Ever since I began working in the travel industry, my family has never quite understood what I do for a living. Like a lot of people, they associate jobs in Travel & Tourism with frontline positions such as hotel receptionists and holiday reps. The fact that I have spent most of my career behind the scenes working in policy and research within this great industry is completely alien to them. Mix this with a key leadership position that I held within the Department of Commerce in Washington, DC, advocating the value of Travel & Tourism in the US government, and it’s no wonder my nearest and dearest are puzzled.
They were pretty happy though when, after 10 years in banking and market research for Gallup, I moved myself and my two sons to Orlando for a new position as head of research for Visit Orlando. Even if they didn’t totally understand what I did day-to-day, they were living in the sun by the beach and with access to the mecca of Travel & Tourism. So that was cool with them!
Then three years later, I moved to the US Government’s National Travel and Tourism Office in the Department of Commerce as Director of Research , Policy and Planning. This was an interesting transition that definitely needed a new skillset for getting the job done in a government bureaucracy . At the same time I was thrown into an intergovernmental arena representing the views of the US and industry in policy deliberations between governments, working on both bilateral and multilateral levels. Challenging indeed! Not to mention I was now leading a professional staff of 13 and serving a bevvy of political appointees.
After more changes within Commerce, I ended up heading up the whole office and learning to serve many different political leaders over the years. No small task. But so rewarding. An opportunity to apply my technical abilities and discover new skills I was not even aware of before. Once I had accomplished key goals that I personally had set, I was fortunate to be offered another leadership opportunity to capitalise on my national experience: to go global and become again an “entrepreneur” to develop the government and industry affairs section for the World Travel and Tourism Council. Now I am advocating for an industry which contributes 9.5% of global GDP, and doing it from the private sector perspective again.
What did all of this take and why should you consider the Travel & Tourism sector for your career path? See if you can answer these few questions:
1. Do you have a special learned or professional expertise that you can apply to most industries: an accountant, a researcher, a marketer, a technology or a communications expert? Think of one of the many industries that comprise this sector which need specialists.
2. Do you have a penchant for learning a new industry that gives you a new path? Adventuresome?
3. Do you see yourself as the big traveller who wants to be part of improving the experience with your marketing and product development prowess? See a place for your innovative and creative skills?
4. Do you have international relations or diplomacy skills that can be used for posturing governments either from within or from outside to advocate ways to move the economy forward?
5. Do you have the desire to give back and assist in making life better for citizens by being part of community development projects? Do you have urban or rural planning training?
Yes, Travel & Tourism is one of the most diverse sectors on the planet — it offers jobs and career prospects for ANYONE and EVERYONE because it is made up of so many different industries: transport (planes, trains, and automobiles, even Harleys!); accommodation (hotels, inns, B&Bs, apartments, condos and even couches); tour operators, travel agents, cruise companies and online search and booking engines — everything from Expedia and hotels.com to Thomas Cook and TripAdvisor. Even retail ‘shopaholism’ is big business in the tourism sector — few take a city trip without going shopping — think Macy’s, Tiffany’s, Dubai Mall, Harrods. And don’t forget the needs of marketing and managing destinations for leisure travel as well as the vital meetings and convention business, all requiring astute event management.
The key is these different industries don’t just need vital staff who wait at tables or meet and greet guests — they need IT specialists, accountants, publicists, web-designers, researchers, sales folk, meeting planners, human resources and training experts, even lawyers, to name a few. They also need LEADERS to manage people, drive strategy, and nurture growth.
The biggest reward for being engaged in Travel & Tourism is the other professionals you have as colleagues. This is a people-to-people business so you are surrounded by many hard working, caring, and fun-loving people who genuinely feel they can make the world better by what they are doing.
Like me. Who would have thought it? Here I am with a college degree in political science with a developed expertise in market research, both of which ended up opening the door to a fulfilling career in a sector that is not only of huge economic significance but one which is also hugely significant as a driver of peace, fostering a wider understanding, and sharing of cultures and communities.
So make sure you look at the big Travel & Tourism picture too — push those doors, walk through, and make the most of so many different career journeys.
We need you!