Hospitality and tourism is a growing industry, especially in Scotland. The country’s popularity as a holiday destination isn’t just down to its historic architecture, breathtaking countryside and world-famous cuisine. Those who work in the industry have a vital part to play, making sure that visitors have a fantastic experience.
This doesn’t apply only to Scotland, international tourism is on the up too, so the whole world is your oyster!
We spoke to Katie Ralston, Developing the Young Workforce Marketing Officer, Ayrshire College. Katie worked in tourism for several years, first as a Tour Guide and then as the Manager at Dundonald Castle and Visitor Centre until fairly recently, when she joined the marketing team at Ayrshire College.
She spoke to us about her Tourism journey.
What did you do before you worked in tourism?
I studied Business and Marketing at University for 4 years. I started working in tourism during my degree. I also worked in Sales and Marketing before I became the Manager at the Dundonald Castle and Visitors Centre.
What is your background in tourism?
When I studied abroad for a year in Iowa USA during my third year of University, I had a job in the Study Abroad Office there. I had to recruit students to study abroad at the university I went to in Scotland. It was a great job as the students were mostly interested in everything you could do in Scotland and where you could travel to, so really I was more of a travel advisor.
When I returned from America I wanted to get some experience in marketing before I left university and volunteered to help at Dundonald Castle and Visitors Centre with marketing strategy and social media. I was then offered a job as a Tour Guide which I did during the summer and weekends during my last year at University. I was then asked if I wanted to come back to the Castle to be a Manager, which I was excited to do.
Had you always wanted to work in tourism?
After being a Tour Guide I knew that I would be working either in the Education sector or the Tourism Industry. They both sort of go hand in hand. Giving tours is kind of like giving a lecture. You have an audience of people that want to hear about history, economy and politics. It’s a very satisfying feeling being able to talk about your country and have tourists value every piece of information you can give them. In a way their experience at the Castle could contribute to their view of Scotland and how much they enjoyed their holiday here.
Describe the highlights of your job in tourism.
My favourite part of a day there was giving tours in the castle. I really enjoyed taking tourists around the castle and telling the story of it. It was kind of like bringing this 600 year old building back to life. You could tell when the tourists started to imagine what it would have been like. There was something about seeing that spark of interest that was so rewarding.
When I was a Manager at the Castle my role expanded quite a lot, I was then responsible for purchasing, merchandising, finance, marketing, staff training, staff and volunteer management and the school educational visits. It also meant organising and running events such as the annual Halloween party and weddings.
I learnt a huge variety of skills from working there.
What were the challenges, and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge as a Tour Guide is probably communication and confidence. I could be giving a tour to one person or on occasion 30 plus people. Dundonald Castle doesn’t have the space to walk 30 plus people around the castle while giving a tour, so I would have to be very innovative in where I could give the tour and actually keeping their attention since they are staying in the one room. Another challenge was that not every tourist could speak English, especially in the summer when there is a higher concentration of tourists from Europe and Asia. Sometimes it was difficult communicating simple things like asking how many tickets they need or making sure they know that the pit in the prison of the Castle there are Cave Spiders in it. They are huge and hang at head height. As it is a straight ladder with a small entrance to get in, they can’t really run away when they are scared.
As a Manager, I had even more challenges. I was responsible for the running of the visitors’ centre which required a lot of organisation and quite often patience. I learnt so many new skills in finance, negotiating purchases and communicating with Historic Scotland and South Ayrshire Council. There was a lot of restrictions in the Castle and I had to make sure we were always following the terms of both organisations.
What advice would you give to others interested in a career in tourism?
Tourism is one of the most rewarding industries to work in. There are also a lot more jobs in tourism than people know of. Just think of all the tourist attractions, B&B’s, Hotels, Castles and Museums there are in Scotland and that just scratches the surface.
If you are interested in the industry then a background in tourism is very useful. I didn’t have any qualifications specifically in tourism but I did utilise my degree in marketing. I did consider taking a course in tourism when I worked at the castle, mostly because it just gives you that extra bit of understanding of the industry. All qualifications can be utilised in Tourism.
What has been the main benefits of working in tourism?
Had I not worked as a Tour Guide I can honestly say I would not be half as confident as I am now. Talking in front of strangers everyday really boosts your communications skills and enables you to connect quickly with anyone. You learn to read people and alter how you communicate.
The skills I learnt from working there are definitely the reason I have a job at Ayrshire College now. Working at Dundonald Castle and Visitors Centre taught me so much about culture, tolerance, foreign politics, and the 21st century in general. Nothing gives you more of an insight into the people of the world than talking to them every day.
College is a great place to start a highly successful and rewarding career in Travel and Tourism.
Apply now for courses starting in August.