Skift Take

When it comes to schooling, digital travel is no different from any of other travel sector. The most valuable things learned are often outside the classroom, and the degrees earned aren't always the ones you would think could lead to a career in digital travel tech, such as a liberal arts degree.

This week’s Travel Alumni Spotlight focuses on the digital sector of travel.

Whereas hospitality, tourism, and even aviation sectors have existed for generations, digital is still getting its sea legs.


It’s important to call attention to what kinds of degrees can lead to a career at successful companies such as Expedia, for example, and the paths professionals follow to reach these positions.

The Travel Alumni Spotlight is the latest installment of our State of Travel Education series, focused on showing how universities are preparing the industry’s future talent to be thought leaders and innovators.

This spotlight highlights individual stories to offer lessons for how different people reached their current positions. It will also show the many directions professionals entered the industry to evidence how success can be achieved along multiple paths.

Professionals from the digital, aviation, hospitality, and tourism sectors of travel will appear in this spotlight. Here are this week’s three stories.

Noah Tratt: Global Senior Vice President of Expedia Media Solutions
School: Brown University
Degree: Political Science

“I grew up on Cape Cod working at a hotel for many summers and really got to learn all facets of a hotel during those summers. I knew from working there that the hospitality industry is very important and knew I wanted to work with hotels from that experience.”

“My major at Brown allowed me a lot of flexibility and I was able to take classes in different departments like engineering and political science. The value of a liberal arts education shouldn’t be downplayed.”

“That’s my advice for students and for instructors, and unfortunately I think some schools don’t advocate that. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the pre-professional tracks like business, for example, but having the flexibility that I had with my political science major really helped me figure out what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go. It also helped me develop an entrepreneurial thought process.”

Zeev Sharon: Co-Founder & CEO of Hotelied
School: Cornell University
Degree: Hotel Administration, hotel real estate and finance concentration

“Cornell has been huge in my career, I cannot overestimate it. It’s very relevant to what is happening in the industry. The learning curve was minimal once I graduated because of how prepared I was, and it gives you an incredible network. The origin of the ‘Hotelied’ name even came from Cornell, where hospitality students call each other ‘hotelies.’”

“I’ve touched almost everything in the hospitality industry, from front desks to hotel investment banking. Hotels for me are where people create memories, some of your happiest ones. I wanted to work for an owner of a hotel at first, where you really touch everything, and now I’m in hotel distribution. As a startup, we need to build a product that all stakeholders, hotels and users, will want, one that aligns interests of traveler and hotelier.”

“In some respects, working at a startup is a continuation of my career rather than a transition, but  in other respects it’s night and day. For me personally, my corporate career is an extension of my education. I didn’t want to climb the corporate ladder, I wanted to work in corporate for a few years then start my own business.”

“I go back to Cornell regularly to speak to hospitality classes, and it’s great to see a lot more classes talking about startups and entrepreneurship. That wasn’t really available when I was there. But to be an entrepreneur, there’s only so much you can learn in a class to be honest. If you have an ambition to start a business, the best way is to start building it. Don’t wait.”

“For schools teaching entrepreneurship to students, I think it would be really interesting to focus on case studies. Tell me about some companies who started from nothing and were successful, and those who failed. The other side would be instilling in people that you have to take risks and understand the emotional mindset, which is just as important.”

Santiago Vallejo: Senior Product Manager at Carlson Wagonlit Travel
School: University of Sioux Falls and Minnesota State University, Mankato
Degree: Management, International Relations

“The most important lessons from both schools were outside the classroom: global thinking, emotional intelligence, group dynamics, and clear communication have been essential to success.  Universities have plenty of opportunities for those who are willing to put in the work outside the classroom, but it is up to the individual to pursue them. I tried to be as involved as possible on campus (too involved at times), and the skills learned have proved valuable when I need to rely on them, more than what I learned in my international relations or management classes.”

“One of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had was to go back to school after a six year hiatus. I would love some day to design a program where students can go to school for a few years, work for a few more, and then return to pick a track.  So many of us burn our talent in things ‘we think’ we like, rather than iterating through our skills. I run into too many teachers who didn’t like teaching after all, and too many psychology majors who ended up doing something else.”

“I entered the industry by accident more than planning. I worked for Orbitz Worldwide off an on for six years before my current position at Carlson Wagonlit Travel, a travel management company. I had to get a job and had to stop studying, and the most attracting job I could find at the time was to do ticket fulfillment for an online travel agency (OTA) provider. My advice to students is:”

“Learn to tell stories-everybody has grown up with stories, so if you can tell a good one, it will transcend cultures.”

“Learn to think critically, and learn to make decisions- I am amazed at the lack of preparation in these two areas. Both take years to develop, and if a 22-year-old has not spent anytime developing those skills during any stage of schooling, the world will not be forgiving.”


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Tags: expedia, state of travel education, travel education

Photo credit: Promotional material on Cornell University's website.

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