New Kid on the Block: A Gen Zer takes on the Corporate Travel Industry

The latest entrants into the workforce are now part of Generation Z. Like other generations before it, debate over the exact date range that accurately identifies Gen Z reigns. Many sources quote the mid-1990s to early 2000s for the birth years that constitute Gen Z, while others push the starting date back to 1997. I was born in 1995, so technically I could be a Millennial or a Gen Z… but given that I have no memories of Y2K or living without the Internet, I feel I fall firmly in the Gen Z category.

Given that the corporate travel industry has been widely recognized as one made up predominantly of Baby Boomers, being the “new kid on the block” has presented some interesting challenges. So, without further ado, here are some of my impressions, recommendations and advice for others in my age range looking to get into this amazing industry:

“Wait, so what do you do?”

I was lucky enough to be exposed to the travel industry early; I held two internships with a mega TMC (travel management company, or essentially a really large travel agency) during my time in college. I really enjoyed my experience and was eager to back into the corporate travel industry after graduating.

Presently, my biggest hurdle is describing to friends, family, and other young professionals what exactly it is that I do. I have found that the corporate travel industry is one that your average young adult doesn’t even knows exists. The closest I have gotten to a fellow young professional understanding what corporate travel is was when they recognized a major player in the space, in this case, SAP Concur.

Corporate travel is much than an OBT (online booking tool) or expense report! I will say, however, it’s understandable; most young professionals don’t have the job requirements or status that necessitates travel for their job. Even if they are lucky enough to travel for work, they then have no concept of the technology, contracts, people, companies and other factors that go into making each trip happen.

Why is that? Why do most of the recent college graduates have little or no experience, knowledge, or even awareness about this $1.4 trillion industry.

This industry has a lot to offer with amazing benefits you cannot easily find elsewhere, including a supportive, close-knit global, the opportunity to travel for work early in your career, a need for younger and newer talent to take over roles currently held by retiring Baby Boomers, and an exciting, innovative field that often promotes from within.

Fish out of water

Let me be clear; once you get your foot into the door in this industry, it is no cakewalk. I have found a few difficulties entering this niche trade. As a consultant, I need to understand the entire travel process from the traveler perspective, from booking to submitting expenses. Additionally, I need to be familiar with the companies, services, technologies, and other offerings that enable each trip to take place.

Full disclosure: it took me almost six months before I was semi-confident that I understood all of the acronyms correctly.

Because of its close-knit nature, I’ve found the business travel industry can be somewhat hesitant of newcomers (and, it seems, especially young ones!). For every warm welcome I received, I had someone doubting my skills and abilities.

Granted, I am sure this happens in every industry for every young professional. What I do believe to be different, however, is that those who were welcoming showed me just how amazing this industry could be. Many of the industry veterans have worked together for years. Even across competitor lines, everyone is friendly and most likely worked together previously.

As a 24-year-old, I feel privileged to have experienced industry leaders value my presence, opinion, and my skills. I’ve had successes with clients on a range of projects, as well as a few low points that taught me great lessons. I can honestly say that after my first full year in the corporate travel industry, I feel like I am officially part of the gang.

A few tips for those wanting to work in this industry

  1. Be patient with yourself.
    Like I mentioned earlier, this business is complicated, layered, and full of lingo that is hard to pick up. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or clarification.

  2. Seek out a mentor.
    I was lucky enough to work with a great boss that not only developed my marketing and PR skills, but took time to teach me about different companies, technologies, industry leaders, and all the basics I needed to succeed early on. Having the support of someone more experienced not only speeds up your successful entry into the industry but opens many doors to you as a young professional.

  3. Read the news.
    There are many travel trade publications with daily newsletters. Subscribe to them and read them! Initially, you may not understand 50% of the information, but you will slowly understand more and more. It’s easy to get “in the weeds” in your particular vertical; don’t limit yourself to one area of expertise at the risk of limiting your future impact and career growth.

  4. Have confidence in yourself.
    No one is looking for another wallflower. Introduce yourself to people you want to meet, ask to take on new projects, develop new skills, and don’t be shy about offering your opinion on a project. Be proud of yourself and what you have to offer.

  5. Be a generalist.
    Corporate travel is a small industry in regard to personnel; companies tend to promote and hire from within because of the time it takes to understand and learn the intricacies of this business.  It’s ok to have specialties or areas of knowledge that are deeper than others (in fact, it’s a good thing!), but there is a real strength in being well equipped to speak knowledgeably on the many different aspects of travel.

Again, this is a great industry that has impressive technology, innovation, and best of all… great people. They hold diversity in high regard, and the work culture is unlike anything I have ever experienced. I have been lucky to work with a group of talented and smart individuals at such an early age and can’t recommend my chosen field enough. I look forward to setting my goals higher in year 2!