Travel & Tourism: Proof that travel really can broaden the mind

Tourism is growing fast - but so is the range of courses covering the industry, writes Sarah Jewell
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The Independent Online
The tourism industry is expanding fast - and this is reflected in the range of courses covering all aspects of a career in travel, from holiday sales and hotel management to tour operating.

John Windle teaches the intermediate and advanced GNVQ in leisure and tourism at West Thames College, in west London, and both courses have waiting lists. Tourism is seen as a "glamour subject" by his students. The GNVQs, for students aged 16-19, cover such subjects as customer service, marketing and promotion and researching destinations. Course work involves reports, presentations and essays and has to be carefully planned and evaluated by the students themselves.

The intermediate is a one-year course and the advanced a two-year course, equivalent to two A-levels. John finds, that although his students enjoy the courses, "they do have to study hard as it is a very heavy workload". One part of the course that everyone enjoys is the group event, when the whole class has to work together to organise a contest, such as a college quiz or basketball competition, in order to learn about co-operation and organisational skills.

About 60 per cent of students will go into higher education and 40 per cent will find jobs with travel companies. Most of the jobs in the industry involve selling, and John advises that "you need to like meeting people and you need to be enthusiastic or you won't reach your targets". He was a sales manager for a travel company for 13 years before teaching and knows how important it is to be more than an "information provider" and to get to know the "hopes, and fears and dreams of the client".

Many people go into tourism courses because they would like to travel, but, as John says, "the majority will be sitting behind a desk for the first few years". They will be well placed, however, to find out about cheap flights, especially if they have studied the Galileo computerised reservations course or the manual worldwide air fares training course, all of which are offered part-time at West Thames. The Galileo course lasts for 10 weeks and is taught in the evenings. Students qualify when they can then sell tickets in an airline or travel agent.

Alex Skamiotis studied ticketing when he did his BTEC National Diploma in travel and tourism at Barking College of Technology, in east London. Although he found it "very useful" when he worked for a travel agent, he has moved into tour operating which he finds more satisfying.

Woolwich College, in South-East London, offers an NVQ in tour operations level two. Working with international tour operators, the course offers pre-induction training in the role of resort representative, customer care, communication and presentation skills and health and safety for visitors. Students are then employed for a season by a tour operator, in the UK or abroad, and assessments are done in the workplace.

Another area where assessments are done during a work placement is the hotel industry. Waltham Forest College, in east London, offers a variety of courses on hotel work including a travel and hotel services diploma, a part-time course on guest house and small establishment management and the BTEC national diploma in hotel administration and tourism. The BTEC diploma is a full-time, two-year course that prepares students for all aspects of working in hotels from restaurant and bar work to supervising the laundry. Andy Westwood, marketing manager of the college, says "students have got to be able to prove that they can take their new-found knowledge straight into the working environment".

Students learn what it is like behind the scenes in a hotel by doing work experience in one of the big chains in London, such as the Tower Thistle Hotel at the Tower of London. Andy believes the qualities needed for working in the hotel industry are "flexibility and the ability to work hard - often during very unsociable hours". Traditionally, hotels rely on casual labour, but as customers increasingly expect higher standards of service, staff need to be more rigorously trained. As Andy says: "The market is stimulating hotels to rely on better trained staff, and there are some very good opportunities opening up."

There are some well paid positions for graduates of hotel management. Many of the big hotel chains are run by multinational companies and, as Andy says, "there is not a great deal of difference between a big hotel chain and an international accountancy firm. They all offer similar opportunities for promotion in managerial positions". Perceptions of hotel work are changing, and, with the success of TV programmes such as The Adelphi, more school leavers are looking to the travel business for an interesting career.

West Thames College: 0181-568 0244; Woolwich College: 0181-305 9891; Waltham Forest College: 0181-527 2311; Barking College of Technology: 01708 766841.

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