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First, let’s look at some common misconceptions and then talk out some of the research steps that you should take to protect yourself and avoid some pitfalls. Follow some or all of these steps to research internships in travel and tourism.
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Defining the Business
A travel agent helps clients with travel information and can secure their airline tickets and hotel and car accommodations. They are involved in all forms of travel: air, train, sea, and bus.
A tour director helps clients plan and get the most from their trip. They can organize group travel for better rates and make plans for organized sightseeing as well as ticket and book space.
A certified meeting planner generally works in a specific city. They can arrange for clients, companies or industry workers to visit their area and are responsible to hotels and conventions, various facilities accommodations, transportation and tourist attractions. There is an International Society of Meeting Planners that certify “destination specialists."
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Who You Need to Be
Outgoing and gregarious persons work best, and educational requirements met or college degrees for the travel or hospitality industry will get you better jobs and allow you to rise in the industry. Travel experience or being a tour guide is a plus. You will need to be organized, able to multi-task, and remain calm and collected with customers and clients.
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Generally an internship means working a job for experience without pay. You are trading your time for work experience to put on your resume or curriculum vitae (CV) — overview of life and qualifications.
Also, if you are enticed into the travel business thinking it’s a romantic industry, so are thousands of others, and you should be a skeptic and approach this as an educational quest, something to research and check out first.
And finally, it is a well-known fact that college students or people who apply and are working toward degree plans will get the best opportunities.
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4 Ways to Approach a Travel Internship
#1 - Internship Placement Organizations
There are internship placement organizations, student work-visa programs, study abroad internships and independently-driven research.
Internship placement organizations can be nonprofit and they match college students or recent graduates with work — some paid, some not — a kind of immersion for a semester. Some U.S. colleges and universities will grant academic credit after the term is satisfactorily finished. The application will be extensive, you should allow enough time to actuate the entry, and most organizations outside academia will charge a fee.
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#2 - Student work-visa can be arranged through a school or just by getting permission to work. If you are highly skilled, an employer many be willing to sponsor your work visa but that is rare. There are organizations that specialize in helping someone get a visa and find temporary work, but these may be expensive and the applicant may also have to find housing and be able to cover other expenses in addition to an agency fee. Be careful too, as the job may not be what you were expecting.
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#3 - Study abroad programs can cost thousands of dollars. There are student exchange programs too, where you can live with locals and attend their schools for a year. But the application fees, transportation, and other necessary monies will be needed for your stay. Check to see if you can apply for scholarships or other types of grants through your school’s counselor or financial office.
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#4 - Independently Arranged - Students who decide to go it on their own—are independently driven—will have to find countries that allow work visas, they will need money for travel, accommodations and expenses while job-hunting, and the work may be hard to find as the natives will get first choice. Although, if your interest is in international travel, developing local contacts increase your chances of finding work overseas.
Personally, I have been a travel agent, worked for both American and United Airlines as a reservationist, a flight attendant for American, and also as an agent with a tour company, and I simply applied for jobs locally. You may have to start at entry level jobs, but climbing or changing positions within the company is not that difficult.
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• Contact or get a list of former participants in your chosen program to learn more about their experience and to gather advice.
• You will need: identification, a passport, immunizations, travel or work visas, money, attention to detail, and knowledge of the area or region.
• Allow plenty of time; it is not too early to plan a year or more ahead of time and applications may be lengthy, have fees attached, and need several steps to complete.
• Utilize your career or guidance counsel’s office in your college or university first.
• Caveat: Be aware of bottom-feeder industries who exploit young students willing to do any kind of work and/ organizations who charge exorbitant fees for travel and placements. Check into their background and former clients to be sure.
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Resources and Links
For information on interning or volunteering with international nonprofit organizations, see: Action Without Borders at http://www.idealist.org/
For a list of study abroad programs that offer internships in travel and tourism, contact: Institute of International Education IIEPassport http://www.iiepassport.org
and Study Abroad Directories http://www.studyabroad.com/internabroad
Check out the: American Society of Travel Agents, Education Department, 1101 King St., Suite 200, Alexandria, VA 22314. Internet: http://www.asta.org
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Professional associations such as the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners, Destination Management Companies, and Convention Bureaus sometimes offer internships to college students majoring in the hospitality industry.
See: International Society of Meeting Planners at: http://www.ismp-assoc.org
Read “Working abroad and finding international internships and entry-level jobs" on (PDF) download at: http://www.bls.gov/opub/ooq/2006/fall/art01.pdf