Leanne Townsend, Travel & Tourism teacher, 18 years' experience
AFTA Best Registered Travel Training Institution 2011 & 2010 team award winner
The travel and tourism industry is a hot career choice. What could be better than a job that takes you to exotic and beautiful places, allows you to help and inspire other people as well as have a great deal of fun? Nothing, if you ask long-time travel agent and teacher at Brisbane North Institute of TAFE (BNIT), Leanne Townsend.
"I have more than 18 years' experience in the industry, and I think working in a retail travel agency is one of the most rewarding jobs around. Happy clients become repeat clients and it's very satisfying to help people plan their dream holiday."
"I started out as a Junior Travel Consultant before becoming a Manager with Harvey World Travel. I loved it so much that a few years down the track I bought the agency!
"I feel owning and managing my own travel agency for six years and growing a successful business was my greatest achievement. My agency won the prestigious Harvey World Travel 'Office of the Year' and I built the business to increase turnover by more than 400 per cent."
Being in travel also led Leanne to many exotic and far-flung places, as well as some of the best and hottest tourist destinations in the world.
"As an employee in the travel industry, I went on my first familiarisation tour to the Philippines and Taiwan with Hilton Hotels and Philippine Airlines - first class all the way! It was a real highlight and I was lucky enough to visit many other countries on work familiarisations, which are a big part of the industry. I have seen so much of the world, and for that I feel privileged."
After all that globe-trotting, Leanne was drawn to teaching because she wanted to give back to the industry she loved, pass on her knowledge and inspire the next generation of travel industry professionals.
Keeping industry current
"Over the years I have built up many close partnerships with local travel agency and airline workers who are more than happy to keep me up to date and who open up their workplaces for me to visit to update my skills. I attend functions and networking opportunities regularly and keep communication open with many ex-students who are now employed in the industry.
"Teaching was a natural progression for me. I was very impressed by a teacher of mine early on in my career, so after I sold my agency to focus on my family, and was working as a corporate consultant, I thought it would be a great repayment to the industry to do some part-time teaching at TAFE. I now work at BNIT as a teacher full-time and love it.
"We have worked hard to make the travel and tourism program at BNIT focused on the needs of the travel industry and we have a continuous improvement system in place where we gain feedback from industry and graduates."
"At the end of each semester we never fail to have employers ring us to ask if we have any suitable candidates."
Leanne's insights for students
Needless to say, Leanne knows a thing or two about what the travel industry is looking for in an employee, and makes sure she passes this on to her students.
"My experiences have given me many insights into the travel and tourism industry and I really wanted to pass these on to the next generation and inspire them to get into such a vibrant, exciting and rewarding career.
"The industry is looking for those with a good attitude and presentation, initiative and customer service skills. If you are the sort of person who can talk with customers in a friendly, positive and confident manner, if you work well in a team and 'go the extra mile' for a customer, then the travel industry wants you!
"To work in a retail travel agency you must enjoy talking to people and be genuinely interested in assisting them with their travel plans. The best travel agents can multi-task and still keep a smile on their face even when the pressure is on. It's not enough to love travelling - you must acquire skills to help you manage your work, be very accurate and thorough. Clients do not appreciate mistakes on their trip! You should also enjoy learning about different countries and travel products like cruising, train travel and coach touring.
"Studying a Certificate III in Tourism (Retail Travel Sales) or a Diploma of Tourism is highly regarded in the industry and will be hugely beneficial when you apply for a travel job."
The BNIT difference
Leanne's lessons must be rubbing off on students, as a huge percentage secure work after, and many even before, graduating.
"BNIT graduates get jobs because we are well known in the travel industry as having a standout training program. We were named Best Registered Travel Training Institute at the AFTA National Travel Industry Awards in both 2011 and 2010.
"Our tourism and travel team are all industry current, have large networks and great relationships with many industry employers. This is great news for our students as we are able to tap into these networks for job opportunities and more often than not, employers call us first to find a suitable candidate for their opening!
"Many of our graduates are now employed full-time as travel agents, wholesale reservations agents, airline and ticketing staff in various travel offices. One Brisbane office alone has employed six of our students recently. Our graduates are now managers and team leaders in the travel industry and many would attribute studying at BNIT as a major contributor to the success of their career."
Don't take our word for it
One such student, Chris Rose, 25, is now the manager of a very successful Brisbane travel agency, Discover Travel and Cruise. A former student of Leanne's, he secured a job at the agency before even finishing his Diploma of Tourism at BNIT.
"I'm very grateful to have learned travel and tourism from Leanne because she was really is the best. As well as being extremely knowledgeable, she was very personable and approachable.
"Leanne is an excellent teacher and always provided that bit extra.
"Leanne has extensive industry experience and contacts, and this meant she had inside information and knowledge essential to the industry which always shared with us."
"Her real world experience really made all the difference, because the travel industry is much more than just what's written on paper. You can really tell when someone has been there and done it in the real world and it made an enormous difference to our learning.
"Leanne's passion for the industry always shone through and she was very supportive and always more than happy to help. It was really great to have the support there when you needed it.
"It was through her contacts I was able to get my current job; in fact she recommended me for it! I'm really glad I had Leanne as a teacher and we still keep in touch - she is a mentor as well as great friend and contact, and I hold her in high regard.
"I feel very fortunate and grateful to Leanne and very glad I chose BNIT for my study. Along with the other staff, Leanne made my TAFE study such an enjoyable and valuable experience."