TraveleThe travel industry is dying, right? That’s why we all make jokes about travel agents disappearing, right?

The industry may be changing, but it certainly isn’t dying: employment in the travel industry hit an all-time high in October, reaching 8.027 million jobs overall. In fact, the travel industry has been thriving since we started to climb out of Great Recession, creating jobs 40 percent faster than the rest of the economy.

Does this entice you? Do you want to know more about what it takes to succeed in the travel industry? I talked with Nick Van Gruisen, managing director of The Ultimate Travel Company, about the state of the industry, what he looks for in employees, and what he has to say to people who are looking to break into the business.

(Note: Van Gruisen’s answers have been minimally edited for style and clarity) Some say that travel is a dying industry, thanks to technological advances. Do you agree? Disagree? 

Nick Van Gruisen: I obviously disagree. I think that there will always be a necessity for expert advice and knowledge given personally. Especially for long-haul travelers visiting exotic and unusual places that may be out of their comfort zone, it can really help to speak to someone with experience who knows the area they are visiting well. This expert advice is essential to ensuring they have a good trip. Getting to know our clients personally is how we make sure they get what they want, know what they need to know, and are fully prepared for a successful holiday.

RC: What’s the outlook like for people who want to get into travel? Pipe dream or a good shot at employment? Why?

NVG: A lot of young people come to me, and they will tell me about their travel experiences backpacking all over South America, all over India, and their memories of living on a dollar a day in Thailand. They have seen so many beaches and so many sunsets and so many ancient ruins that often they think, “The travel business must want me.”

However, the fact is that the skill in travel is not explaining what the Taj Mahal looks like. We all know what the Taj Mahal looks like, and we all know why we want to go to India. Crucially, we are not selling India; we are selling the best way of doing India.

There is a huge variety of accommodation which compliments India, and our skill is putting round pegs in round holes. You can stay in a six-star hotel, a colonial hotel, or a minimalistic hotel, and you are all still seeing the Taj Mahal. It comes down to what individuals prefer. It’s not the cash: you just might loathe big international hotels. We talk to our clients and make the decision by asking the right questions and getting the feel for the person. It’s not what can you afford. They all have their nuances.

Therefore, sometimes these young people who know South America like the back of their hand lack the experience and insight we need, and it’s not their fault. Perhaps they have been sleeping rough or camping on their adventures, and they haven’t visited a single good restaurant or smart hotel. I tell them that the best training you can get is working for a travel company in this country and learning the bare essentials of travel, ticketing, cost, and experiencing the actual day-to-day life in the industry.

RC:What are the top three skills you look for in travel employees? Why these skills?

NVG: 1. Sales ability

In the old days you were almost more of an order-taker, but now to be successful in this industry, you’ve got to be a salesman. The competition is huge out there, both from other agencies in this country and overseas [companies] trying to break into our market. The Internet also now plays an enormous part in people looking for travel, so we have to stand out. It’s not just being an expert; you actually have to be able to sell it well.

2. Charming and relatable

Following on, to be a good salesperson, you need to have good people skills. We look for people who are charming and relatable. The person you are selling to is probably talking to three other companies, all with very similar itineraries and similar prices. You, personally, could be the deciding factor. You have got to convince them to book with you because you are the best. You may be more trustworthy, or more user-friendly, or willing to jump higher to give them what they want.

3. Good organization skills, with attention to detail

Our employees need to be excellent at organization and detail. When you organize a £10,000+ trip for a couple, you’re putting a lot at risk. People may be saving up for years or even a lifetime for that holiday. It’s a huge expense. After a car and a house, it’s probably the third biggest expense. If you mess up — forget to book a hotel, book the wrong airline, or forget to tell them to get a visa — you can cause big trouble. It is a big problem both emotionally for all involved and financially for the company. It just takes one little oversight, and you can really upset people and cost them a lot of money. Organization and detail are key to the role.

So, the ideal travel employee needs to be a charming salesman with excellent organization skills and attention to detail.

RC: What advice do you have for someone who wants to get into travel?

NVG: In the travel industry, the product is lovely, but the day-to-day work is very clerical. Creating a holiday and selling a holiday takes a lot of work. You are producing huge itineraries, working out costs, and dealing with crisis situations, such as people changing their mind or airlines canceling. The work is precise, detailed, and very repetitive. My advice would be to prepare for this. Don’t expect to be out on trips as soon as you start. We give thorough interviews, and we don’t say it is the most glamorous job.

Anybody working for smaller companies like ours will be very hands on. I’d always say, work for a big company like Trail Finders or Audley — which employ 200 to 250 people — learn the basics, and come see us in a few years.

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