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The Dirty Truth About Travel-Industry Jobs

Filed Under: United States

Looking for a job? The U.S. leisure and hospitality industry is projected to contain as many as 15 million of them by 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And with good reason: Tourism is a $165 billion-a-year industry, and travel itself is educational, entertaining and trailblazing to boot.

But don't assume the industry is all glamour. While you may have fantasized about roaming the world as a jet-setting travel writer or cruise-ship director, you may be missing a potential ugly side to your dream position.

We rounded up some of the most stressful jobs in travel that, even with incredible benefits, can have some irksome disadvantages. As some insiders will attest, it's never a vacation when you work in the travel industry.

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Travel Publicist
The role of a travel publicist is to generate and manage the public image of a client, whether a destination or hotel. The publicist is required to escort top journalists on trips, often to far-flung exotic destinations, and ensure they get everything needed for their story. While free-travel perks come with the job, don’t sign up so soon. "Hosting journalists can be very stressful," says Nina Zapala, a travel publicist for more than 20 years.

"There are an unfortunate few who demand everything for free, don't respect the staff, don't tip, complain about the weather (which we all know we don't control) and often make the entire trip miserable for all." Furthermore, the client can be very demanding regarding story placement, and many publicists have more than one client to juggle (and in different time zones to boot). No wonder Careercast.com rated public relations as the seventh most-stressful job (out of 10) in 2012.
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Hotel Butler
If you check into a St. Regis or a top suite at a notable hotel, you'll be equipped with a 24-hour butler. They're generally cheerful, obliged and at your service. Because of the tips they get in return, there are really no complaints about financial compensation. Many of their responsibilities include shoe shining, ironing clothes, making tea and coffee, making restaurant reservations, handling flight changes, running errands off-property, sending faxes, unpacking and packing luggage and more.

Think that's not a tough job? While some hotels use a "pool" of butlers (guests aren’t assigned one particular person), each is still constantly "on." One butler may have up to 10 guests at a time, with few opportunities to take a personal break. Butlers also have to be highly intuitive, catering to a guest’s expressed – and unexpressed – needs. And butlers are common at high-end hotels and resorts, so highbrow guests with high-maintenance needs naturally come with the job.
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Cruise-Ship Crew
While cruise ships offer their crew exotic destinations with frequent ports of call, free room and unforgettable memories with like-minded people, it's one of the roughest jobs at sea. There's low pay, long hours, physical labor and demanding guests. In addition, crew members may be bunking with up to 4 other people and, not unlike high-school students, they have to deal with cliques.

Brian David Bruns, author of Cruise Confidential and the only American in the history of Carnival Cruise Lines to endure a full contract in the ships’ restaurants, says: “I worked 12 to15 hours a day, 7 days a week, 10 months straight. There were no days off but a free lunch once or maybe twice a week.” Those who have the hardest roles to fill are front of house: waitstaff, porters, casino staff and butlers. And all those tips that cruise guests leave for crew? They comprise upward of 90 percent of the staff’s income. No wonder their parties are notoriously wild; even after a 12-hour day, no one can refuse that open bar! That said, the job is best for young, single recent college grads who want to see the world and have no qualms about not delaying that 401K or sleep.
Travel Writer
The perks of this "dream job" are limitless: including traveling on someone else's dime, staying at five-star resorts and eating at the best restaurants. Let's not forget free admission to attractions, media passes to top events, free spa treatments, frequent-flier miles in (often) business-class seats, access to VIP services and a private driver. But throw in the disadvantages and you might reconsider a career move: There's little pay, little stability, greater likelihood of sickness, dehydration, imbalanced equilibrium from all the time-zone hopping and, worst of all, giving up your social life.

Notable travel writer Adam Graham  says, "Being a good travel writer means constantly being elsewhere and giving up just about everything else in your personal life: weddings, funerals, births, birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, friendships, relationships and normal everyday routines like watching TV and doing laundry, which might sound mundane but you crave them when you're on the road so much." While Adam was on his last assignment, a three-week trip around the world, two friends gave birth, one found out she was pregnant, another had a break-up and there was the death of a friend’s parent. "If that's not enough," he humorously adds, "being gone for 3 weeks means you'll miss 3 episodes of Downton Abbey!”
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Hotel Front-Desk Clerk
Working at the front desk of a hotel has its perks: meeting guests from different countries, generous discounts on-site and at partner hotels, room for career growth and, depending on where you work, run-ins with celebrities. If that’s not enough, most clerks will be quick to tell you that working at the front desk is like living a soap opera: They are the eyes and ears of everything that happens at the hotel.

From guests bringing in their mistresses to drunk guests behaving badly, entertainment is guaranteed. But working behind the front desk is not a party, as the duties are endless (from administrative tasks to customer service). Furthermore, the front desk is the first place guests go when they have complaints. Who’s the employee with the shortest end of the stick? It’s the clerk working the graveyard shift.

About the Author

Jimmy Im is NYC-based travel writer, TV host and instructor, as well as the cofounder of OutEscapes.com. As an avid traveler, Jimmy has trekked the globe for exciting adventures, from taking a cargo vessel to the Marquesa Islands to bullfighting in Spain (seriously!). If he's not discovering new territory, Jimmy can be found in the comfort of his Lower East Side neighborhood.

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