Overview of the leisure, sport and tourism sector in the UK
Whether you want to work in an entertainment complex, tourist information centre, gym or travel agency the sector has lots to offer ambitious graduates
What areas of leisure, sport and tourism can I work in?
Opportunities can be categorised into:
- Leisure - betting and gambling (e.g. casinos and horseracing), culture and heritage (e.g. museums, galleries and heritage sites) and leisure and entertainment (e.g. cinemas, bowling alleys, arcades, holiday/summer camps and theme parks).
- Sport - coaching and performance analysis, facilities management, outdoor activities, sport and leisure centre management, sports development, sports event management and disability sport.
- Tourism - passenger services (e.g. air, sea, rail and road) and travel and tourism (e.g. hotels, travel agencies, tour operators, tourist information centres, attractions and adventure tourism).
If you have great people and customer service skills, play to your strengths in a hands-on, customer-facing role. If you'd prefer to work behind the scenes, graduates are needed in a variety of head-office functions including administration, finance, IT, marketing, HR and sales. If you're up to the challenge of combining the two then general management jobs are widely available.
When researching careers you'll likely see some crossover with other sectors such as:
- healthcare (sports physiotherapy)
- hospitality and events management (hotel careers)
- media and internet (sport or travel journalism)
- teacher training and education (PE teaching)
- transport and logistics (passenger services).
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 Group
- British Airways (BA)
- British Horseracing Authority (BHA)
- Camp America
- Carnival UK
- Center Parcs
- David Lloyd Leisure
- Fitness First
- Flight Centre UK
- Hilton Worldwide
- InterContinental Hotels Group
- Marriott International
- Merlin Entertainments
- Odeon Cinemas
- Parkwood Leisure
- P&O Cruises
- Serco Leisure
- 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 leisure, sport and tourism industry?
If you think that a career in leisure and tourism is an easy way to have fun while being paid, or that working in sports means coaching a premier league football team, you should think again.
Far from being an easy option, careers in the leisure, sport and tourism sector require hard work, dedication and a genuine passion for what you do.
Graduates entering the sector can expect:
- Long or unsocial working hours - many jobs in this sector require you to work early mornings, evenings, weekends and bank holidays.
- 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 or privately-owned.
- Job satisfaction - helping people to enjoy their free time, reach their fitness potential and travel the world can be incredibly rewarding.
- Flexibility - employees are often hired on seasonal contracts. Opportunities for part-time work and career breaks are available.
- A high level of responsibility - within leisure and tourism you'll be responsible for ensuring that customers get their money's worth. Working in sport you'll often be responsible for a person's physical wellbeing. Progression in the sector can be fairly quick.
- Opportunities to travel - local and international travel is usually a feature of many jobs within the leisure, sport and tourism industries.
To find out more about typical salaries and working conditions in your chosen career, see job profiles.
Do I need a degree?
Many careers in the leisure, sport and tourism industries don't require degree-level qualifications. A number of people, especially those working in travel and tourism, have climbed the career ladder with a combination of lower-level qualifications and relevant work experience.
However, an increasing number of entrants to the sector now have a degree and if you'd like to start your career on a graduate scheme (typically offered by larger organisations) an undergraduate or Masters qualification is essential.
Most companies in the sector recruit graduates of any degree subject. Often your interest in a specific sport or leisure activity is just as important as your degree. Generally, a degree in business, facilities management, travel and tourism management, hospitality management, languages or a sports-related subject will be useful.
You don't need a degree to become a sports coach; instead, you'll need to gain the appropriate coaching qualification for your sport. That said, some degree programmes offer the opportunity to gain coaching qualifications. To find out more, see sports coaching courses. However, a relevant degree is required for some roles, such as sports and exercise psychologist or sports physiotherapist.
To become a tourism officer a degree in business, journalism, modern languages or tourism management may prove beneficial, although the role is open to all graduates. Entry is possible without a degree or HND with relevant experience.
You don't need a degree to manage a theme park; instead, employers stress the importance of relevant work experience. It's a similar story if you want to work as a holiday rep.
Masters degrees are not typically required but could increase your chances of employment in competitive fields.
While degree qualifications aren't always essential, possessing the right combination of skills in this customer-facing industry is incredibly important. Employers look for:
- commercial awareness and business acumen
- excellent communication skills
- the ability to motivate others
- problem-solving skills
- language skills
- organisational skills
Where can I find work experience?
You could take a work placement as part of your degree, work part time while at university or during the summer, or do some related voluntary work.
Formal internships are available in the sector but you'll usually have to do some research to uncover opportunities. Speculative applications may prove useful.
Large leisure, sport and tourism companies are more likely to offer internships and work experience opportunities. Some tourism-related degrees also include an optional work placement year.
For aspiring sports coaches, UK Coaching recommends assisting a coach to help you get started. You can find your nearest sports club through County Sports Partnerships (CSPs) in England.
Kings Recruit offers placements and voluntary opportunities in sports management, coaching, holiday camps and cruise ships, while Challenger Sports is one of a number of organisations that provides soccer coaching camps in the USA and Canada. They recruit people from the UK who are looking to pursue a career in coaching.
Voluntary work opportunities are advertised through Do-it, where you could find yourself gaining experience helping with outdoor pursuits, fundraising, sports coaching, activity management and more.
To find out more, see work experience and internships.
Can I do an apprenticeship?
Leisure, sport and tourism apprenticeships are available at different levels and provide a viable alternative to university.
Sports development apprenticeships involve organising projects, programmes, information and training to encourage and increase participation in sport. They can lead to careers as community sports, or specific sports development officers. They're available at Level 3 (advanced) - equivalent to A-level passes.
You can also take an apprenticeship in instructing exercise and fitness at Level 2 and 3 (intermediate and advanced). This can lead to jobs as a gym/fitness instructor, leisure centre assistant, personal trainer or yoga and pilates teacher.
Within the sports field you can also complete an apprenticeship to become a sports coach, PE teaching assistant, gym instructor or lifeguard.
Travel and tourism apprenticeships are also easy to find. To find out what's available, see travel and tourism courses.