Travel Coach Weekend Thought:
Q. I am a student on work experience with a travel agency that is set to merge. What is the point in starting a career in travel when the future looks so bleak for me and the other members of staff?
A Dear Dorothy,
There is no quick answer because despite all the changes in booking patterns in the trade, nobody really knows where our industry is heading. The speed of change is rapid and many of us find it hard to keep up with, let alone get ahead of the game. As a coach however it is my duty to focus on the positives, so here goes
Youth equals choice. Being a student means you can still select your career direction. If you develop I.T. skills, you will be in great demand because the industry uses technology a lot. Previously being a computer person meant being a background figure, but now and in the future, you have the chance to be much more centre stage.
If you fancied front-desk work in a travel agency, why not use the same skills in a hotel or a conference centre? When I coach agency staff that looking to change career, I emphasise the great range of prospects in Hospitality. If you start at reception and become good at it, you can soon be on the route to management. The same applies to Food & Beverage and restaurant work. There are some really fantastic jobs in the Conference and Meetings side of the business and the support provided by organisations like ABPCO (https://www.abpco.org/) is way ahead of what has been available to retail travel.
Experience also equals choice. Your more experienced colleagues can take a similar view, because even if they may not have your exuberance and youth, they still have gravitas and know-how. Loads of people are achieving great success with the excellent satellite travel agencies (the term home-worker is being used less because many do not now work from home.) This way of working suits those who enjoy being their own boss, have an entrepreneurial spirit and are content with being alone for long stretches – it is not for everyone.
Travel agencies will not vanish completely. They will however become more specific in whom the serve and in what they offer. Your senior colleagues should focus on their individual skills and strengthen them. An example would be someone who is very good at selling a particular product such as cruises, or a destination such as Florida. They need to home in on what they are good at and become as indispensable as possible.
None of these ideas are guarantees of job tenure but it is important to remember that although there will be fewer jobs as a travel agent, the broader travel business will actually offer more prospects than ever before. Opportunities are out there, but not as you knew them.
Originally published in Travel Bulletin – What Now? Travel Coach 28 March 2007