Student Advice - Career Search - Tourist Operator - Tourism
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Tour Operator

Tour Operator

Tell me about it
Tour operators create, arrange and operate tours and travel programmes, making contracts with hoteliers, airlines and ground transport companies. They market their tours either through travel agencies or directly to customers via websites, digital television and other advertising. They may also arrange for the printing and distribution of brochures advertising the holidays that they have assembled.

They are the organisers and providers of the package holidays, leisure activities, tours, expeditions, cruises and coach trips on sale at travel agents. The product manager for a tour operator might arrange expeditions by camel or by carthorse, journeys on the Orient Express or an ocean-going liner, flights by hot air balloon or by executive jet. A contract manager would negotiate availability and prices with the airlines, hotels, local transport companies, attraction owners and others involved in the package. In addition, it would be vital to check the quality of food, sanitation, beaches and entertainment, usually in liaison with local representatives.

Entry level
In this business, experience is generally regarded as far more important than academic success. There are no specific entry requirements for many of the part-time, in-house routes, although individual employers might look for GCSE/S Grade passes A*-C/1-3, including English, maths, geography and modern languages. Alternatively, you could consider a degree, foundation degree or higher national diploma (HND) in travel and tourism, hospitality management or leisure and recreation. You should look for a course having close links with the travel industry. You would need at least two A level/Advanced Higher/three Higher or equivalent qualifications for degree course entry, slightly less for the HND.

Making the grade
Many tour operators start out on an apprenticeship, provided by numerous organisations across the country. An alternative route is to complete a relevant degree, foundation degree or diploma course, such as travel and tourism, hospitality/hotel management, leisure and recreation, business studies, IT, marketing or modern languages. You should ideally look for a course having close links with the travel industry.

The Tourism Management Institute offers a range of postgraduate qualifications in Destination Management.

Personal qualities
You must provide evidence of a real passion for travel. It can be helpful to have travel industry experience, although experience in customer services, event management, marketing or sales can also be useful. Work experience overseas and knowledge of a foreign language are also valuable, as is knowledge of the destinations in which the company operates.

You would need the ability to cope with pressure and to work to tight deadlines, strong organisational skills, excellent oral and written communication skills, commercial awareness and good IT skills.

Looking ahead
Tour operators range from large international companies to small, specialist tour organisers who organise holidays/travel arrangements for special interest groups, such as sports teams, families, business travellers, those attending language courses and those visiting friends and relatives.

There is no fixed career pattern for a tour operator but you could spend some time overseas as a resort representative, and even work your way up to being area manager for some exotic destination, before moving to a head office post and using your experience to devise packages, write brochures and negotiate contracts. There is usually intense competition for full-time appointments and you might need to build up your experience through a series of short-term, seasonal contracts.

The average profit made on package holidays is very slim. Tour operators have to manage considerable risks, as prices are set over a year before a holiday takes place, and costs can be subject to significant fluctuation, such as exchange rates and airline fuel. This can clearly lead to a lack of security in long-term career prospects.

Sustainable tourism is currently a useful topic to explore, as tour operators try to help us plot a pathway around the planet without leaving too large a carbon footprint.

Alternative suggestions
Other possibilities might include catering manager, hotel manager, leisure services manager, marketing executive or travel agent.

Take-home pay
Typical starting salaries are around £15,000 to £22,000 per annum, rising with experience to £25,000 to £45,000. Some roles involving sales offer a basic salary and commission. Salaries can vary widely between employers, depending on such things as the range of duties carried out by the individual and the size of the organisation.

While you might work fairly standard hours in a head office post, you would usually have experienced the complete absence of set hours for a resort representative. You would often have to sort out problems at any time of the day or night in such a post, and would be expected to work for as long as it takes to resolve the issues.

There is a need to work to tight deadlines at peak times of year, to ensure high standards of customer service, and to get all the details right, which can mean working additional hours when the pressure is on.

Sources of information
Institute of Travel and Tourism:
Association of Independent Tour Operators:
Tourism Management Institute:





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