Eight top skills for travel and tourism careers

The skills needed for jobs in the travel industry can be developed anywhere, including closer to home. Discover what these are and why they are valued by employers.

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Your days won’t follow a rigid structure and you won’t always be able to anticipate what happens next.

Many tourism roles are open to applicants who don’t have a degree as well as graduates from any degree discipline. So, your skills and attributes are more important than your academic qualifications when applying for tourism graduate jobs.

With that in mind, we’ve listed some of the skills that are applicable to most jobs in travel and tourism, along with reasons for why this is the case. It’s not an exhaustive list, and the skills will vary slightly for different roles, so take a look at our job descriptions if you have your sights set on a particular career path.

The good news is that you don’t need to work abroad to gain these skills, or even have work experience directly in the travel industry – though it won’t hurt your chances if you do. They’re all transferable, meaning they can be picked up from alternative work experience, extracurricular activities or other areas of your life. At the end of each skill description, click through to our more in-depth explanations of what each skill involves and ideas for how you can develop them.

1. Customer service

The tourism industry is all about giving people a great experience when they travel, from helping them book a holiday to greeting them at a resort or leading a sightseeing tour. So, it’s no surprise that good customer service is vital.

You’ll need to make sure each customer feels valued while resolving any issues as efficiently as possible so you can go on to serve others. Working in the travel and tourism industry can sometimes mean dealing with people who are angry, anxious or upset when things go wrong, but you’ll also have the satisfaction of helping to make some of their most memorable moments.

Find out what good customer service involves.

2. Communication

Getting a message across clearly and checking that the other person has understood you is an essential part of most travel and tourism jobs. You could be providing directions at an information desk, telling interesting stories about the history of a region, giving a health and safety briefing or contacting air traffic control. You’ll need to adapt your approach depending on your role and the situation at hand and be ready to answer unexpected questions.

Clear, concise written communication might not come to mind when considering travel and tourism jobs but it is essential in some roles: for example, airline cabin crew are required to write a flight report after each journey.

Read more about how you can develop communication skills.

3. Adaptability and flexibility

Travel is by nature an area where there’s a lot of potential for last-minute changes. Flights can be cancelled, natural disasters can jeopardise plans – and in 2020–21 the tourism industry has seen more uncertainty than ever with travel restrictions and quarantine requirements in a state of constant change. As a graduate working in travel, your days won’t follow a rigid structure and you won’t always be able to anticipate what happens next. Accordingly, you’ll need to remain calm in emergencies, deal with difficult customers and respond to spur-of-the-moment requests. It’s likely you’ll also experience unpredictable working patterns, unsociable hours and, in some roles, being away from home for months at a time. Building your adaptability will help you to embrace these challenges and enjoy a career that’s not nine-to-five.

Learn how to become more adaptable and flexible.

4. Language skills and cultural sensitivity

Being bilingual isn’t essential for a career in travel and tourism, but it certainly helps. If you plan to work abroad, a good grasp of the local language will be beneficial even if you’re mainly working with tourists from English-speaking countries. Likewise, in the UK you could be working with people who are visiting from around the world and will appreciate it if you are able to speak their language.

However rusty or lacking your language skills are, being able to relate to people from different cultures and backgrounds is a must. You’re more likely than in many other sectors to be working with people from different nationalities and cultural backgrounds, so it’s important that you treat everyone with respect and help them feel comfortable. You may need to adapt your approach to prevent miscommunications, for example.

Read about how being bilingual can benefit your career.

5. Business acumen and commercial awareness

Keeping customers happy is important, but you’ll also need to be aware of how your employer fits into the wider travel industry and what its competitors are doing differently. As well as following industry news, consider how developments in the wider world will affect travel. The coronavirus pandemic, Brexit and the climate crisis are all obvious examples that will have long-term impacts, but can you think of any more – and predict how employers might respond?

Discover how you can demonstrate commercial awareness.

6. Leadership and responsibility

You’re unlikely to be leading a team of colleagues as a fresh graduate, but at any stage in your career or work experience you can take opportunities to make decisions, use your initiative and motivate other people in your team. Roles such as tour guide, activity instructor and cabin crew will involve taking on leadership of your customers by showing them where to go, what to do and how to do it safely.

See how leadership skills can be developed as a student or recent graduate.

7. Teamwork

Working efficiently as part of a group will keep things running smoothly for customers. Even if your role involves a lot of independent working, you’ll be representing your employer’s brand and be in regular contact with your colleagues and other travel industry professionals. Sometimes you’ll need to negotiate or reach compromises in order to do the best job possible as a team.

Find out what kinds of work experience make good examples of teamwork.

8. Enthusiasm and dedication

Alongside all of the above skills, make sure that your passion for travel and tourism shines through. Some roles might also require knowledge of key destinations or your local area, but this can generally be learned on the job and ultimately employers are looking for potential. A can-do attitude will encourage you to accept and overcome challenges and stay upbeat even when you’re exhausted from being on your feet all day. While working in travel and tourism is hard work (it isn’t just one long holiday!), it can be fun and exciting so don’t be afraid to express your enthusiasm in applications and interviews.

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