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Overview of the leisure, sport and tourism sector in the UK

Overview of the leisure, sport and tourism sector in the UK

In this sector, you could find yourself working anywhere from theme parks and sports clubs to heritage sites and cruise liners. Find your ideal career...

What areas of leisure, sport and tourism can I work in?

Opportunities in this sector can be categorised into:


  • leisure and entertainment - cinemas and theme parks;
  • culture and heritage - visitor attractions;
  • betting and gambling - casinos and horse racing;


  • sport and leisure centre management - gyms, spas and sports clubs;
  • coaching and performance analysis;
  • sports development, sports event management and disability sport;
  • facilities management/operations;
  • outdoor activities/education.


  • travel and tourism - travel agencies, tour operators, adventure tourism;
  • passenger services - air, sea (including cruise liners), rail and road.

The majority of large organisations in leisure, sport and tourism recruit graduates to a range of head office functions such as finance, IT, sales and marketing. General management roles are also available.

For examples of jobs in this sector, see graduate jobs in leisure, sport and tourism.

Who are the main graduate employers?

Examples of big companies operating in this industry include:

  • Parkwood Leisure;
  • Bannatyne's;
  • UK Sport;
  • Merlin Entertainments;
  • Center Parcs;
  • Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL);
  • The British Horse Racing Authority (BHA);
  • Serco Leisure;
  • Thomson;
  • Expedia UK;
  • Thomas Cook;
  • Flight Centre Travel Group;
  • Carnival UK (includes P&O Cruises and Cunard Cruise Line).

The majority of employers in this sector are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Employment opportunities are also available in local authorities, national governing bodies of sport and sports associations.

What's it like working in the sector?

Graduates entering the leisure, sport and tourism sector can expect:

  • a relatively low salary - particularly in travel and tourism. However, salaries in sport and leisure can vary depending on the size and location of companies and whether they are local authority-owned or privately-owned. There can be big differences between a small health club and a big leisure centre;
  • a customer-facing working environment - many roles require interaction with customers from a variety of age groups;
  • to not have typical 9am-5pm working hours - employees will be hired on seasonal contracts or asked to work irregular and sometimes long or unsociable hours. On the plus side, there are good opportunities to travel or live away from home. 

What are the key issues in the sector?

Tourism has been the UK’s fastest-growing sector in employment terms since 2010, according to the official body VisitBritain. Citing research by Deloitte, it predicts that tourism will be worth more than £257billion to the economy and support almost 3.8 million jobs by 2025, indicating that there will be plenty of openings in the industry in the coming years.

Post-recession, employment opportunities in travel are now on the increase. In 2013, nearly a quarter of travel agencies were reporting vacancies, compared with 13% in 2011. Travel companies have also significantly increased the amount of training that they provide to employees to encourage career development, suggests the People 1st 2014 Insight on Travel report.

The legacy of the London 2012 Olympic Games continues to have a positive impact on sport in the UK; Sport England says that 15.5 million adults now play sport once a week, 1.4 million more than a decade ago. There are increased opportunities for coaches and sports development officers, while the government’s commitment to participation in disability sports has also created jobs in this area.

Written by Editor, Prospects
October 2015

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