Insights on Travel

By Joseph Khaw

The Discover+ Series is a series of events, delivered through online digital solutions, which give students the chance to speak directly with working professionals, and learn about careers they aspire to enter. Given the developments in the COVID-19 situation, Advisory is keen to provide support to the many students who are experiencing woes in this time of disruptions, by digitalising professional mentorship. 


The Discover+ Panel on Travel, held on 10 June 2020, was graced by Shyn Yee Ho-Strangas (Moderator), Director, Global Product Management at Expedia Group; Chester Chua, Vice-President of Global Development at Marina Bay Sands; Joyce Yang, Chief Content Officer at The Smart Local Media Group; and Matt Gebbie, Director, Asia Pacific at Horwath HTL. Attendees included students at various levels of education with a common interest in pursuing a career in the travel and hospitality industry and a desire to know more about what it is like to work in it.

There is often a misconception that only frontline jobs are available in the travel industry. While a majority of jobs in the industry are indeed frontline roles, there are also many non-frontline and non-operational careers in the industry, such as roles in business development, finance, communications, marketing. Students should first conduct research into other career opportunities available in travel before writing off the industry.

A common misconception about travel content producers is that they travel a lot and have fun on those trips. The reality is that most of their time is desk-bound. Their work includes examining SEO (search engine optimisation) tools to see what people are searching for and writing about travel destinations, even if they’ve never been to those destinations. When travel opportunities arise to film travel content, content producers often get an average of four hours of sleep every night as they have to make sure all the equipment is fully charged and ready for the next day of shooting. It is often quite a stressful affair until the end of the shoot.

Be open-minded towards opportunities to work in frontline and operational roles. Frontline employees are incredibly important to the success of travel and hospitality businesses. Gaining work experience in those roles will help you understand the business better, which allows you to be more effective in the hospitality industry.

Find opportunities to work in groups as this is going to be commonplace in the working world. Learning how to manage your supervisors and your reports are soft skills that can be easily learnt in school that will serve you well in the working world.

The travel industry is very diverse and the skills vary based on portfolio. For those looking to enter content creation, it is no longer sufficient to only be proficient in a single skill. Candidates who are proficient in multiple relevant skills are valuable to companies as they can save cost.

Transferable hard skills include understanding finance, basic law and the travel and hospitality businesses, as well as being proficient in Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint. Relevant work experience in the industry is also beneficial, though that is not necessarily essential.

Transferable soft skills and valued attributes include empathy, people skills, negotiation, leadership, inquisitiveness, storytelling and being influential. It is pivotal for us to be empathetic towards our customers in order to provide better products and services.

Firstly, COVID-19. The entire travel industry is struggling due to it. The cyclical nature of tourism means that demand in the travel industry is already quite uncertain and it is often worsened by natural disasters and crises. This can be viewed in both a positive and negative light, but when the livelihoods of thousands of employees are at stake, the costs of downturns can be significant.

Secondly, the uncertainty of playing by the changing social media algorithms. Content creators are at the mercy of social media platform algorithms and have little choice but to adapt their content and marketing strategies to any algorithm changes.

Thirdly, the industry can also be very closed up and seem challenging to penetrate in the beginning. However, many people will be happy to speak to young talent who are interested in entering the industry if you network effectively.

Unless you are very certain that you want to pursue a career in hospitality operations, a broad-based education is likely to serve you better than studying hospitality.

Finance is very relevant especially if you are looking to work in a business or consulting function within the travel industry. A finance background will help you understand and analyse profit and loss statements and allow you to develop a more nuanced understanding of hospitality businesses.

For those looking to get into content creation within the industry, mass communications is a good choice as it can cultivate hard skills like visual design, copywriting, and using digital tools. While it is possible to learn these skills on the job, it is challenging and requires a lot of discipline. Studying technology-related modules is also relevant as technology will be a significant part of the future.

Ultimately, there are many different career pathways in the industry for people with a wide range of academic backgrounds. As such, you should study what you are passionate about while developing agility towards learning. This agility will allow you to adapt and learn anything when required.

There are many strong believers in the travel industry who trust that people will start travelling again once it becomes viable. While 2020 will be a difficult year for travel, it will definitely recover in a few years. As such, if you’re interested in joining the industry, now would be the best time to study as you’ll reap the benefit upon graduation.

One should also not be myopic to think that the entire industry will be permanently hurt by COVID-19. It will adapt to the new normal just as it did following the 9/11 attacks. Thus, while the industry may be apprehensive about hiring right now, if you are patient and think about the long term, COVID-19 is unlikely to have a destructive impact on travel. If you can find an opportunity with a good company that you like, you should go right in.

Moreover, the TravelTech industry has been busier than ever. COVID-19 has presented an opportunity for companies to review and streamline their processes by leveraging machine learning and artificial intelligence. Cost savings generated paired with an increase in revenue when the industry recovers will allow innovative companies to do many interesting things with their free cash flow. Ultimately, travel is a very multifaceted industry that requires people from a variety of backgrounds and skills. Even if COVID-19 poses a threat in the immediate term, it also represents an opportunity in the long term.

Singapore currently lacks experiential travel experiences. Many tourists who come to Singapore actually miss the authentic Singapore experience as they only visit tourist attractions instead of being immersed in our culture. With the advent of Airbnb Experiences, more visitors are able to get intimate and authentic local experiences from locals, showcasing more of our food and culture. As a segment that many tourists are looking for, experiential travel will be a significant part of the travel industry’s future.

COVID-19 will also force the travel industry to adapt to a decrease in footfall. While Singapore has been pursuing quality tourism for a long time, the data has reflected that tourism spending has actually been decreasing across the years. Because of COVID-19, we can no longer rely on pushing visitation numbers up and must find creative ways to maintain current spending levels with fewer visitors.

A perfect job does not exist. Be realistic, understand what is truly important to you in a career, and be very focused on that in your job search. 

Be generous with yourself and know that it is okay to change your mind. When it comes to pursuing what you want, you must also be realistic and understand what kind of suffering you are willing to endure for it.

Life is long and you can do lots of different things with it. You can reinvent yourself many times. Ignore the allure of earning money as enjoying what you are doing on a daily basis is far more important than chasing big bucks.