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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

Investment in sport and fitness, development of the heritage industry and a drive to recruit more graduates in tourism has created opportunities in the sector. Find out where the jobs are...

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

Opportunities in the 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 and sales and marketing, as well as general management roles.

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 the 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 to medium sized companies (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, in sport and leisure salaries can vary depending on the size and location of companies and whether they are local authority 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?

Despite its perception as low skilled the tourism sector needs to recruit 215,000 people into skilled roles by 2020. This includes graduate roles in areas such as general management, finance, HR and marketing (People 1st, State of the Nation 2013).

Part of the legacy of the London 2012 Summer Olympics has been to distribute money to 377 county sports projects across England. The aim is to increase access to quality coaching and encourage more people to take up sport. This has resulted in more opportunities for coaches and sports development officers and corresponding jobs in marketing and fundraising. The government commitment to raising participation in disability sports has also created jobs in this area.

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

There has been a growth in outdoor recreation and education, resulting in more job opportunities in coaching and similar areas.

Written by Editor, Prospects
October 2014

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