Strangest Jobs in the Travel Industry
Why didn’t someone keep the birds away?
At least, that’s probably what the passengers of the infamous US Airways flight 1549—which was forced to land on New York’s Hudson River in 2009—are thinking. After all, it was apparently geese getting sucked into one or both of the plane’s engines that caused the plane to go down (with, thankfully, no fatalities).
Airports have known for a long time that birds can pose problems to airplane engines, and have come up with different ways of combating the issue. Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, for example, has a robotic hawk to scare birds away. But if you’d like to get a job keeping the birds at bay, inquire at Zürich Airport, which employs three hunters to shoot the potentially damaging creatures.
And airport hunters are just one of the strangest jobs in the travel industry. When we searched the globe for the most offbeat tasks, we came up with some surprising professions.
In fact, many offbeat travel-industry jobs involve keeping Mother Nature at bay. In India, “monkey men” at a plush resort spend their days chasing primates prone to stealing guests’ cookies. “We are convinced that the monkeys have ‘tea parties’ on the other side of the resort’s stone wall,” says Rishi Kapoor, an executive with luxury tour operator Abercrombie & Kent, which partners with the Amanbagh Resort.
Happily, not everyone is just chasing critters behind the scenes—and for some people, what started as utilitarian jobs somehow turned into entertainment or guest perks. In St. Thomas, an engineer who helps protect guests from falling coconuts has become an essential part of happy hour.
It’s not always about creating a spectacle though: sometimes it’s about the service. In the past few years, other hotels have created quirky positions to enhance the guest experience—say, a “tanning butler” who applies sunscreen to pool-goers, “bath sommeliers” who fill your tub, or “bibliotherapists” who choose your reading material. “Anything that hotels or resorts can do to differentiate themselves, to create a ‘wow factor,’ is essential in today’s very competitive market,” says John Clifford, a travel agent and president of San Diego-based International Travel Management. —Katrina Brown Hunt
The Altitude AdjusterHotel Madeline Telluride, CO
Having trouble adapting to the thin air in Colorado? Melissa Glenn is one of two designated therapists on hand to soothe you at the new spa resort, with eucalyptus-infused elixirs and pressure-point massages.
Where to Spot Her: Book an oxygen aromatherapy, or reflexology treatment with her at the resort’s Spa Linnea. —Darren Tobia
Dog Surfing CoachLoews Coronado Bay Resort & Spa,San Diego
A local surfer and dog owner, Teevan McManus has taught many a Fido how to hang ten at the pet-friendly Loews Coronado Bay Resort & Spa in California. “Dogs area faster learners than humans,” he says. “Four legs versus two!”
Where to Spot Him: In the water at Coronado’s Dog Beach teaching surf dogs how to catch a wave. —Darren Tobia
Urban BeekeeperInterContinental Boston
Cyrille Couet is responsible for harvesting honey from the more than 40,000 bees that buzz around the InterContinental Boston’s roof-deck apiary.
Where to Spot Him: Couet later adds the honey to dishes as sous-chef at Miel, the on-site restaurant. —Darren Tobia
Airport HuntersZürich Airport, Switzerland
Some of the most pressing security threats at this busy hub aren’t on any intelligence agency’s watch list: they’re unpredictable birds, rabbits, and the occasional wild boar, who all have a tendency to fly or wander onto runways, running the risk of not only harming themselves but also damaging a plane’s engine, windshield, or fuselage. Three armed hunters patrol the airport’s wilder areas for any winged or four-legged interlopers.
Where to Spot Them: At Zürich Airport, the hunters can often be spotted in the nature reserve that sits between the two runways wearing orange vests. —Katrina Brown Hunt
DuckmasterPeabody Hotel, Memphis
Five mallard ducks have been an integral part of the Peabody’s daily activity for 78 years, ever since two tipsy hunters dumped their live decoys into the downtown Memphis hotel fountain in 1933. These days, the fivesome makes two ceremonial marches every morning and evening, from their rooftop “palace,” down the elevator, and into the lobby fountain, while John Philip Sousa’s “King Cotton March” plays in the background. Duckmaster Jason Sensat helps with their care, feeding, and transit. The fourth Duckmaster (the first was a circus animal trainer who volunteered for the job), Sensat wears a red jacket with gold trim and carries a brass-duck-headed cane; he also acts as a greeter and tour guide for the hotel.
How to Spot Them: The ducks and their dude march at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily. The Peabody also offers a family package starting at $340 a night, including room, duck-themed treats, and the chance for kids to help escort the ducks on marches, as well as take home their own canes. —Katrina Brown Hunt
LEGO Professional GluerLEGOLAND California, Carlsbad, CA
While the Master Model Builders divvy up the not-so-mini responsibilities: designing, building, and maintaining the models, the actual builders sit down and painstakingly glue the bricks based on designers’ plans. In the newest addition to LEGOLAND, Star Wars ™ Miniland, more than 1.5 million LEGO bricks were used to create more than 2,000 LEGO models including the Millennium Falcon, Han Solo’s spacecraft, which took nearly a month to build. Master Model Builders are periodically recruited from what the theme park calls Adult Fans of Legos (AFOL’s)—“kind of the Trekkies of the LEGO world,” says a park spokesperson.
Where to Spot Them: The Master Model Builders have become their own exhibit. At the Model Shop at the edge of Miniland, featuring a giant window on one side, you can watch the Master Model Builders busy at work. —Katrina Brown Hunt
Monkey MenAmanbagh Resort,Rajasthan, India
Native langur and rhesus monkeys frequently eat the greenery and pilfer spice cookies and “matties,” Indian savory cookies, which are served to guests on their patios at this resort outside Jaipur, the former site of a maharajah’s hunting lodge. So four “monkey men” walk the grounds periodically during the day to keep the plucky primates in check. Though they are armed with slingshots, the monkey men have mastered the call of a dominant male, a scare tactic to shoo them away and shoot seldom just to scare—not to hit or wound. “The monkeys have a healthy respect for our monkey men, and will instantly run away when they catch sight of them,” says Abercrombie and Kent executive Rishi Kapoor.
Where to Spot Them: The cookies are often left on the villas’ terraces, so one can assume that monkeys—and monkey men—are not far away. —Katrina Brown Hunt
No one really expects an ambassador of tourism to be an elder statesman—after all, this person’s job is to make the idea of visiting the home city or country sound fun. But one does expect such a role to be filled by a person. Japan opted to fill that spot with Hello Kitty, the big-headed anime character that has been pictured on coin purses and children’s tea sets since the 1970’s.
Where to Spot Her: It’s hard to imagine that Hello Kitty will be attending many ribbon-cuttings in Japan, since her official bio lists her residence as London. Hello Kitty’s reps say that, for now, her appearances will be mostly at events or in ads in Hong Kong and mainland China. —Katrina Brown Hunt
Le Musée des Ègouts (the Museum of the Sewers) has been a runaway hit in Paris since it first opened to smell-tolerant visitors in the 19th century. Today’s guides are often ex-sewer workers, so presumably have developed a threshold for the potential aromatic hazards. Ask for the museum’s English-speaking interpreters to come along too. Sewer lines correspond by name to the streets above, and you can sometimes see (hold your applause!) pipes emptying from the corresponding homes.
Where to Spot Them: The tour starts near Pont d’Alma on the Left Bank; open year-round but closed Thursdays and Fridays (011-33-1-53-68-27-81). Admission is about $6. —Katrina Brown Hunt
Coconut Safety EngineerRitz-Carlton, St. Thomas,U.S.V.I.
Shaka (he doesn’t use a last name), the engineer at the Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas, isn’t just putting on a show when he shimmies up the resort’s palm trees, which tower from 20 to 60 feet high. A few studies have found that falling coconuts, once dismissed as a cartoon sight gag, can inflict massive head injuries, or even kill people beneath them. While some resorts at least post signs warning guests not to sit under the trees, the Ritz-Carlton isn’t taking any chances. Shaka climbs and picks ripened coconuts before they get the chance to fall.
Where to Spot Him: Shaka picks coconuts whenever they’re ripe; you can also try the literal fruits of his labor, poolside, at a daily sunset get-together, announced by the blowing of a conch shell. —Katrina Brown Hunt
Not surprisingly, birds are a thorn in the side of officials in Venice, since pigeon droppings are brutal on old statues and buildings. But the city has a bigger potential pest on its agenda these days: uncouth tourists who, according to city officials, traipse around shirtless, sit down in the middle of sidewalks, and—avert your eyes!—dare to eat sandwiches there too. Since 2008, “volunteer angels” have been on patrol to give pec-flashing or panini-noshing offenders a friendly warning, but they can also flag a traffic cop to fine offenders.
Where to Spot Them: The angels stroll St. Mark’s Square in the afternoon—look for their orange vests or a badge with the St. Mark’s Lion logo or the City of Venice logo. —Katrina Brown Hunt
Karaoke Taxi DriversHelsinki,Finland
Forget the shallow chitchat with your cabbie: in these brightly colored Mercedes minivans, your mandate is to sing. Karaoke Taxi cofounder Arla Kulmala started the company in 2003, and today it’s a favorite for all manner of weekend revelers, who often book the cabs just to cruise downtown Helsinki. Taxis seat from nine to 13 riders, and their machines offer 5,000 songs—mostly Finnish, Swedish, and American titles. Top requests include “I Will Survive” and Tom Jones’s “Sex Bomb.”
Where to Spot Them: Downtown, though it’s rare to hail a karaoke taxi on the street. You can book one by phone (011 358 600 050607) or through the all-Finnish Web site. —Katrina Brown Hunt