How to get into tourism management

Dan Mason, Senior editor
November, 2015

Postgraduate study or a graduate programme with a major travel firm can be your passport to an exciting career in tourism management

Tourism is a booming industry and there is high demand for graduates in leadership and management roles, whether at travel companies, individual attractions or agencies.

If you choose the further study route, you'll find that postgraduate courses in tourism management are widely available at UK universities. For example, Sheffield Hallam University runs an MSc International Tourism Management, while at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen you can study an MSc Tourism and Hospitality Management.

Postgraduate courses

The University of Derby's MSc Tourism Management covers topics such as planning and development, tourist behaviour, marketing, finance and strategy.

You'll take part in practical activities including consultation processes and PR campaigns, as well as working on projects with businesses from Visit Peak District to the Malta Tourism Authority.

'Our students all have customer-facing experiences of hospitality, events and tourism business,' says Peter Wiltshier, a senior lecturer in travel and tourism at Derby.

These skills and knowledge of culture and heritage are acquired in class as well as during UK and international field work, he adds. 'Our graduates have sector experience in addition to their tourism management degree award.'

Previous students on the Masters course have gone on to senior management positions at airlines, hotels, tour operators, travel agencies and government organisations.

According to Peter, the key to success is the integration of knowledge gained through a degree with experiential learning on the job with industry partners.

Graduate schemes

An alternative is to apply for a graduate scheme at one of the major travel companies. This is a great way to get into tourism, as large firms recruit across different specialisms and subject areas.

For example, TUI UK & Ireland - the UK's largest tour operator and owner of brands including Thomson, First Choice and Thomson Cruises - offers opportunities in commercial leadership, IT, finance and analytics.

'Our graduate programmes are vital in ensuring we develop a pipeline of talent for our business,' says Julie Pearson, head of early talent.

She adds, 'Each of our programmes ensures that you will experience an exciting mix of day-to-day business activities and high-profile project work, as well as the opportunity to engage with senior managers in our business.'

If your application to the programme is successful, you'll first attend an induction week at the company's head office. There will be ongoing development workshops and training opportunities, and you'll have support from buddies and mentors.

To give you an idea of the skills and knowledge you'll develop, previous workshops have ranged from project management and finance for non-finance managers, to communicating with impact and emotional intelligence.

'In our holiday travel sector, we are a business that sells 'smiles' and we are looking for candidates who have a positive, can-do attitude and approach, a smiling and friendly personality and a good communication style,' says Julie.

To be eligible for the programmes you'll also need a 2:1 degree, which for the finance and IT pathways should be in a relevant subject.

'Ultimately, as our programmes have already demonstrated, many of our graduates are now working in senior leadership roles within the business, and so we are always looking for leadership potential and the ability and ambition to go far once the programme has ended,' concludes Julie.

Developing your skillset

Whatever route you take, if you're going to build a successful career, you'll need to be able to demonstrate your suitability - as Peter explains.

'New recruits must possess hard skills - numeracy and literacy for a relationship-based long-term career in tourism. Recruits must also have exceptional interpersonal skills, and emotional intelligence to deal with stress, operational tensions and management change.

'In addition, the recruit of 2016 needs a portfolio of experiences and a degree that states categorically that they have the skills to manage in a complex and uncertain political, economic and social environment.'

Finding a job

Once you've completed a postgraduate degree or graduate programme, there should be plenty of opportunities to develop your career in the sector.

'The UK needs approximately 100,000 competent, skilled new recruits each year until 2020,' says Peter, citing a 2013 report by People 1st.

'Every nation with an ageing population, a wealthy and relatively healthy baby boomer retiree group and an increasingly technologically savvy and informed client base is demanding larger numbers of highly skilled new tourism recruits.'