Travel and tourism - a glamorous industry which will see you jet-setting your way around the world, soaking up the sun and making a few bucks on the side? Well, maybe…
Travel and tourism jobs actually span a whole bunch of industries and range from roles like travel agent, holiday rep, air steward and tour guide, to bar work and waiting tables.
'Travel and tourism jobs are more varied than you think - learn how to begin your career'
What does travel and tourism mean for my career?
In 2015, 36.1 million people visited the UK from overseas. Add to that holidaymakers from within the UK and that’s one pretty big industry! Visit Britain says it accounts for nearly one in ten of all jobs in the country, employing about 3 million people.
That might sound like a lot of jobs for a single area of work, but travel and tourism actually encompasses a lot of industries, all of which are involved in attracting tourists, and providing accommodation, entertainment, and food and drink to them once they arrive.
That means the opportunities for you are wide-ranging, and come at a range of different levels - from relatively casual jobs such as working behind a bar, to degree-level roles in museums and art galleries. Pay varies just as much as the jobs.
When you think of travel and tourism, maybe you dream of travelling around the world on exotic adventures. There are roles which can take you overseas - such as holiday rep, tour guide, air or cruise ship steward, and events manager. Also, many roles in the industry lend themselves well to holiday resorts or destinations overseas. However, the majority of jobs available to you will be within the UK.
What kinds of jobs can I do?
There are so many travel and tourism jobs out there that we’ve grouped them together into some of the main areas of work within the industry, along with examples of the jobs you can find in each areas. This should help you pick out your own areas of interest:
- Airlines: Air cabin crew, airport staff.
- Bars, restaurants, hotels: Waiting staff, bar workers, restaurant managers, porters.
- Commercial shipping lines: Cruise ship staff.
- Heritage and conservation staff: Local-council heritage staff.
- Museums and art galleries: Events staff, customer service, historian/academic, researcher.
- Tourist information: Tourist information officer, tour guide, tour manager.
- Theme parks, zoos and attractions: Guides, events officers, customer service staff.
- Travel agency: Travel agents, travel agency manager, holiday representative.
- Leisure centres and tourist resorts: Customer service staff, personal trainer, lifeguard, sports instructor.
This is just a small sample of the jobs on offer, designed to give you a flavour of the kind of work you could be doing. Resort jobs can be fairly easily carried out at tourist destinations overseas.
There’s a whole host of other jobs which require specialist training but which may interest you if you’re thinking about a career in travel and tourism. These include roles such as airline pilot, cruise ship captain and chef.
Similarly, some people choose to work in a “cottage” or “heritage” industry. They produce things, such as foodstuffs (wine, beer, honey) using small-scale or traditional methods and technology. They often open up their workshops to tourists to raise money, and need skilled practitioners (see our article on arts jobs) as well as tourism-orientated staff whose job it is to make sure the location is fun for and accessible to tourists.
What skills do I need?
With so many jobs to choose from, the specific skills you’ll need depend very much on the career you’d like to pursue. We’ve brought together some of the skills that are common to jobs across the industry:
Many jobs require you to work with public, often in situations where you need to get information across clearly and concisely. This includes roles such as air steward and tourist information staff.
People skills go hand in hand with communication skills. As well as conveying information, people in roles such as travel agents, holiday reps and tour guides need to make sure their customers are happy, feel looked after, and are having a good time.
Related to both communication and people skills are customer service skills.
Museum staff, events staff and even travel agents need to be able to find and process accurate information quickly.
Adaptability and initiative
Because things are constantly changing, adaptability is important in virtually any role within travel and tourism. It’s particularly useful in public-facing roles, or those which involve “real-world” settings outside an office, such as bar work, tour guides, holiday reps or air stewards.
Being able to act on your initiative means taking decisions to avoid future problems or improve the way things are being done. In travel and tourism, it will help you keep things running smoothly and with the minimum of fuss.
Leadership is especially important for workers who are responsible for large groups of people, such as air stewards, tour guides and holiday reps. In these roles, you need to be able to command the attention and cooperation of your customers, and influence them in a calm, authoritative way (without them feeling like they’re being told what to do).
Many roles involve working in a close-knit team, where every member is essential to the overall success of the job. This could include air cabin crews, catering staff, or events teams. To work in such a role, you need to be able to collaborate with other people, sharing the workload and exchanging ideas to help everyone perform at their best.
How do I get into the industry?
As we mentioned, there are lots of travel and tourism jobs out there, and many of them don’t require specific qualifications.
1. Get work experience
As always, you can gain a foothold in the industry by getting work experience while you’re still at school, college or university. Importantly, this gives you a taster of life in your chosen area, so you can find out whether you really want to pursue a career in a related job.
You will find plenty of casual work in museums, art galleries, theme parks, leisure resorts, bars and restaurants - check the websites of places nearby to find out about specific vacancies. If you can’t find any, drop them an email or phone call - this way, they can let you know of anything they’re not advertising or pop you on their waiting list.
Some employers (usually bigger ones) run structured work experience programmes specifically for young people. These might be airlines, theme parks, hotels, leisure centres or resorts. Google the area you’re interested in to find out about important employers then look on their websites to see if there are any opportunities for you.
As well as giving you an insider’s insight, work experience through a part-time job or voluntary placement will give you the chance to talk to others in the kinds of roles you might like to pursue in your career. For example, working front-of-house in a museum could give you the chance to chat to events or research staff.
As well as adding relevant experience to your CV, work experience could even lead to a job offer or the possibility of future work.
2. Gain relevant qualifications
What qualifications are relevant to you will usually depend on the job you’re after. There are plenty of qualifications (such as diplomas and NVQ) available at level 2 (equivalent to 5 GCSEs) and level 3 (equivalent to 2 A-levels), but you’ll also find qualifications at other levels as well.
You can do generic qualifications at college or online. We recommend that you combine such introductory courses with work experience, which employers often value as highly as qualifications. Your college may help you arrange this to complement your course.
Many people choose to train for relevant qualifications on the job. For example, City & Guilds offer many travel and tourism-related qualifications designed to give an overview of the industry, and others aimed at people in particular roles, such as “aviation operations”, which is to do with looking after aircraft on the ground.
Such courses would involve spending some time studying to learn the theory to back up and improve the practical work you do every day at work. You may be given time to study while working, or you may be expected to study at home.
One way of training on the job is through an apprenticeship, which are specially designed for young people starting their first job. You can find out whether there are any travel and tourism apprenticeships you can apply to on the government's Find An Apprenticeship website.
Is a career in travel and tourism for me?
If you’re excited by the kind of jobs we’ve talked about in this article, it could be.
But to answer that question, you need to think about the specific area of travel and tourism you’d like to go into, and investigate the different jobs you can do within that area.
Jobs such as bar work or waiting are perhaps better suited to people looking for temporary employment to support them as they study, or as a way of gaining experience in the industry.
Because there are so many jobs in the industry, it’s difficult to give a clear idea of the salary you can expect. According to the recruitment agency Reed, the average salary for the industry is £42,000 per year. However, this is skewed by low salaries at the lower-skilled end of the spectrum, and big salaries at the top end of the industry.
Another plus is that (according to official statistics) jobs in the industry are rising, which means the chances of finding a role are good.
Like what you read? Learn more about travel and tourism jobs in our Hospitality, Leisure and Tourism Career Zone.