wish to pursue a career in the travel and tourism industry should have a combination of skills including effective communication, social skills, sales and service, technological and problem solving. It is important to be able to communicate effectively, to reason and resolve conflicts in many situations.
Steve Pacer, public affairs specialist at AAA, and Erika Wilson, a trainer at AAA, say that those hiring often look for students with at least a two-year degree in travel and tourism, a degree in geography or “an equivalent of education and experience.” Students can also earn four-year degrees in areas like tourism and hospitality management and concentrate in a certain area of study like tourism
Students take several core classes like accounting principles, human resource management, cultural geography and marketing. Dr. Jan van Harssel, a professor at Niagara University’s College of Hospitality and Tourism Management (www.niagara.edu) explains that core classes will depend on what concentration a student takes. For concentrations in tourism, students will often take classes like international tourism geography and tourism and recreation technology.
“Work involves juggling clients and responding to their immediate needs,” according to Pacer and Wilson. “Each client has an expectation of first-rate personalized travel service with first-rate knowledge on a variety of locations across the country and internationally.” People in this career have to be able to accommodate for different needs which likely means that a “typical” day is going to vary based on each client.
Advice from the pros
Dr. van Harssel insists that “it’s not about what you know, it’s not about who you know, it’s about who knows you.” He encourages students to use their educational experience to participate in co-ops and internships as well as looking for opportunities to volunteer, study abroad and seek out alumni and mentors. Pacer and Wilson also offer advice, insisting that students should have a strong working knowledge of North American and international geography, and would benefit from taking courses in hospitality and travel law.
Is it for you?
Travel agents and other careers in the tourism and hospitality industry have to be able to serve the customer well and problem solve for a variety of different requests. The large amount of knowledge that is needed requires research and comprehension; travel agents must be willing to constantly apply and expand their knowledge base.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, salaries for travel agents will depend on the experience, sales ability and the location of the agency. The median annual wage of travel agents as of May 2008 was