Why travel and hospitality: Catrina Pengelley, Tom Harding, and Ela Hughes

Here at Lightning, we have plenty of thoughts on why we love working in travel and hospitality! But we try to showcase a diverse selection of voices, so we reached out to Lightning’s industry friends to get their thoughts and advice for any newbies… 

As it turns out, they can’t keep quiet about why they adore our industry… And you all love to read about it! So we’re back with another instalment of ‘Why travel and hospitality’: step up, Mandarin Oriental’s Catrina Pengelley, nemo’s Tom Harding, and Jacada Travel’s Ela Hughes.

(P.s. If you get to the end of this post without a) wanting to apply for a travel and hospitality job, or b) feeling really smug that you already work in the industry, are you actually a bot?!) 

Catrina Pengelley (she/her) – Leisure Sales Manager for Mandarin Oriental Exclusive Homes

Why do you love working in travel and hospitality?

There’s not a single thing I don’t love about working in travel and hospitality! There are so many things I could mention, but really the top reason is the people. It’s because of how engaging, friendly, and positive each of the individuals working around me are. I think it takes a certain type of person to work in roles within travel and hospitality – and they’re the nicest, kindest, most fun-loving people out there.

What makes it different to other industries?

My favourite thing that makes travel and hospitality stand out as an industry is its diversity of roles. I call travel and hospitality “the industry of 100 industries.” Whether you’re a recent graduate unsure of where to start, or a professional in your 40s making a career change, the industry has something for you.

Be it air travel, marketing, tech, finance, sales, social media, kitchens, bars, events, operations, spas, fitness, festivals… Anything you might want to dip your toes into can be done in our industry. And because of that, it gives you the opportunity to try so many things.

Personally, I started in kitchens, moved to waitressing and bartending, worked at a hotel front desk, then in housekeeping, then moved into bar and restaurant management, then events, before deciding I wanted to do sales – and here I am! All within a progressive career in hospitality, which is nowhere near done yet!

What’s your advice for candidates who are new to the industry?

Just do it. (Did I just quote Nike?!) But, honestly: just give it a try, and give it your all. If the role you’re in now isn’t right for you, give something else a shot and keep trying until you’re happy. Continue to grow your career. I love my job now. Twelve years ago, when I started as a dish-washer, who knew this is where I’d be? (Not me!)

Also, get some advice from others in the industry based on what you’re passionate about! There are many amazing mentors and mentoring communities who can help you navigate your future – such as Otolo, or the Institute of HospitalityRemember, it’s not just senior leaders with many years of experience you want to get advice from: speak to your peers and colleagues – those who’re just a few years ahead of you. They have the best advice for people in your position.

Tom Harding (he/him) – Co-founder & CEO, nemo

Why do you love working in travel and hospitality?

The industry allowed me to tick two huge personal goals early on in my career: 1. Manage a safari lodge, and 2. Run my own business. Both aren’t easy to achieve, requiring a lot of drive and energy to reach, but the opportunity is there for those willing to take some risks. There’s also a huge amount of space to disrupt the industry norm, which I love and am always trying to do. I love what Chris is doing with Lightning on this front.

What makes it different to other industries?

The product isn’t bad, is it? We all work bloody hard, but when you take a moment to reflect on what we’re actually selling – a really amazing, life-changing holiday – it’s pretty great. With this, of course, come great educational trips and perks – some of the places I’ve been able to visit and stay are pretty mind-blowing… All for work reasons, of course.

What’s your advice for candidates who are new to the industry?

Be brave, bold and ambitious. There’s no limit to what’s possible and no core skill required that makes getting to the top inaccessible. In fact, it’s completely doable. I’m by no means there yet, but I did tick quite a few boxes before turning 30 – which I don’t think is possible in more technical industries.

Ela Hughes (she/her) – People and Culture Manager, Jacada Travel

Why do you love working in travel and hospitality?

It has to be the people. You get to work with people from all walks of life and hear opinions from a rich and diverse community of incredible humans, which I think helps you learn more about yourself! I get to connect with people from Bali first thing in the morning, someone from Kenya over lunchtime, and then another person in Buenos Aires towards the end of the day, all whilst working from a London office. I absolutely love it! 

What makes it different to other industries?

Working in travel broadens your anthropological gaze and allows you to connect with the world in a nourishing way. From my experience while working at Jacada Travel, everyone's on a similar mission: to help people see the world in an impactful and positive way by offering them a variety of experiences. That's a mission I want to be a part of. 

What’s your advice for candidates who are new to the industry?

You know when you land in a new country and you have butterflies because you're excited/nervous, then you end up having the most incredible experience because you can't get enough of exploring the unknown? That's what it's like when you join the travel industry. 

Without a doubt, you'll have an unforgettable time and once you're in, you're in. This industry puts people first because the people are what make it. Trust your gut and take the leap! You don't necessarily need to have travel industry experience to join – just a positive mindset, a curiosity for the world, and a love for people!

For those who’re new to the industry, my advice is to be curious and get to know the people you're working with on a deeper level. Tune in to them and their experiences. Ask questions, get stuck in, and make mistakes! 


Reckon travel and hospitality could be the industry for you? Get in touch for help finding your next role.

Already working in travel and hospitality, but not sure where to take your career next? Book a Lightning Lounge session for tailored career advice to help you figure out your future.

Or maybe you’re looking for out-of-industry candidates for a role in your business? We can help you find the right fit.

In the meantime, check out our Thunder & CEO Thea Bardot interviewing the icon that is Lauralee Whyte of Spectrum Speakers on the importance of diverse representation at events:

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Thea Bardot

31st July

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