Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Travel industry takes you places

The task of sending people on a holiday is serious work for those employed in the tourism sector, writes Biswajiban Sharma

THERE was a time when a holiday meant fleeing the heat and dust of the plains to cooler climes. During the sojourn, the family would mostly stay cooped up in its salubrious surroundings, play cards, take the mandatory daily walk up the 'Mall' and go for the weekend picnic at the edge of a waterfall.

The LTC changed all that; so did the increase in the disposable income of the Indian middle class, the explosion of the Internet, the travel bonanza on the Discovery and National Geographic channels, the discounted airline fares and the mushroom growth of the hospitality industry. All this has given a fresh perspective to holidaying.

No wonder the tourism industry in India is growing by leaps and bounds there was a significant growth of 16.5 per cent in foreign arrivals in 2003 accounting for an estimated 24,456,000 jobs. The country is the second largest travel and tourism employer in South Asia. The icing on the cake is that India has the potential to register the fastest growth in the region in the next five decades. Already, it is being rated among the top five destinations in the world.

Training talk

Graduate courses

Several universities in the country offer BA in Tourism and Travel Management or a Graduate Integrated Course. The duration of the course is 3 years and eligibility is plus two. Some universities in the northern region that offer the course are:

  • University of Delhi, New Delhi

  • Kurukshetra University , Haryana- 132119

  • Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla- 171005

  • IGNOU, Maidan Garhi, New Delhi-110 068

Postgraduate courses

Masters in travel administration is offered by the following universities, among others:

  • Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra

  • Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla

  • Indira Gandhi National Open University, School of Social Sciences, New Delhi, offers Masters in Tourism Management through correspondence (2-4 years). The course is open to graduate and Hotel Management diploma holders.

Besides, several private institutes offer diplomas in travel and tourism.

Take the ticketing route

There are a host of career options in this industry for youngsters who are dynamic, like to think on their feet, and are creative. Take the trusted travel agent, the lynchpin of the trade who has all the facts at his fingertips. Most agents have their own outfits and act as intermediaries between the providers of the holiday and the client.

A travel agency, in turn, may have a number of employees. The larger the agency the more specialised the role of the employee: he could be entrusted with the task of negotiating with the hotels, organising the foreign exchange, making the train and airline reservations, planning the tour itinerary or chalking out some key element of your vacation.

Most institutes offer a crash course 3 to 5 months in airfares and ticketing; the certificate facilitates entry into a travel agency. For instance, the Delhi chapter of the Indian Institute of Travel and Tourism Management (IITM) offers basic courses in Computer Application in Tourism and Travel Agencies; in Air Travel Fares and Ticketing; in Tour Operation Management and in Foreign Languages. Some institutes like the Delhi-based Travel Academy also offer an advanced course, which is designed for students who have a basic knowledge about fares and international airline operations.

Work as a holiday consultant

Surfing on the Net, trying to decide where to go on a holiday, can be a nerve-wracking experience, especially if you are scouting for something unusual and different. That is where the holiday consultants come in. They specialise in organising tailor-made tours and group jaunts it could be spiritual retreat in Buddhist Lanka, a safari in the rainforests of Malaysia or a trek to Timbuktu. Explains Ruchika, a holiday consultant, ''Requests range from rafting in the Amazon to finding the best site for trout fishing in the Himalayas.''

The holiday consultants have the experience and the necessary skills to give you a dream holiday. They not only market holidays that give you value for money and make the most of your annual budget, but also take care of the nitty-gritty so that your vacation proceeds like clockwork. Increasingly in demand, they are employed in airlines, in five-star hotels, in timeshare companies and by big players in the business.

The IITM runs a 24-month diploma course in Tourism Management at Gwalior. Graduates not exceeding 28 years are eligible to enroll in the course after qualifying the entrance exam.

Be an adventure tour operator

Adventure tourism is an emerging niche market for budding youngsters high on adrenaline. The operators organise wildlife safaris, rafting expeditions, cross-country treks, paragliding, mountain biking, bungee jumping and outdoor camps for a predominantly foreign clientele. This entails making travel, board and lodging arrangements, organising visas, inner line permits etc. The operator is also expected to provide guides, porters and trained hands for the jaunts. However, there are very few trained professionals in the field.

Make moolah as money changer

Given the extent of our foreign exchange earnings from tourism, one can gauge the need for money changers who are authorised to deal to a limited extent in foreign currencies or securities. They usually get licenses by virtue of their association with a travel agency or on account of their business which might involve dealings with foreign tourists. Their main activity is to buy and sell foreign exchange either in the form of currency notes or travellers' cheques. A person may obtain a license to act as a full-fledged money changer by making an application to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). However, certain documents are to be submitted to the RBI for this purpose.

Get set to interpret

Expertise in a foreign language, especially Spanish, French and German, can easily land you a part-time or a full-time job as interpreters. The latter are needed in tourism, the hospitality industry and airlines. They are well-paid, often by the hour. Universities as well as institutes run by embassies offer diploma/certificate courses.

Show the way as a tour guide

They are in demand in the domestic as well as the international circuit. However, despite the record foreign arrivals and the surge in domestic tourism, there are no professional courses for guides. Mostly they are untrained, but make up for it in other ways: they are familiar with the turf on which they operate, have facts on their fingertips, know the local folk lore by heart and are good raconteurs. The remuneration is good but they make more money from tips, usually in dollars if the clientele is foreign. Guides are also in demand at tourism development corporations, but the assignments tend to be seasonal.

Tourism as a career option offers many intangibles, which can't be measured in monetary terms. The imponderables are: a pulsating career, with ''not a dull moment,'' an opportunity to rub shoulders with people from all over the world, the ease with which one can enter the industry without having to clear grueling entrance tests, excellent future prospects for the performance-oriented and good monetary incentives in the form of tips that enable you to supplement your income and, last but not the least, the fact that your skills are transferable anywhere in the world.

"This is the road to fast growth"

IF you have determination, grit and guts, then there is nothing like a career in travel and tourism, says Sheema Vohra, Director, India & Subcontinent, Global Sales Organisation, Marriott International Inc.

Excerpts from an interview:

How has the Indian travel and tourism scene changed in the past decade?

Well, it's a growing, dynamic, and satisfying industry. Earlier, it was an unrecognised industry. But now it has a separate ministry. And the government is also giving special emphasis to this sector. Of late, the government has sanctioned some highway projects, which is a welcome step for domestic tourism. In 2003-04, five million tourists flocked to India. If we look at the inbound figure, 2.5 million tourists, including those from neighbouring countries, visited India, though compared to outbound tourists, the ratio is little low. And, most importantly, the government is making good money from this sector.

India ranks second after China in the tourism industry in the Asia-Pacific region. Still, India can't boast of being a major tourist drawer. Many unfinished tasks have to be completed. For example, the government should take up the National Highway project seriously for tourism's sake.

Why are more young people employed in the tourism and travel industry?

A recent study projects employment growth of over 3,54,000 in the tourism sector over the next decade. The multi-faceted nature of this industry opens a world of opportunity for a person with drive, imagination and love of life.

Now, it is reckoned as the highest job generator and service-oriented industry. It attracts lots of youngsters because of the prospects of fast growth.

Give five reasons why youngsters should take up tourism as a career.

In India, the travel and tourism industry was somewhat slow in taking off in the initial years. But because of its inherent growth potential, it is undergoing massive expansion.

Growth, good exposure, a global canvas, variety and good money these are the cardinal reasons behind taking up this excellent career. After acquiring a degree or a diploma, one doesn't have to sit idle. The innumerable opportunities act as a magnet for the young.

Of course, the industry pays well. Then, there are the perks, including the opportunity to see new locales at low prices. After joining the industry, the initial four years are not that rosy. However, after that the pay package is good enough.

What is the future scenario?

The future is very bright and clear. The industry is expanding and in the next five years, India could be the frontrunner. According to the WTO, India and China are the industry captains in Asia. The industry has a lot to offer: government tourism departments, immigration and customs services, travel agencies, airlines, tour operators, hotels. Besides, service industries such as airline catering, laundry services, guides, etc, are also associated with it indirectly.

How did you make it to the top?

Well, I don't think I have made to the top yet. I have still a long way to go. After giving some other careers the miss, I chose tourism. I owe my success to discipline, hard work, integrity and some amount of luck. I want to contribute more.