The career turf for tourism students has never been wider, with online travel business demanding specialised skills.

What if your degree involved researching exotic destinations in the Far East and the Wild West? What if you had to plan holidays for a living, putting together packages for anywhere on the globe — be it Puducherry or Paris?

For students who choose tourism and travel as their postgraduate degrees, the turf has never been wider with destination hopping clearly on the rise, only to be equalled by an upsurge in online travel portals offering last minute holiday deals at the click of a button.

“At least 80 per cent of e-commerce in India is estimated to stem from tourism and hospitality, which includes tickets, hotels and travel packages,” says Y. Venkata Rao, head, department of tourism studies, Pondicherry University. While ticketing and sales continue to form the core of the industry, online travel businesses demand more specialised skills, something which students of tourism and travel management can take advantage of.

Taking travel online

“The Internet has been a big boon for the travel industry,” feels Manish Bharthi, an alumnus from the late 1990s who launched Chilli vacations, an online travel portal. Until a few years back, growth in the travel industry was limited as it boiled down to commissions from selling tickets to customers. “In the last five to eight years, investment in travel business has multiplied ten times over and the expansion has fuelled employment,” says Manish.

Combining an MBA in tourism with a technical background can be an added advantage, feels Professor Venkata Rao as many travel portals have been floated by entrepreneurs with an IT background.

“A new trend we have observed in the last two years is of B. Tech students taking up tourism management. At least 30 per cent of students in the current class have a technical background.”

New forms of tourism

Says Tharini Arun, a second-year tourism management student, “There are more opportunities online and I would like to start something of my own, ten years down the line.” The online travel sector is ideal for entrepreneurial opportunities as it requires minimum investment, limited workforce, small space and no tangible product to deliver as all transactions are made online or through mobile, says Manish. Opportunities outside the virtual world are also multidimensional as ticketing requires knowledge of tourism management. “Major software and multinational companies that regularly plan trips for employees are looking for full-time tour planners and managers today,” says Professor Venkata Rao.

Emerging forms of tourism exclusively focusing on health, heritage, sports, culture and particularly MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) spell more opportunities for students of tourism management.

Bridging the gap

Though there is no dearth of jobs in this industry, tourism as a management specialisation is not always a first choice.

Perceptions of the scope of the career and the moderate entry-level salaries are to blame, say professors at Pondicherry University that has been offereing a masters programme in tourism for 20 years.

“While the pay scale is relatively lower in comparison with other management specialisations, once you enter the managerial level, it is an entirely different game,” says Ajith Kingsley, Puducherry branch head, makemytrip.com.

Opportunities, though, are concentrated largely in the metros. While the average pay can be Rs. 18,000 a month, students with work experience stand a chance to start off with managerial positions.

Making students meet industry expectations is of primary importance in the field, emphasises Professor Rao, adding that regular interactions with senior executives from the travel industry can prepare students to take up the world of travel.