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Best way to see the world? Start at the bottom

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Novelist Susan Sontag said, "I haven't been everywhere, but it's on my list."  If you dream of seeing the world, traveling to exotic places, sleeping in castles and exploring ancient ruins, perhaps a career in the travel and tourism industry is right for you.

"Working in the travel industry has given me the opportunity to meet the most interesting people all over the world and gain a greater understanding and appreciation of other cultures," says Holly Bode, who is now senior vice president of Client Partners at WNS Global Services.

While working in the industry is not always glamorous, it does often come with a big perk–discounted travel. "Once you catch the travel bug, it is hard to leave it behind and the perks are part of that. I have many friends in the industry and most never leave. My airline friends fly free, my hotel friends stay for free or reduced rates, and when I worked in car rental, I reached a level where I was allowed a new company car every year," says Bode.

Bode has spent more than 20 years in the travel and tourism industry. Like many travel executives, she started on the front lines. "Starting on the front line is the best place to start, especially when you are young. Take a part-time job working the front desk or rental car counter when you're in school. It's very valuable experience no matter what part of the industry you decide to pursue."

According to David Scowsill, president and CEO of the World Travel and Tourism Council, "Travel and tourism is one of the world's greatest industries, providing 9 percent of global GDP and 260 million jobs."

"The travel industry is huge and very transient. Don't be afraid to start at the bottom. If you are good and flexible you will move up quickly. No industry networks better than travel. A career path that eventually leads you to management, marketing, finance and sales in travel can all start with that basic line level understanding you can only gain standing across the counter from a weary traveler whose flight was delayed on a stormy night," advises Bode.

"I know many a 4- and 5-star hotel general manager who started out at the front desk or in reservations and even one who started out in maintenance and eventually ended up running a major ski resort," she adds.

Make no mistake, the travel industry is a customer service industry. "No matter where you end up in the travel industry, at some point you or the work you do will touch customers. If you are not interested in pleasing people, go no further," says Bode.

Bode also adds that once you decide the travel sector is for you, the next step is to identify where your specific skill set might fit in. "There is a job in the travel industry for almost every skill set," she shares. Major theme parks and cruise lines, according to Bode, are examples of companies that are like small cities and hire across many skill sets.

One of the downsides of working in this sector is the hours -- people travel 24/7/365. Bode concurs, "The hours can be crazy ... When I was a line-level employee at a hotel, I worked Christmas, New Year's and just about every other holiday. As I moved up the ladder into corporate positions, the demands changed and I travelled a lot, which at times can also be a challenge.

"But if you are in the travel business," she concludes, "you better love travel!"

Last Updated: 03/02/2012 - 12:14 AM

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