Do you love travelling?

Almost all of us are enthused with the idea of travelling to new places, experiencing other cultures and meeting interesting people. Yet, there are a select few who make a successful career out of their wanderlust.

Samir Kher, 32, is one of them. He has converted his love for travel into a lucrative career. Not for him the dreary job of sitting in front of a computer screen, tapping keys and issuing tickets. Kher tread the unbeaten path and joined Wildrift, one of the first few eco-tourism companies in India. Ask him why and pat comes the reply, “The primary criteria for choosing this as a career is passion for the outdoors – everything else will follow.” 

Kher, who holds a Bachelor’s in business administration from Delhi University, worked with various companies for about seven years. Not finding the space to spread his wings in the corporate confines, he then backpacked around India for two years and then joined a course in basic mountaineering at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, Uttarkashi. He subsequently joined Wildrift.

However, a more structured approach may be required to go in for a formal course. “Various institutes across the country offer travel and tourism programmes.

These could last from three to six months or one to two years. You are taught about air travel and ticketing, domestic and international ticketing, tourism organisation, travel agency operations, tour operations, airlines computer reservation course (like Galileo, Amadeus, Sabre, Worldspan, etc.),” says Neha Jain, assistant manager – human resources, Kuoni Business Travel India.

Kher’s job as a tour planner and operator involves scouting for locations, setting up logistics and resources with the help of locals; evaluating hotels and setting up camps. Some planners also form alliances with bus operators, airlines or the railways to work out good deals for clients. A big consideration while arranging these is cost, hence negotiation skills become very important.

Once the locations are set up, the job of marketing begins. “Our work involves everything related to developing the programmes and marketing it. We design our own communications (brochures, presentations, etc) including our own website and other online activities,” says Kher. Large companies typically have a dedicated marketing department.

Of late, there is higher demand for the kind of travel offerings Kher puts together. Corporates, institutions, individuals and groups have started demanding more unconventional holiday experiences.

Says Kher, “We design meaningful and exciting programmes for a variety of visitors, both adult and children. Some examples are educational outbound programmes for schools and training programmes for corporate clients. The challenge is to make the experience exciting and different for the traveller.”

Talking about career paths, Kher says, “In my job, there are no fixed career paths – you make your own path and travel on it as far as you can. It is our own personal adventure and we define it ourselves.”

However, in a large travel company, the career path is more structured. One can start as a counter clerk or a trainee tour operator. The next rung is of an assistant and one can rise to a junior executive, after that. Depending on one’s interests and skills, one can aim to reach the position of a regional manager or start one’s own travel business.

What’s it about?
Tour operators organise and arrange package holidays, which are either sold through travel agencies or marketed direct to the public. An operator’s duties will include making travel arrangements and organising accommodation, sightseeing trips, etc

Clock Work
The average workday of a tour operator in a small company:
9 am:        Reach office and reply to e-mails about reservations
10 am:      Call various camps and draw out an occupancy report. Inform marketing agents that work with the company
12.30 pm: Check social networking websites for any queries about treks and tours
1 pm:        Lunch break
2 pm:        Meet corporate client and discuss team-building exercises they would like for an upcoming tour
3 pm:        Meet college principal to make a presentation on educational tours my company offers
5 pm:        Call up camps to do a general check for any checkouts expected the next day. Inform agents of vacancies accordingly
6 pm:        Meet foreign tourist at a coffee shop and inform him about safe travel options in India
7 pm:        Meet tourism ministry official for permission to set up camp in his state
9 pm:        Pack for trip to one of the camps

The payoff
In a large travel company:
Counter clerk:       Rs 13000 to Rs 17000 per month
Assistant:              Rs 18000 to Rs 20000 per month
Junior executive:    Rs 24000 to Rs 31000 per month
Regional manager: Rs 35000 to Rs 50000 per month

In a smaller outfit:
Trainee tour operator:         Rs 5000 to Rs 10000 per month
Tour operator:                    Rs 15000 to Rs 25000 per month
Travel marketing executive: Rs 18000 to Rs 35000 per month
All figures are indicative and may vary according to skills and experience

Skills
.   Pleasing, amiable personality
.   Able to intuit what clients want and support them
.   Able to troubleshoot with ease
.   High level of patience
.   Presence of mind when stressed or facing danger
.   Strong communication skills
.   Flair for languages
How do I get there?
After completing one’s senior secondary education, one can join a travel and tourism course (typically a year long) or even go in for a Bachelor’s in the subject. There are Master’s programmes available as well. Mountaineering courses can help you in the adventure tourism sector.

Career opportunities in travel and tourism exist both in the public and private sector. In the public sector, opportunities exist in state and Central tourism departments as tourism officers, information assistants and tourist guides. In the private sector, such professionals are hired by travel agencies, airlines, hotels, transport and cargo companies. After a few years of experience, most professionals have all the requisites to start their own business.

Institutes & urls
.   Nehru Institute of Mountaineering
    www.nimindia.org 
.   Kuoni Academy 
    www.kuoniacademy.co.in
.   Indian Institute of Tourism and  Travel Management
    www.iittm.org
 International Air Transport Association
    www.iata.org
.   Indira Gandhi National Open University,
    www.ignou.ac.in
.   Trade Wings Institute of Management
    www.tradewinginstitute.com

Pros & Cons
.   You get to travel a lot
.   You can start your own venture after gaining enough experience in the field
.   You get exposed to different cultures, meet interesting people
.   Hectic schedules might leave you with less time for family 
.   Sometimes, a tour might not be planned properly and you could face the wrath of your clients

No limits for the adventurous

With the option of going for self-employment pretty early, the travel industry offers limitless possibilities

What should you consider before taking up tour planning as a career?
Working in the travel and tourism industry is all about making travelling an enriching and enjoyable experience by providing quality services. If you have a pleasant personality, excellent language and communication skills and knowledge about travel through personal experience, this probably is a great career option for you.

What personal attributes would you look for in a person before hiring him/her for your company?
Candidates must have good people skills and strong verbal and written communication abilities. Attention to detail is essential when compiling an itinerary and travel accommodation.

They also need to be courteous and professional when dealing with clients and travel representatives. They should also understand domestic and foreign currency, cultures and languages.

How would women fare in this career? Are there some special attributes that would make a woman more suitable?

Women possess a great potential to grow and succeed in this special career. This domain demands individuals to be extremely hospitable, patient, analytical, with the ability to consume details and work eventually for thorough output.

As the job demands a lot of travel, this would eventually take its toll on their physical, mental and emotional status. Women need to show a great deal of flexibility to handle some of the daily stresses and sudden travel plans. Women in this career should have a strong work ethic, an appetite to embrace adventure, confidence in their knowledge, and an outgoing personality.

What can one hope to earn as a tour operator?
The career of a tour operator is highly remunerative. A trainee tour operator working with a travel/tour company can easily earn Rs 12,000 to Rs 15,000 per month. Generally, travel agents earn a handsome amount. A fresher in a travel agency can get a monthly salary of Rs 14,000 to Rs18,000 and expect more after some years in the business – maybe even set up one’s own operations.

Ravindra Dabbiru interviewed by Pankaj Mullick – Hindustan Times

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