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

Dominic Claeys-Jackson, Editor
October, 2016

You could find yourself working in a variety of locations in this exciting and broad sector, from theme parks and sports clubs to heritage sites and cruise liners...

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

Opportunities can be categorised into:

  • Leisure, including: betting and gambling (e.g. casinos and horseracing); culture and heritage (e.g. museums); and leisure and entertainment (e.g. cinemas and theme parks).
  • Sport, including: coaching and performance analysis; facilities management; outdoor activities; sport and leisure centre management; and sports development, sports event management and disability sport.
  • Tourism, including: passenger services (e.g. air, sea, rail and road); and travel and tourism (e.g. hotels, travel agencies, tour operators and adventure tourism).

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

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

Who are the main graduate employers?

Examples of large companies operating in this sector include:

  • Bannatyne's;
  • Better;
  • British Airways;
  • British Horseracing Authority (BHA);
  • Camp America;
  • Carnival UK;
  • Center Parcs;
  • Expedia;
  • Flight Centre UK;
  • Merlin Entertainments;
  • Odeon Cinemas;
  • Parkwood Leisure;
  • Serco Leisure;
  • Thomas Cook;
  • Thomson;
  • UK Sport.

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

What's it like working in the sector?

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

  • an exciting, positive, customer-facing working environment - many roles are varied and require interaction with customers of all ages;
  • a relatively low salary - this is particularly true in travel and tourism. However, salaries in sport and leisure vary depending on the size and location of companies, and whether the organisation is local authority-owned or privately-owned;
  • flexibility - employees are often hired on seasonal contracts or asked to work irregular and sometimes long or unsociable hours, including weekends. There are also good opportunities to travel or live away from home, and progression can be fairly quick.

To find out more about typical salaries and working conditions in your chosen career, see job profiles.

What are the key issues in the sector?

Tourism has been the UK's fastest-growing sector in terms of employment since 2010, according to VisitBritain. Citing research by Deloitte, it predicts that tourism will be worth more than £257billion to the economy and support 3.7 million jobs by 2025, indicating that there'll be plenty of openings in the industry in the coming years.

Opportunities in travel are also increasing. The People 1st 2014 Insight on Travel report suggests that travel companies have significantly increased the amount of training that they provide to employees to encourage career development.

The legacy of the London 2012 Olympic Games continues to have a positive impact on sport in the UK. Sport England says that 15.8 million adults now play sport once a week, 1.75 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.