Work experience for travel and tourism careers

You don’t need to leave the UK to get work experience in the travel industry. There are plenty of ways to develop the skills needed for travel and tourism jobs during your degree, whatever you’re studying.

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You don’t need to wait to find an internship or industrial placement before you start gaining work experience.

The opportunity to travel and potentially work abroad is one appealing aspect of some tourism graduate jobs, but you don’t need an internship in some far-flung destination to get hired. This is especially true in 2021 when, at the time of writing, travel restrictions remain in place and different countries face a variety of challenges in responding to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Working abroad in the current climate is likely to be more difficult than usual. The good news, though, is that the opening up of the UK economy has brought lots of opportunities to get experience closer to home.

The pandemic may have resulted in fewer vacancies – and so greater competition for those that do exist – but by applying you are still in with a chance of securing work experience. Nonetheless, don’t be disheartened if you miss out on a placement or internship this year. Recruiters will understand the difficulties posed by the pandemic and they are not going to penalise you for being unable to get work experience, especially during national lockdowns when much of the travel industry was either operating with reduced capacity or unable to run at all. Read our article on filling a coronavirus-shaped gap in your CV for more advice on this.

Internships

Some larger travel and tourism organisations run summer internships lasting up to three months. For example, British Airways has previously offered a future leaders internship and a data science and analytics internship, both based at London Heathrow. Performing well during an internship is a good way to set yourself apart from other candidates if you’re hoping to get onto the employer’s graduate scheme. Internships also provide valuable experience for your CV if you decide to apply for graduate jobs elsewhere.

There are fewer advertised internships in travel and tourism than other sectors, so you may need to apply speculatively. Internships should be paid, but if you are considering undertaking an unpaid internship, make sure you know your rights.

Industrial placements

An industrial placement, also known as a year in industry or placement year, is a formal work experience opportunity offered to undergraduates (usually in their penultimate year) who are doing a ‘sandwich’ course. Degrees in tourism management sometimes include a placement year, but you don’t have to be studying a related subject; placement years in the travel and tourism industry will accept students from any discipline.

Completing a year in industry is a great way to immerse yourself in working life for a longer period than an internship. This will help you decide whether the employer is right for you and, if it is, give you a better chance of securing a graduate job there. You’ll be paid an annual salary and will typically get exposure to different business areas. For example, TUI’s industrial placements at its Luton and Surbiton offices involve supporting departments including product, yield, cruise, e-commerce, marketing, finance and engineering.

Part-time work

You don’t need to wait to find an internship or industrial placement before you start gaining work experience. A part-time job while studying or during university holidays can be equally beneficial. For example, you might work as a tourist information centre assistant or tour guide in your hometown or university city.

If you have a part-time job that seems less directly related to travel and tourism, such as any customer-facing role, remember that you can include this in your applications as well and it will show evidence of the transferable skills that employers in travel and tourism look for.

Volunteering

Voluntary work can help if you’re struggling to find an internship or paid job, but it is also a valid form of work experience in its own right. Leading tours of your university campus on open days could help you to develop the skills needed for being a tour guide, as could volunteering as a guide for the National Trust or English Heritage. A front-line role dealing with the public and answering their queries, such as an adviser at a museum/library information desk, would prepare you for working at a tourist information centre. Or, if you want a career as an outdoor instructor, you could volunteer at a local sports club.

Do I need work experience if I’m studying a travel and tourism degree?

An undergraduate or masters degree in tourism management is by no means essential to enter the industry, but those who have studied these courses will be able to demonstrate their enthusiasm for a career in travel easily and will have the upper hand when it comes to industry knowledge – before they have done any work experience. With that in mind, it’s even more important to get work experience if you’ve studied an unrelated degree so that recruiters can see that you’ve made an informed and definitive decision to work in the industry. That said, even if you are studying for a tourism management degree, and even if it includes a placement year, it’s still a good idea to look for other work experience to help you stand out from other tourism graduates when you apply for travel and tourism jobs.

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