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In this sector rapidly evolving consumer tastes and the astonishing pace of technological development, are forcing companies to evaluate their practices and processes. Organisations need to be proactive in predicting future developments in the marketplace. Opportunities for travel and tourism graduate careers have been created due to a desire to create the managers, consultants and area specialists of the future.

The tourism, sports and leisure industries play a major role in the economic life of Britain. The UK is well supplied with world-renowned sporting venues, such as Wimbledon, Twickenham, Lords, and Wembley. "Traditional British" sports equipment such as cricket bats, golf equipment and hockey sticks are popular UK exports, key export markets being Germany, USA, Italy, France and the Netherlands.

The travel industry was created out of the tourism industry. The main components of the travel industry are the tour operators and the retail travel agents, although the very nature of the work requires considerable interaction with the transport, leisure and tourism sectors. Tourism is set to be worth about £257 billion by 2025 in the UK, it is one of the world's biggest industries and is growing rapidly. It caters for a range of demands from family holiday to business travellers and is often a catalyst for the regeneration of heritage. The industry also enjoys a close relationship with the leisure industry due to the sizeable amount of overlap between the two, through areas such as holiday resorts and theme parks.

The tourism industry is very fragmented. Large commercial companies dominate the outbound travel sector whilst small specialist operators flourish behind the scenes. Tourist boards and strategic authorities are important for the thousands of small enterprises that provide accommodation, food, attractions and travel services to tourists in Britain. These organisations provide a focal point for marketing to incoming visitors and a voice on industry issues.

Tour operators create, arrange and operate tailor-made tours and travel programmes which they market to the customer either through travel agencies or directly via websites, TV adverts and call-centres. There are four major players that dominate the outbound sector. All are vertically integrated, i.e. they operate at more than one level of the holiday chain – providing air travel, tour operator, call centre and travel agency services. The remainder of the market is shared by small and medium sized operators, many serving specialist segments of the market, eg wine tours or singles holidays.

The large tour operators have many thousands of employees working in a range of functions such as marketing, operations, sales, administration, IT, contracts and product development. They also employ significant numbers of representatives located on the spot in each resort to provide information and support to holidaymakers. Smaller tour operators employ a handful of people who perform a wide range of duties. Couriers or tour guides are usually engaged on a self-employed basis (often working for more than one operator) to accompany groups of holidaymakers on tours.

On the typical high street, retail travel agents provide a link between customers and tour operators. These range from the large well-known chains to owner-managed independent offices. Some agencies specialise in particular types of travel, e.g . long-haul and the over 50s. Others provide a wider range of services that may include foreign currency, visa and insurance advice. Business travel agents offer services to clients who may be attending trade fairs, exhibitions and conferences, using their buying power to obtain discounts for them.

Ground handlers (or incoming tour operators) arrange accommodation, transport and tourist activities for visitors to Britain, working closely with overseas travel agencies. These may be specialist markets such as groups, study tours or conference packages for business travellers.

There are four tourist boards in the UK and each board reports to specific government departments. In addition, there are several government departments that have responsibility for certain areas that affect tourism. Regional tourist boards in the UK are private limited companies funded through membership subscriptions, commercial activity and some public funding. They work towards developing a sustainable tourism industry in their particular area, one which contributes significantly to the local economy. Their aim is to support those who earn their living from tourism.

Leisure is big business. The leisure industry encompasses sport and recreation, health and fitness, betting and gambling. Whether you want to spend your relaxation time actively - by going to the gym, playing your favourite sport, visiting your local theme park, or passively - at the cinema, the bingo hall, or the casino, the leisure industry can cater for your every mood.

The upturn in the leisure sector has been thanks largely to society's awareness of the need for a healthier lifestyle. The perception of a need for a good work/life balance and increased leisure time has seen a rapid growth in sports and recreation facilities. This growth has led to a significant degree of innovation and diversification in both areas as organisations concentrate on consolidating their existing client base in addition to exploiting new markets.

Average Travel and Tourism Graduate Salary

Career Path

Employment for graduates in the leisure sector can be found in a number of areas:

  • recreation centres, health clubs, gymnasiums;
  • swimming pools, sporting clubs;
  • medical practitioners, psychologists, chiropractors or naturopaths;
  • gymnasium or sports equipment businesses (retailers or manufacturers);
  • sports marketing and public relations;
  • resorts, hotels, cinemas, theme parks, tourist industry;
  • education.

In addition to specialist staff with a sports science (or equivalent) background, there are opportunities for professionals to cover activities such as administration, marketing, accountancy, and managerial posts.

On the betting and gambling side, employment is more likely to be in areas such as management and administration. The growth of on-line gambling has also opened up some opportunities for IT professionals.

However, it is worth noting that graduate recruitment schemes are few and far between. Often, employers are looking for previous experience, perhaps gained in vacation time and real enthusiasm for the (almost inevitable) long and unsocial hours.

Travel and tourism graduate career paths are varied depending on which area you decide to concentrate on. Many bar, restaurant and hotel chains recruit graduates into formal training programmes lasting from six months to two years, during which they experience work in many different areas of the business. Early responsibility and rapid promotion are on offer for graduates who have a high work rate and perform well.

Large tour companies also have graduate training schemes, but competition can be strong. Alternatively, by applying to smaller travel companies graduates may be able to train whilst on the job. Sponsorship may also be on offer to take the ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) certificate. Graduates may find themselves being responsible for preparing flight information, transfers, accommodation, visas and insurance.

Career development in tourism comes through experience and in-service training. Most senior executives in this industry started their careers at the bottom. There is significant scope for career development through mobility between tour operators, airlines and travel agents. Staff in smaller firms in the industry may move to larger ones in order to gain more responsibility or to specialise.

Graduates who have completed sports or leisure related degrees could find work in fitness centres and health clubs. Work is available throughout the UK although there may be more opportunities in well-populated and prosperous areas. Hours can be long and involve shift and weekend work. Job roles exist as sports/fitness coaches, leisure centre managers or lifestyle consultants.

Career paths are many and varied in the leisure industry, often depending on the particular route you want to take. Leisure attendants, for example, could chose to take a variety of fitness qualifications, or perhaps qualify as a coach/instructor in a particular sport. Or you could choose to take supervisory qualifications and use your degree to move into the role of duty or centre manager. Sports development officers, leisure managers and others employed in local councils and government agencies can progress to senior positions – culminating in head of leisure/director, depending on experience and opportunities available. Sports facilities managers/leisure centre managers can be promoted to oversee a number of centres or perhaps move into a more strategic role at head office/council office level.

Qualifications and Skills Needed

What proportion of candidates as a percent we place into Travel and Tourism graduate careers and the typical qualities graduate employers look for.

GRB Placements for Travel and Tourism by Degree

Typical Candidate Attributes

Your personal attributes and experiences through holiday work or in the voluntary sector will be of importance in this sector. Potential employers will be looking for strong interpersonal skills and an ability to motivate and communicate with a wide range of personalities, since these will play a key part in any position, whether it be looking after a group of customers or managing members of a team.

Your subject of study is often far less important than your skills, although travel and tourism and business studies degrees are useful. The extent to which a degree is valued depends on the role. Almost all employers look for relevant experience gained during university vacations or placements on CVs. Work in customer service, retail or marketing will be viewed favourably, especially with a tourism employer such as a leisure park, tour operator or tourist attraction. If you are intending to work for a long-haul specialist, it will help to have experience of the countries in your portfolio. A gap year spent travelling can also be a rewarding investment.

Communication skills, leadership and patience are attributes valued by all employers. With some roles graduates must be flexible as they may be required to travel by road, air or sea for long hours. Specialist jobs need knowledge of a whole range of ancillary services, e.g. car hire, accommodation, currency, visas, meeting, seminar, conference venues and entertainment opportunities.

The sport and leisure sector is customer led and so the very highest level of customer care skills are demanded from all entrants. A degree of multi-skilling is also needed. In some roles, you may have to be willing to take on physical tasks (moving and setting up equipment for example) as well as the more menial jobs - no matter what your job title. Other general skills needed are: 

  • communication;
  • organisational;
  • teamworking;
  • plenty of energy and enthusiasm;
  • bility to get on with a wide range of people;
  • IT skills.

Sporting ability may be necessary for some roles while work experience is invaluable. There are a number of companies offering vacation work in the UK and abroad, which could enhance your CV. These include sports camps, holiday companies, activity centres and theme parks.

Some employers seek a sports related qualification in sports science, exercise and health studies, leisure studies, sports studies, recreation management or human movement studies. Applicants should have a good knowledge of anatomy and physiology, with first aid courses and lifesaving qualifications being desirable.

Sources for Further Information

Institute of Travel and Tourism
Institute of Hospitality
British Institute of Innkeeping