Finding a Job in the Japanese Travel Industry
In our second entry in this article series, we’re looking at the travel and tourism sector. Is it an easy industry to get into? What is the average salary? Once again, we asked a nationally certified career consultant. After multiple years of guiding students through their job-search process, these are their thoughts on the industry.
“Travel and tourism” is a pretty broad term. For this article, we mainly considered four job types: Tour conductor, tourism planning/marketing, tour operator, and counter sales at a tourist office.
Jobs in the travel industry are very popular with Japanese students, so young foreign applicants are facing a lot of competition – especially at big travel agencies. When looking for a job at one of the “big players” in the industry (ex. JTB) you should prepare yourself as early as possible by researching the respective companies as well as the Japanese travel industry in general. Widening your horizon by traveling as much as possible before taking the job is a good idea as well.
There are also many smaller travel agencies – make sure to give them a chance as well and don’t over-focus on the big companies. They might just be a good fit for you!
Regardless of what company you choose, they all share a common goal: Satisfying their customers through travel and tourism services. Knowledge of Japanese customer service values is key.
Japanese Language Requirements
Most positions require N2 or higher, N1, or business-level Japanese. You’ll most likely be expected to go through the same application and testing process as your Japanese peers. A strong command of the language is crucial for passing the exams and job interviews.
Necessary certificates etc.
If you want to claim proficiency in a language other than the one(s) you grew up with, official certificates are the way to go. For English, a TOEIC score of 830 or higher (or an IELTS score of 6.5 or higher) is considered equivalent to business level. A skill package of three languages – your native language, Japanese, and English – can be very appealing to employers, especially when your native language is common among tourists.
Additionally, there are some Japanese certificates that you can get boost your chances even further. They are listed below. The “Travel Business Manager” type certificates are said to be especially beneficial for job-hunting. However, none of these certificates are absolute “must-haves” to get a job – many people acquire them after they enter the industry. (The “Itinerary Manager” certificate is a prerequisite for becoming a full-fledged tour guide but requires prior training and practical work experience and can’t be obtained at the entry-level.)
General Travel Business Manager (総合旅行業務取扱管理者)
Domestic Travel Business Manager (国内旅行業務取扱管理者)
Area-Specific Travel Business Manager (地域限定旅行業務取扱管理者)
Tour Guide-Interpreter for Foreigners in Japan (全国通訳案内士)
Itinerary Manager (旅程管理主任者)
Is work experience necessary?
After being hired as a fresh graduate, you’ll start by assisting more experienced employees. During this initial training period, you’ll gradually be asked to assume responsibility for more and more tasks. Most companies have a job rotation system where you regularly switch between departments and positions while accumulating experience in different areas. Because of this, you can get a job even as a “blank slate”. With that being said, experience in the tourism sector (as a part-time tourist guide, for example) will help win over your future employers.
For experienced applicants, there are mid-career recruitment options. For example, there are sometimes job openings for experienced tour operators or salespersons.
The average yearly income of a travel agency employee is around 4 million JPY.
Travel is an industry that is easily affected by changes in the economic climate. While the basic income is stable, the amount of money that employees receive for their bonus payments can change quite often. (A bonus is a special allowance on top of your regular salary paid once or twice per year. Bonus payments are very common in Japan but some companies don’t give them out.)
As a general rule, tour conductors are contract employees (契約社員, けいやくしゃいん) while operators, marketers, and salespeople are employed as permanent employees (正社員, せいしゃいん).
Regardless of the position or employment category, the busy seasons come with high amounts of overtime. Make sure to carefully check the regulations on overtime pay, overtime hours, etc. before accepting a job.
At some companies, counter sales employees can also receive special personal incentives depending on how many products (ex. tour packages) they’re able to sell.
There can be many variables when it comes to salary. Make sure to not only check the base payment itself but also the conditions that apply to it, and other forms of compensation as well.
Because travel companies are popular even among Japanese, the barriers to entry are relatively high for foreigners. Additionally, the industry is easily affected by economic twists and turns, so there are times when it’s almost impossible to get a job. There’s already a great number of professional Japanese tour conductors with excellent language abilities and a lot of knowledge and experience.
If the number of foreign visitors coming to Japan increases even further, foreigners might be able to find work in planning, marketing or general operations, selling tours and travel packages to tourists from their respective home countries.
How to increase your chances
Business-level Japanese is a must-have for every position, so focus on your Japanese ability before anything else. Just talking to customers will not be enough. You’ll have to be able to listen carefully, quickly assess their needs, and effectively communicate while making the right calls on how to handle the situation. The question you should always ask yourself is: What can I do to make them happy?
Good language abilities and being enthusiastic about travel are both important points. But if that’s all you have to offer, getting a job will be difficult. To get employers on your side, it’s best to prepare a more convincing reason for why they should take you, accompanied by a short story.
What do companies expect foreigners to bring to the table?
Responsibility and attentiveness are major requirements. You’ll be booking hotel rooms, reserving seats on planes, trains, and buses, handling insurances, etc. A small misstep can easily lead to big trouble.
For counter sales and tour conductor jobs, you should equip yourself with a wide knowledge of your customer’s countries as well as the culture, geography, and history of Japan. Being a quick and active learner is imperative. Tour conductors also need an official “Itinerary Manager” certificate.
Being a good communicator is another important factor. Talking about your part-time work experiences at restaurants, convenience stores, etc. (ideally in Japan) is a good way to prove that you already know what dealing with customers entails.
In other positions (e.g. marketing), knowledge in travel planning and marketing as well as the ability to make strong business proposals are of great importance. As a foreigner, it’s likely that you’ll be expected to provide a unique, international perspective on things.
Lingugage students in the travel industry
At this point, no students from Linguage have entered the travel industry at one of the positions considered for this article. Looking at the wider tourism & hospitality sector, two students have found jobs at a traditional Japanese inn and a theme park. To secure their jobs, both students didn’t only rely on their language abilities. They also drew on previous work experiences at supermarkets and fast-food restaurants, where they were able to learn the basics of Japanese-style customer service.
Compared to some others like IT or hospitality, travel and tourism is a relatively hard industry for foreigners to break into. As a fresh graduate, it’s possible to get a job even without previous work experience. However, the competition is strong. For a job at a big, popular company, your Japanese needs to be close to native level. To increase your chances, look for businesses or positions that focus on foreign tourists. Even then, your Japanese should be at least N2 level.
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