Getting paid to vacation

Are jobs in the travel industry really the dream careers that they appear to be?Are jobs in the travel industry really the dream careers that they appear to be?

Working for a tour company allows you to see some of the world’s greatest cities for free.
Working for a tour company allows you to see some of the world’s greatest cities for free.

For many, jobs in the travel industry hold an irresistible allure. Whether giving tours around the world’s greatest cities or writing about your summers abroad for travel magazines, travel industry jobs certainly have their perks.

But what are the downsides to these jobs? Are there enough pros to weigh out the cons, like low pay and possible job instability?

Merilyn Simonds is a local writer who has done travel writing on and off for about 35 years. She has written for travel magazines as well as publishing a book, Breakfast at the Exit Cafe, with her husband Wayne Grady about a road trip they took through the United States. She has also published other works of fiction and non-fiction.

Simonds said she doesn’t think it’s feasible for a writer to make a living on travel writing alone.

“There aren’t enough publications that will publish magazine travel writing,” she said. “Each of the transportation venues like Air Canada, WestJest, Via, they all have their own in-house magazines, but there are very few general interest travel magazines.”

Simonds said magazines pay a dollar a word for content (“if you’re lucky”) but that a writer usually has to be already established before magazines will publish them. She said what travel magazines look for in a writer is someone who can provide a unique perspective on the topic.

“I grew up in Brazil and I travelled back to Brazil for the first time since I was a child, so I wrote a story about going back to visit and how things had changed and going with my sister,” she said, adding that the piece was published in En Route magazine, Air Canada’s in-house publication. “They put it in a special issue about family travel.”

Simonds had additional advice for wannabe travel writers.

“Don’t write [your story] first before pitching it, but have a very clear idea of what you want to write about so you can give an outline of what the angle is and what you in particular can bring to the story, why you are the only person on the face of the Earth that can write this story,” she said.

Although there are few travel magazines, Simonds said she thinks the desire to read travel pieces is high.

“There’s a lot of appeitite in Canada for stories that take place outside of Canada, particularly in the Sub-continent and Asia and to some extent South America, so I would think the opportunities are quite good. If you keep your eyes and ears open, your trip can make a great story when you get home.”

Simonds said writers who wish to get paid to travel don’t necessarily have to become travel magazine writers. Each of the pieces in The Lion in the Room Next Door, Simonds’ collection of short stories, take place in a different country, and she travelled extensively to do research for the book. Once a writer sells their book, they can deduct any travel expenses they incurred along the way, Simonds said.

Nabil Ahmed has also found a way to make a living out of travel. He leads tours and works on social media, marketing campaigns and the website for International Student Exchange (ISX), a company based out of Toronto that offers trips for students to various locations in Canada and the United States.

Ahmed said he never thought he would end up working in travel.

“[Travelling] is one of my favourite hobbies, and it’s great to work in something that you love to do,” he said.

Ahmed has degrees in computer science and business from his home country of Spain, and studied business at York University for one year.

He first heard about ISX as a student living in Toronto and later decided to apply to work for them. Through his work with ISX, Ahmed has travelled to Niagara Falls, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, New York, Washington, Chicago and Japan.

“It’s hard to just pick one [favourite place], but I’ll say New York City and Chicago. New York because it never sleeps and Chicago because [of] their food, culture and people.”

Career Services Counsellor Paul Bowman said students interested in working in travel can start by taking as many opportunities as they can to travel. Pursuing a post-graduate degree in tourism or hospitality can also give you an edge, he said.

“There is a post-graduate program in Humber College, hospitality and tourism operations management. If you did this on top of your Queen’s degree you would have much more to offer an employer in this field.”

According to Bowman, travel industry jobs are just like any other in that you have to start from the potentially menial jobs at the bottom and work your way up. Travel jobs are just temporary for many people, and the allure might wear off quickly for some, he added.

“It depends on the type of role, but you can be dealing with things like illness or annoying clients. It might be really great the first month you’ve been taking people on these scuba diving adventures, but like a customer service role, you’re going to be dealing with difficult people.”

Bowman said students aren’t restricted to travel writing or tourism jobs if they want a travel-heavy career.

“One of my wife’s cousins, he’s actually an accountant but he works for Four Seasons hotel chain, and he’s worked in Toronto, Hong Kong, Abu Dhabi and Dubai,” he said. “So that’s been a way that he’s been able to have an international career that’s been travel-related but he’s been in a more traditional business role.”


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