Career in the Travel Sector: Interview with Alison Scott

Alison Scott in IndiaWe’ve known Alison for about 7 years now; working and socialising with her has always been fun and insightful – she really knows her stuff! So we thought she’d be the ideal person to pass on her words of wisdom about a career in the travel sector.

If you don’t already know Alison then let me provide a brief intro; Alison Scott is the Commercial Director at the Simpson Travel group. Her first taste of the travel industry was working as an overseas rep after leaving university. Twenty + years later, she’s still enjoying an exciting and successful career having worked with a number of the most reputable luxury travel brands. Alison tells us more about her experiences.

What was your first job in the travel sector? How did you secure the role? What did you love / hate. Did this experience confirm to you that this was the industry in which you definitely wanted to work?
My first job was a Ski Rep in the French Alps. I can’t really remember how it came about, but I graduated from university mid recession (the one before the last one …. In 1992) and there were literally no jobs for graduates in the UK. I speak French so decided to go overseas and work and that was it. I loved it all, it was hard work but a great team, lots of fun, I think I got paid @ £50 a week, it didn’t matter, I just enjoyed it. I didn’t make a conscious effort to stay in the travel industry, it was just the way it worked out. I started working for Crystal in the UK in the summers, then overseas in the winters and then moved onto to another operator from there.

With a career spanning over 20 years you must have noted a lot of changes in the industry, which do you think have had the most significant impact?
Marketing is probably the biggest change. In ‘the old days (!)’ we used put ads in the classified section of the Sunday Times and wait for the phones to ring. Now with the internet and so much information available there is no ‘right way’ to market yourselves and so much ‘white noise’. Obviously the world is a smaller place with so much more information, clients are better informed not just about destinations but about price. I think expectations have changed but only in line with the way the whole world has evolved. 15 years ago we didn’t know wifi existed now we want it everywhere we go……. Who knows what it will be in another 15 years …….

Describe the key characteristics needed to succeed in a career in luxury travel.
Travel is a people industry – strong relationships with suppliers, partners and clients are an absolute must, I think that’s what most of my career has been based on and I still know and work with people I knew years ago. Apart from that the usual characteristics for any job are essential: resilience, flexibility, innovation, diligence.

Is there a typical route to success (Director level) within the travel sector?
I’m sure there are schemes with some of the bigger operators and companies but in the smaller, independent sector not really. I actually think it’s one of those industries without a set career path, it’s so diverse – with Tour Operators, Travel Agents, Hotels etc. It’s a great industry to work in, a lot of people switch around, some people stay in one area. You have to find what you like.

With the frequent travel involved in your role would you consider your career to be more of a lifestyle than simply a job?
I suppose it is and most people would say so! Travelling is wonderful but it does take its toll and it does take you way from home and loved ones, so it’s not always as amazing as it sounds. I do love it however and I take the opportunity whenever I can to travel for work and pleasure. My 4 year old niece thinks I’m a real life version of Dora the Explorer! I’ve been lucky to stay in some amazing places in the world, a lot of the time it is hard work but there is a fun side to it, there has to be. Some people don’t enjoy it so much, but in most cases can chose not to travel as much.

You’ve been heavily involved in product development which requires a lot of travel. Tell us about some of your favourite places in the world and why you like them so much.
I don’t have a favourite but I am at my happiest outside and in the countryside rather than in a city so one of my favourite places is Africa – out in the bush, walking or riding safaris. I went to Tanzania a couple of years ago and climbed Kili – that was amazing. As a country I love India too, the people are so incredibly friendly, the scenery diverse, so much to do. For me, I like seeing other culture’s and learning how people live – it’s all about being open minded, it’s not always comfortable but it’s a learning experience. Closer to home, you can’t beat Greece, it’s often overlooked but some of the Islands are just beautiful.

Where have you not yet visited but is top of your list?
Two places on my list: Burma and Cuba.

Finally, any top tips for someone wanted to carve a successful career for themselves in the luxury travel sector?
Just go with it, don’t have a plan. Enjoy it and learn, do lots of different things and meet and network with as many people as possible. You have to love this industry to stay in it, it isn’t the most well paid and it can be hard work, but it is a lot of fun with a lot of great people!

Follow Alison: @SimpsonTravelAS
Contact Simpson Travel: @simpsontravel t: 020 8392 5858

Sign up for our newsletter for inspiration, exclusive previews & luxury tips