Travel, tourism and hospitality
Why study travel, tourism and hospitality in the UK?
Travel, tourism and hospitality are huge industries around the world, and there’s a lot of demand from employers for qualified graduates from the UK. These are interesting subjects to study, but they’re also designed to give the skills you need to go straight into a successful career after graduating.
- In the UK, the tourism industry employs around 2.65 million people, or 8% of the population. The UK ranks second in the world for university-industry collaboration (BIS, 2012) – this means students have lots of opportunities to learn from professionals and gain real, practical experience in the workplace (check your visa status allows you to do a work placement).
- The UK is the world’s 8th biggest tourist destination, attracting visitors from all over the world. The number of visits in 2013 reached a record 32.8 million, after several years of growth (Office for National Statistics). The UK also has excellent global transport links, including direct air connections to over 100 countries.
- Studying in the UK means you’re part of a unique multicultural community – in higher education alone, almost 17% of all students and over 25% of academics and professors are from outside the UK (see Join a friendly international community). Employers know that UK graduates have an international perspective.
- English language skills are highly valued in this industry. The UK is the number one destination worldwide for English language study (see Perfect your English), and many language schools also run hospitality training and diplomas – enabling you to improve your communication skills while gaining a professional qualification.
- UK schools, colleges and universities have high academic standards and student satisfaction ratings, and very low drop-out rates (see Gain a world-class education). In travel and tourism, there’s a wide choice of courses – including vocational training to further your career, undergraduate and postgraduate courses that include academic theory – so you'll easily find a course that's right for you.
Courses and qualifications
In this sector there's a huge range of training at all levels: hospitality ranges from broader subjects such as hotel and restaurant management – where you’ll learn general business skills – to specialised topics such as baking and preparing food. Travel and tourism courses include practical subjects such as tourism management, or a more theoretical approach such as tourism studies. You can also learn skills such as travel agency management and airport operations. This is an ideal way to combine travel, business and customer relations.
Scroll down to find out more about these subjects at different levels.
Inside the tourist information office in Portmeirion, Wales
The Institute of Travel & Tourism regulates much of this training (there is a list of colleges and universities that meet its membership requirements here). The Institute of Hospitality accredits courses in the hospitality, leisure and tourism industry (you can see UK and international providers here).
All schools, colleges and universities have different entry requirements, so make sure you read the course details thoroughly and ask your chosen institution directly if you have any questions.
Schools and further education
For students aged 16 and under, many UK schools offer GCSE qualifications in catering, home economics (which usually includes food and nutrition), leisure and tourism.
At further education (pre-university) level, you can study AS- and A-levels, International Baccalaureate or Scottish Highers in subjects such as travel and tourism, or hospitality and catering as a single or a double award. These are academic courses, generally designed to prepare you for further study at college or university.
There are more vocational and technical courses too, which could take you straight to a career in the industry. BTEC National Certificates and Diplomas are available in hospitality supervision and business, for example. As part of a full-time college course, you may also gain qualifications in kitchen hygiene and health and safety at work, which are useful additions to your CV.
Many students choose to combine these qualifications with subjects including modern languages (such as French or Spanish) or geography. You could study for an AS-level in Spanish, for example, alongside a BTEC National Certificate or Diploma. It may also be possible to combine vocational qualifications on English Plus courses at a language college (click here to see English Plus courses).
At higher education level, there are many vocational (career-focused) courses such as BTEC HNDs and Foundation Degrees in subjects including hospitality, tourism, leisure or events management, or a combination. You could specialise in specific areas such as beach resort management, food management or international travel, or combine courses with subjects such as languages and business.
These are often three-year courses that include a one-year work placement. If you complete a BTEC HND or Foundation Degree, many institutions will let you continue for a fourth year to convert it into a bachelor’s degree.
There are bachelor's programmes (which usually lead to the award of a BA (Hons) qualification) in subjects such as tourism business management, international travel management with air travel, and airline and airport management. At degree level, courses tend to include a high level of business and management training.
You can also study at postgraduate level, with master's (MA, MSc, MPhil and MBA), PgDip, PgCert or PhD courses such as aviation management, cultural events management, transport planning, gastronomy, sustainable food production, and many more.
Other professional qualifications
Many colleges and language schools in the UK offer opportunities to gain internationally-recognised qualifications from professional organisations such as the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the Institute of Hospitality. You could combine these with English language or other vocational qualifications – for example, leisure spa skills (such as beauty therapy and reflexology) to international standards.
The Seafood School in Padstow, Cornwall (Photo credit ©VisitBritain/Martin Brent)
Studying travel, tourism and hospitality in the UK gives you practical experience and skills for the industry, but it will also help you develop strong problem-solving, business and communication skills – opening the door to a wide range of careers, wherever you go in the world.
Six months after graduating, more than 80% of UK hospitality graduates are in full-time employment, while 9% go on to further study or combine study and work – either to gain further skills in a specialist area, or to broaden their career prospects in a related field (HECSU).
You might choose to work in restaurant, hotel and catering management, or event, exhibition and conference planning. Hospitality students often work as receptionists, chefs, waiters and waitresses and in customer service roles after graduating. Many then work their way up to management roles, while others start their own businesses as entrepreneurs – if you dream of running your own restaurant or hotel, this is a great place to start.
Travel and tourism graduates might work for a travel agency, airport or airline, transport company, tour operator, visitor attraction (such as zoos, museums and heritage sites) or in the public sector – roles here include tour guides, travel administrators, tourist information officers, human resources, marketing and sales managers.
Practical and professional experience is highly valued in this industry, and many UK courses include a work placement. (Check that this is allowed by your visa requirements, if you need a visa to study in the UK.)
'I always loved travelling, but I never realised until much later that it could become a career!'
Carole Favre from France was a teacher for 13 years, but was inspired to study part-time and completed her MSc in Responsible Tourism Management at Leeds Beckett University. Now, she's working to support responsible tourism and has founded her own consultancy firm.
What's the most valuable thing you learned on your course?
'For my dissertation, I was advised to do a project that could be implemented practically to benefit my industry, so I could attract interest and hopefully get a job out of it. I interviewed several tour operators, experts and destination management companies to write a manual for small excursion entrepreneurs. It was a great opportunity to network, but most importantly it led me to set up my own consultancy business. Some of the people I interviewed have actually given me work – such as the Association of Independent Tour Operators. Crucially, my course has a fantastic network of alumni, which has helped me make other key connections.'
What's your advice for new students in travel and tourism?
'Work very hard and be very dedicated and persistent. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Think about what you can do that is going to make a difference, and contribute to the industry in a worthwhile manner.'