Attracting Talent in Travel & Tourism: An Outsider Perspective

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WTTC research on Human Capital (link below)

While it used to be rare to encounter leaders in the Travel & Tourism industry who had ‘grown up’ outside the business, that’s no longer the case. These ‘outsiders’ are excelling in the field, and targeting them has proven to be an effective way to attract unique perspectives and skill-sets as well as expand the talent pool for this rapidly growing industry.

We explored this phenomenon in our own work at Spencer Stuart and in conversations with leaders across the industry who had been “outsiders” at one time themselves. We discovered what draws leaders to the Travel & Tourism industry, why industry companies may benefit from hiring an outsider, and the qualities organisations should look for.

Why Travel and Tourism?

Leaders we spoke with told us the opportunity to have impact is what most appealed to them about the industry. Those seeking a truly multidimensional experience are attracted to the idea of being able to touch every aspect of business and build significant long-term relationships, spanning marketing, sales, e-commerce, finance, construction, operations, and customer service.

“This business is very different — and much more complex — than consumer packaged goods,” said one chief executive with a previous background in consumer goods companies. “It’s faster paced, and there’s more energy. You have the opportunity to have an impact in so many places, and the people aspects are much more challenging — from recruiting to execution. What’s going on in the world every day has a huge impact on this business.”

Leaders also chose to transition to the industry because it allows them to bring joy to people and widen their perspectives. Outsiders who have joined the Travel & Tourism industry told us they appreciate the chance to add value to consumers’ lives by providing experiences that will be remembered for a lifetime.

Considerations on Recruiting Outsiders

There is a growing trend amongst large organisations in Travel & Tourism to become more receptive to hiring outsiders. One hotel company president said while his company still firmly believes in promoting from within, the growth, changing requirements, and insufficient supply of leadership talent in the industry are forcing the organisation to recruit more from the outside.

Growth is not the only driver of this shift. Travel & Tourism companies are looking for broader skill-sets among their top executives. One CEO of a large hotel group has found that typical GMs lack strategic, analytical, and functional skills such as talent development and marketing. The challenge is to stay at the top of one’s game in all functions given the multifaceted nature of the industry.

Even though many of these companies are finding success in hiring outsiders, there are always a few exceptions to the rule. One area where leaders are hesitant to hire from outside is operations.

“Operations is probably the only area where it would be hard to walk into this industry from the outside, because that’s where the complexity really starts to play out — in some cases, you’re dealing with assets and countries all over the world and a wide variety of people,” said one leader. “You have to be able to deal with the consumer experience face to face: in our business, the customers are not buying a box and taking it home.”

Qualities to Look for in ‘Outsider’ Candidates

When evaluating candidates from outside the industry, certain capabilities have proven to not only be transferable, but also valuable. The CEO of an American cruise line explained: “We want smart people and, depending on the position, we’re looking for people with certain talents. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have cruise experience, but I can’t think of any position in marketing where cruise industry knowledge has been a requirement. We look for expertise in certain disciplines for some roles. For e-commerce, you may be looking for someone with deep knowledge about data and analytics, but also with a strong intellect who can not only read the reports, but interpret them and turn data into actionable information. Those abilities are much more critical than knowing the industry.”

While the candidate does not always need industry-specific experience, certain values and characteristics help ensure the outsider will make a successful transition. These attributes include:

· Willingness to invest time in learning the business

· Ability to manage complexity

· Results orientation

· Passion for pleasing guests

· Emphasis on building and maintaining relationships

· Clear and frequent communication


This new wave of ‘outsiders’ in Travel &Tourism has both increased the diversity of talent in the industry and opened up new opportunities for leaders from different sectors. Even though many ‘outsiders’ are now succeeding in the industry, it is crucial for Travel & Tourism company leaders to have a detailed profile of who can best adapt to the industry. At the same time, candidates must understand the industry’s challenges before making the switch. For many, the move is beneficial for both the leader and the organization. A former ‘outsider’ summed it up well:

This post was written by our Industry Partner, Spencer Stuart, one of the world’s leading global executive search and leadership consulting firms.

To learn more about Global Travel Trends in Travel & Tourism, check out this WTTC infographic. You can also read the report here.

If you’re looking to build a career in the Travel & Tourism industry, consider checking for jobs on the Careers Portal, which links to our Member companies’ recruitment and career pages.

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