So You Want To Be A Travel Consultant

From wacky travel requests to keeping up with the latest border restrictions, Jean Tay, a travel consultant from Scott Dunn, lets us in on what it’s really like on the job in the midst of a pandemic.

Jean in East Africa, during wildebeest migration season. Image courtesy of Jean Tay

Travelling is a universal experience that most of us would know and love. The thrill of hopping on a flight, soaking in all of the sights, sounds, and tastes that a new environment has to offer, and meeting locals from around the world is something that’s truly incomparable. But behind every trip overseas, there’s a lot of planning that takes place which isn’t nearly as glamorous or exciting, especially in the middle of a pandemic, where entry requirements to different countries can change overnight.

If you’re organised and detail-oriented, you would probably enjoy this planning process, and might even have considered a career as a travel consultant. However, the job is more than just booking flights and accommodation, or lining up attractions to visit. It involves a lot of round-the-clock support and close communication with guests, both before and during their trips. If you’re curious about a career in this industry, read on as we speak to Jean Tay, a travel consultant at luxury tour operator Scott Dunn at Raffles City Tower, who gives us a peek into her job and six tips on what it takes to pave a career in the industry.

P.S. Take a virtual vacation while you read with these photos from previous trips planned!

1. You’ve got to put in the leg work

The Scott Dunn team has offices around the world, so it’s easy to remain updated on the latest visa and entry requirements globally, as information will be pooled and shared. However, active learning is something that all consultants still have to do.

“Our core brand values at Scott Dunn are to be in the know, inspiring, and detail-oriented. We have an online training academy for travel consultants to access and self-learn. We also have an internal system that provides very useful up-to-date visa and entry requirements, but when necessary, we do call up our contacts on the ground or tourism boards to verify information too,” Jean shares.

Apart from online learning, familiarisation trips are also done now and then (more so pre-pandemic). According to Jean, every consultant has their own area of specialisation or destination that they’re most familiar with, so other team members can reach out to these destination gurus for tips and information when planning trips for their guests.

Moraine lake at sunrise in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

2. This is not your typical nine-to-five

As an end-to-end holiday planning service provider, Scott Dunn takes care of every single aspect of guests’ trips, from hotel bookings to restaurant reservations. More often than not, consultants are the sole point-of-contact for guests throughout their trip, and are thus expected to always be on hand to smooth any hiccups along the way.

One of the things Scott Dunn is known for is providing round-the-clock support for guests, no matter the time zone. This is definitely a life saver for many guests travelling in the midst of a pandemic. However, this also means that working hours for consultants can stretch on late into the night at times.

“We have a 24/7 global emergency hotline, but because of the close relationships we have with our guests, us consultants do step in to help where we can as well,” says Jean, “Time zones are a total blur for us!”

3. Consultants need a support system too

Working remotely can take a toll on our mental health, as most, if not all of us, would be familiar with. Likewise, researching various travel destinations and planning trips for guests can get very mundane when you’re stuck at home daily. However, Jean shares that her fellow teammates are what’s kept her going through the pandemic.

“Our team gets together (virtually for now) to share travel tales or ideas. There is never a dull day on the job, with nothing to do!”

Hot air balloon rising over Bagan, Myanmar Image courtesy of Jean Tay

4. Challenging requests, good stories

As with every service job, dealing with guests can be challenging. Coupled with the uncertainty of the pandemic, it can be very difficult to plan a smooth trip.

“Trying to balance guest’s expectations and keeping up with the ever-changing entry requirements to ensure a seamless trip for them is definitely the most challenging part of my job at this point in time,” says Jean.

But of course, there are some interesting moments with guests on the job as well. Jean recalls an instance when one of her guests requested for a car to drive them five hours to a highly-rated restaurant they wanted to visit—that’s 10 hours both ways, or as Jean puts it, “commitment to the pursuit of gourmet!”

Manhattan Beach Pier at sunset, Los Angeles, California, USA.

5. Pandemic travel planning is a whole new game

Though borders are finally opening up to tourists again, there are a lot of things to take note of when travelling in a pandemic, with the number one priority being pre-departure polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. While holiday seasons such as Christmas and the Lunar New Year have been popular travel times for many families and individuals in the past, Jean recommends planning holidays around these peak period carefully. “Not many clinics or laboratories may be open during the festive period, so guests might not be able to get their PCR test results back in time for their departure flights,” Jean explains. “Also, the first thing we do now prior to planning a trip is to check for flight availability, especially for VTL flights, whereas in the past, you could always lock in an itinerary prior to securing flight tickets.”

When it comes to itinerary planning, we might be inclined to jam-pack our schedule with visits to multiple countries, especially when visiting places like Europe. However, Jean recommends keeping the number of destinations in a single trip to a minimum, or having back up plans in place as border crossings can become a tricky affair, especially if any last-minute restrictions are implemented. "It's a good opportunity to slow down and explore in a more in depth manner, focusing more on connections with the destination, local culture and people. You experience more while eliminating the stress of rushing around,” Jean says.

The historic city of Florence, Italy.

6. Happy guests, happy consultants

Ultimately, to be a good travel consultant, you’ll have to be passionate about what you do, and truly enjoy the process. For Jean, the most satisfying part of her job is the fact that she gets to plan dream holidays for her guests, by selecting unique hotels and experiences based on their preferences. 

“It’s an exceptional feeling when a guest thoroughly enjoys themselves on holiday and shares that feedback with you! And with travel picking up in the past couple of months, we’ve had many guests share pictures and videos from their trips with us, which really helps to brighten up our work days too,” Jean shares.

Looking forward, Jean hopes that the pandemic will ease in 2022, and that we can all go on much-deserved trips abroad, just like in pre-pandemic days. Interestingly enough, her ideal holiday isn’t chock-full of exciting activities, but one with relaxed, free-and-easy days for her to read a book and enjoy a long lunch.

So, is the reality of being a travel consultant what you expected? We hope you find this information useful, whether or not you’re planning to travel abroad this year. If you are, you might want to consider working with a travel consultant like Jean, because it wouldn’t hurt to have additional support when travelling.

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