Life's not always a beach when you're working as a holiday rep - although it is an attractive bonus

A holiday representative, or rep, is responsible for looking after groups of clients on package holidays at resorts.

The main priority is to ensure that clients enjoy their holiday and that everything runs as smoothly as possible for them. As the public face of the tour operator, the rep must create an excellent first impression and continue to provide outstanding service to holidaymakers throughout the duration of their stay.

The role involves holding welcome meetings, handling complaints and resolving problems as they arise.

Holiday reps are often also responsible for selling resort excursions and additional services, like car hire.

Responsibilities

Duties may vary according to the tour operator you work for and the role and type of representative work you do (e.g. customer service, family, children's or club representatives) but will typically include some or all of the following:

  • meeting guests at the airport
  • escorting guests to their accommodation
  • organising and hosting welcome meetings (sometimes for up to 200 people)
  • selling and organising excursions and other activities
  • selling car hire and other services
  • responding to clients' queries (this may involve being on duty for set times each day)
  • handling client issues, such as lost luggage or passports, allegations of theft or other crimes, problems with rooms, health problems, injuries or even deaths
  • dealing with unforeseen 'non-client' problems, like flight delays, transport strikes or weather conditions
  • resolving any conflict with or between clients
  • establishing and maintaining relationships with local hoteliers, apartment owners, excursion agents and travel companies
  • maintaining an in-depth knowledge of the resort and the local area in order to answer clients' questions
  • accompanying customers on excursions and acting as a guide
  • organising and supervising children's activities and ensuring they are in a safe environment
  • organising and taking part in daytime and evening entertainment
  • checking hotel standards and safety procedures
  • completing risk assessments and health and safety checks
  • keeping basic accounts and records and writing reports
  • assisting in the support and training of new holiday representatives.

Salary

  • Typical starting salaries are between £450 and £525 per calendar month.
  • Experienced representatives often earn between £700 and £800 a month.
  • Salaries can be considerably enhanced with commissions from selling excursions and other services.

Basic salaries and commission structures steadily improve once you've taken on more responsibility and progressed to a more senior role such as team leader or resort manager.

The majority of employers provide free accommodation- either in the form of a rental apartment, which may be shared with other staff or hotel accommodation. Alternatively you could receive a living allowance to find your own accommodation. This varies between employers and individual resorts.

Benefits include free flights to and from the resort, free uniform and sometimes free meals or a food allowance.

Other benefits take the form of discounted or free excursions and holidays, use of company cars in leisure time, use of hotel swimming pools and other sport and leisure facilities, discounted prices in bars and restaurants and cheaper accommodation for family or friends who visit. These are usually arranged on an ad-hoc basis within the resort and at the discretion of management.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working as a holiday representative is not a nine to five job. Reps often have to work very long and unsocial hours. Working 12 or more hours a day, six days a week, is not uncommon especially if there are long airport delays, which can occur on a regular basis.

Some of the smaller, more specialised operators may offer the possibility to work freelance.

What to expect

  • The work is highly demanding and challenging. Clients often have very high expectations and holiday reps have to deal with the issues when these are not being met. Representatives have to get used to working in a new country with a different culture, but it can provide the opportunity to learn a different language. The job can be hugely rewarding, confidence-building and provide great job satisfaction.
  • The role is not office-based but increasingly there is more admin involved. Most of the time is spent with clients in the hotel, on excursions or at the airport. You may also have sales targets to meet.
  • Holiday representatives are required to wear their uniform at all times while on duty and may have to change several times a day depending on whether they are undertaking hotel visits, welcome meetings or airport duties. Appearances must always be smart.
  • Jobs are based at specific holiday resorts. Some companies start the holiday representatives in European countries for their first three or four seasons, with possible progression to the Caribbean, Asia and the Americas after that. It may not always be possible to be placed in your country of choice.
  • Holiday representatives can be away from home for months at a time. Often, they work two seasons back-to-back before returning home for a break.
  • It may be necessary to move resorts every season, so there may not be consistency with the location.
  • Most of the larger tour operators employ holiday representatives on seasonal contracts. The summer season is generally from April to September, while the winter season is split between October to December and January to March.

Qualifications

Working as a holiday rep does not usually require a degree, HND or any specific qualifications. Relevant skills and personal qualities are more important.

Most tour operators seek candidates with experience of working in a customer service or travel and tourism role.

Although it is not required, a degree in one of the following subjects may be useful to the role:

  • childhood studies - for a children's representative
  • hospitality and tourism management
  • international tourism management
  • leisure and tourism
  • modern languages
  • tourism business management.

Language skills aren't usually a requirement but many tour operators value them, so they may give you an advantage. This is particularly the case in countries where English is not widely spoken, as the holiday rep will often act as a link between the local community and tourists.

Most tour operators recognise the Holiday Rep Diploma online training course. It includes 17 modules, with a test at the end of each, and covers all aspects of being a holiday representative. Candidates will also receive help on the recruitment process, helping them prepare to apply for holiday rep jobs.

Skills

You will need to show evidence of the following:

  • communication skills (both oral and written)
  • an outgoing, confident and energetic personality
  • stamina and enthusiasm
  • presenting, listening and negotiation skills
  • a commitment to high levels of customer service
  • good business awareness and selling skills
  • teamworking ability and leadership skills
  • a good sense of humour
  • planning and organisational skills
  • flexibility
  • common sense
  • a friendly and approachable manner
  • problem-solving ability
  • a hands-on and proactive approach.

Work experience

Experience of customer care, selling, dealing with large groups and working and travelling overseas is desirable. Employers will look to see if candidates can work in a public-facing role and therefore any evidence of that is very useful. Those who want be a children's representative should have some relevant experience in childcare and to be a qualified representative they should hold an Early Years Educator (EYE) Level 3 (or equivalent) in childcare.

Employers

The major employers of holiday representatives are tour operators. In the UK the main players in the tour operator industry are TUI and Thomas Cook, as well as smaller operators like Jet2, Olympic Holidays and ski holiday operators.

Other employers of holiday reps include:

  • camping holiday firms
  • overseas agents
  • private villa or apartment owners
  • sporting and sailing clubs
  • coach operators
  • hotels.

Look for job vacancies at:

Applications are usually accepted throughout the year but it's best to apply between October and March to be considered for the summer season, and April to November for the winter season.

Many tour operators recruit high-season representatives to work during the busy summer months of June, July and August. These roles are ideal for students looking to work abroad during the summer and then return to their studies in the autumn term.

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

Tour operators provide new holiday representatives with training in the UK before they are sent out to their resort. They then complete their training programme once they have arrived in the resort where they will live and work.

The length of training courses varies between tour operators. These intensive sessions are aimed at equipping new representatives with all the guidance and preparation they need to work in an overseas resort. They cover topics such as:

  • how to run a welcome meeting
  • customer service
  • sales techniques and best practice
  • health and safety
  • entertainment and excursions.

New representatives are also shown how to deal with common problems that may arise. The induction is an opportunity for representatives to meet each other and start building a network of other holiday representative contacts in other countries and resorts.

Representatives usually have time in the resort to familiarise themselves with the local area, accommodation and excursions before the holidaymakers arrive.

Holiday reps that join part way through a season are still given a training and induction period in the resort and there may be another holiday representative who has been working in your accommodation who can complete a handover exercise, warning you of problem areas and preparing you for the weeks ahead.

The rest of the training is on the job. New representatives are supported and assessed by head representatives or resort managers. Usually new holiday reps begin on a probationary period and have to pass certain assessments before being passed off as a fully qualified holiday representative.

Some tour operators encourage (or require) their representatives to obtain relevant NVQ qualifications, e.g. in travel services, while they are working in the resort.

In-house supervisory and management development courses may be provided and holiday reps usually receive ongoing training throughout their career, sometimes being brought back to the UK for refresher courses on best practice or training on new procedures.

Career prospects

Working full-time as a holiday representative is an intensive, demanding role, and is not very compatible with a home family life. As a result, most people do not do it for more than a few years.

Some representatives become head reps, resort managers or regional area managers abroad, while some move back to the UK and work at the head office or become involved in the recruitment process for new staff.

Head representatives are responsible for training and supervising new holiday reps and usually act as the main point of contact for the tour operator.

There is also the opportunity for representatives to become resort managers and some may oversee several resorts. Progression from here could be to regional area manager, where you oversee representatives on a group of islands or in a specific country.

You may be able to progress this way with your current tour operator or you may need to move to a different or larger company to achieve promotion.

It may be possible to move into different areas of travel operations, including:

  • consumer affairs - specialising in areas such as quality or health and safety. Relevant qualifications are needed to move into these positions, but most companies will support staff in acquiring this specialist training
  • guest services management - trouble shooting and problem solving above the daily problems that arise
  • specialist resort management - developing new ideas and innovations to develop and run specialist holidays, such as wedding parties.

Those who return to the UK often continue to work within the travel industry. Alternative opportunities include working as:

  • travel agents
  • tour operators
  • tourist boards
  • local authorities
  • tourist information centres
  • tourism consultancies.

Working as a holiday representative helps to develop many invaluable transferable skills which are sought after in most industries, although former holiday reps may be more suited to roles in retail, hospitality, leisure and entertainment.