How to Study Tourism and Begin a Career in Travel [Interview - Donna Gibbs]

by Sarah Hudson
Posted: March 12, 2017

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Working in travel and tourism has been a lifelong dream for school teacher Donna Gibbs. When she made the decision to sign up for an Open Colleges Certificate III in Travel, little did she know it would be an important step on her journey to winning a prestigious Travelport Award. 

The prize has proven the first sign of success as she embarks on the greatest adventure of all – her exciting new career in travel and tourism.

The starting point was simple for Donna Gibbs. “I wanted a change of career,” explains the passionate tourism student. “Unfortunately, my sister got quite sick. It was kind of that light-bulb moment where I thought: I really need to put me first and do what I love. Although I love my other job, it was time for a change.”  

Making your passion your career

Open Colleges student Donna Gibbs does study tourism and travel
Pictured [left to right]: Open Colleges Travel Trainer, Tanya Galey with Open Colleges student Donna Gibbs.


Donna knew she wanted to plot a new course in her career and her life, but she had to do a little soul searching before deciding what she truly wanted –and how to make it happen.

“I really had to have a good think about what I really did love. What I would want to go to work and do  – just get up every morning and go: ‘I love going to work’.” 

Recognising her love of adventure and her finely tuned primary teacher’s ability to negotiate – as well as motivate people to try new things – led to an epiphany for Donna: “I should become a travel agent!’”

“I’m just a passionate traveller,” she says. “That’s what I do. I love to travel. I’m a department schoolteacher, so I would work for ten weeks then go on holiday – I was very lucky. So I thought why shouldn’t I make this my career?”

Online option puts Travel student in line for top award 

Having come to that realisation, it was just a matter of making it all happen – around an already busy work life and demanding personal circumstances. 

“If I wasn’t at work, I needed the flexibility to be at home for my sister, so I didn’t have the time to go into something like TAFE and do a two-semester course and be finished,” Donna explains. “I needed the flexibility to do it when I had time to do it. So, the online model fitted my purpose at that time.”

Things really took off for Donna after her friend Tanya quietly nominated her for a Travelport Award. To her surprise, she found out she had won recognition as the Agent of the Future for her consistent academic achievement, passion for the tourism industry and great personal qualities.

“I won! I couldn’t believe it. I was thrilled to even be nominated! I’m just absolutely rapt that someone would think my work is at that level – but to win it!” enthuses the modest winner, who will take home $2000 towards her next travel adventure thanks to her victory.

Hands-on experience is key to making it in the tourism business

Pursue a career in travel and get hand on experience in planning holidays

While collecting a cash prize for success in her studies is great, for Donna it’s gaining hands-on experience of tourism in Australia as part of her course that’s been truly priceless

Open Colleges’ nationally recognised Certificate III in Travel has a practical component built in as part of the course. To graduate, students have to complete a 120-day work placement in the industry. 

This means they can put into action all the skills they’ve learned as part of the course, like using travel and booking software, providing destination advice, constructing airfares and preparing travel itineraries and quotations.

“I didn’t want to go out going: “Yes, I can do all these on paper,” but not really knowing what I’m doing in practice,” Donna says. Doing a work placement gave her the chance to really work out how to work in the travel industry, starting out as a novice and learning in an understanding environment, rather than pitching headfirst into her first practical role and feeling out of her depth.

Finding the right workplace fit

It took Donna some initiative to find the right placement but she eventually found herself with Apps & Turner Travel Associates on the NSW Central Coast.

“I’m glad where I ended up is where I ended up, because it’s an amazing workplace and an amazing group of travel agents,” she says of the placement. “I’ve been very grateful for what I’ve got.

”She reports a real wealth of knowledge to tap into in her workplace, and her colleagues are always helpful when she feels unsure about something. “I absolutely love it. They have got just this mountain of experience… I sort of say: “I’m sorry,” [when she’s uncertain about something] and they know everything that I ask them. It’s a beautiful place to work. It’s a dream – I feel very, very lucky.”

Her practical experience puts her in good stead when it comes to future plans to really take-off when it comes to her travel career.

What’s next for our prize-winning Travel Agent of the Future? 

Signs to famous world cities and places

While she may not yet have everything mapped out, Donna’s certainly not ruling out some big dreams once she completes her Certificate III in Travel. 

“I can do any opportunity that comes – any opportunity, I’m happy to learn,” she says. “I don’t know what the future is going to hold but I’m not closing up anything. I’m not going to say that I don’t want to own my own business. I may – I just don’t know what five years will bring.”

With an attitude like that, and an award to prove it, Donna’s career in tourism and travel is destined to really take her places – in every sense of the word!

Are you a globetrotter keen to expand your horizons and start the journey towards your dream career? Open Colleges offers flexible and nationally accredited studies in Travel and Tourism that will put you on the flight path to success. Get your free course guide today, via the form below.



Sarah Hudson

Sarah Hudson

Sarah is a freelance writer and film producer based in Sydney. She has over a decade of international experience in print media, national newsrooms and TV studios from Finland to Australia. With a Masters Degree in World Politics and a background in humanitarian aid - she's been in the field in Jordan, Afghanistan and throughout Europe - her passion is for positive storytelling for social impact.

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