How do employers view the value of higher education? In our Ask an Employer series, we ask key leaders and hiring managers from a wide variety of industries about how they view the relationship between higher education and employment.
Nancy Harrison has a passion for travel, adventure, and working in communications. This is what led her to start her business, Adventure Media — a marketing firm for outdoor travel and apparel businesses — more than 15 years ago. Harrison has found a niche in the adventure travel industry; one that, she says, generates approximately $900 billion in revenue globally every year.
“We believe that effective PR is the best investment you can make to promote your tourism business,” Harrison said. “It is often said that while paid advertising increases name recognition, media exposure increases brand credibility. And credibility is everything when consumers are making important decisions about who can deliver meaningful travel experiences, and what gear and apparel will add to the enjoyment and safety of their outdoor activities.”
Harrison shared her insights about what it’s like to work within both the tourism and marketing industries, and how her education has helped her career.
Name: Nancy Harrison
Company: Adventure Media
Title: Founder and CEO
Years on the job: 23
Number of employees at the company: 5
1. What are your goals or biggest priorities when hiring new employees?
A: I look for someone who has the same excitement about working with the press as I have had for over two decades; someone with good people skills, a customer service mentality, and writing abilities. Passion for adventure travel, nature, and the outdoors is critical as well.
2. A lot of people think that working in your industry is pretty glamourous. What are the perks and what are some of pitfalls involved?
A: The best perk is the ability to travel a lot, and meet a lot of different people in the travel industry who you might not have the opportunity to meet otherwise. If you’re a person who wants a set schedule, this might not be the field for you. It requires a lot of long hours, and when you’re dealing with clients you need to be on call for them. Obviously, there are some who do not require as much attention as others.
3. What challenges have you encountered during the hiring process?
A: The biggest challenge is finding the right combination of writing skills, existing contacts with writers and editors, competence in social media, customer service knowledge, and willingness to be a team player.
4. Describe any emerging trends you have observed in your field.
A: I’ve seen an increase in opportunities to market across social media channels, to work with bloggers and the rise of “citizen journalism” where anyone with a computer can write about travel.
5. How important is citizen journalism and travel blogging in this business? What can it do for a company?
A: I think citizen journalists are important, because they can document their personal experiences as well as what a particular destination or activity has to offer. Travel blogging is something that’s very important and is continuing to grow. Blogging is such a valuable tool because you can get your thoughts out there in an entertaining format, which definitely helps generate interest in your business. It’s a great way to promote just about anything involved in the travel industry. I think that anyone who wants to get in the travel industry needs to have the ability to write well and be open to trying out new platforms to get their message out — whether that’s through social media or a blog.
6. When reviewing resumes and cover letters specific to your business, how important is education?
A: Education is critically important to me as it shows candidates have set and achieved goals, have the ability to be organized and to learn. Beyond that, degrees in journalism, recreation and tourism, or business offer skills that fit well with our needs. It is very important to have strong writing and communication skills in this line of work, as well as knowledge of how the travel and tourism industry functions.
7. You mentioned strong writing and communication skills being valuable. Would you recommend that someone running their own tourism business sharpen their skills in this area?
A: Definitely. I say this because no matter what business or field you enter, you are going to need good writing skills. Just think about how many emails you’re going to generate or respond to. Also, chances are you are going to have a website, so you’re going to want to have good content on it. By being a strong writer, you can generate interest in your business while saving yourself some money, because you are not going to have to hire an outside writer or agency.
8. What makes a resume rise to the top of the pile for you?
A: A great, personalized cover letter is the most important thing to me. The resume supports the application, however, the cover letter is the first thing I read and gives me the first impression of a candidate.
9. What makes a great, personalized cover letter?
A: I think a great cover letter includes a memorable experience that pertains to the industry. For this line of work, that would be about a trip they went on and what they gained from the experience. It would also include how that experience might have further spurned their interest to travel and experience additional adventures, as well as encourage others to do the same.
10. How has education impacted your career?
A: My degree in communications taught me the fundamentals of media marketing; attending college taught me how to learn, research, set goals and complete them, so my education has served me well. It also helped me prioritize things and better understand the importance of meeting deadlines. Education offers a lot of practice in those areas.
11. How valuable is a master’s degree in this line of work?
A: Recent offerings of master’s degrees in the areas of travel and tourism look very valuable; they seem to offer insight into how the tourism industry operates and what trends are emerging, as well as training in more technical areas of the field, like research and marketing. I also think I also think a master’s helps you stand out from others, as it shows employers that you have ability to handle and meet deadlines, as well as deal with stress and pressure.
12. What is the best career advice you have ever received and who was it from?
A: My mentor, back when I started my company, told me to concentrate on my core business and not try to be everything to everyone. I was considering doing some other things to provide ancillary income during the start-up period; he advised against that. It turned out to be the best advice I ever got. Even though I was not 100% busy with client work, I used the remainder of my time to contact potential new clients and do volunteer projects with a local tourism organization — both of which netted me new clients. You have got to be able to market yourself in this field.
13. What other advice do you have for someone interested in pursuing a career in this field?
A: Learn everything you can from others who are already working in the field; ask to shadow them or to read their policy and procedures manuals; interview other staff members. Joining the trade associations for the field is incredibly valuable as well. We belong to the Adventure Travel Trade Association as well as the Society of American Travel Writers. They all have resources and job listings for those who want to get into this field.
If you’re interested in learning more about earning a master’s that will benefit your current or desired career in the tourism industry, check out Colorado State University’s online master’s in tourism management.