Luxury hotels, fancy restaurants, and the opportunity to apply for jobs all over the world - it’s no wonder that every year around 9,000 students apply through UCAS to study for a degree in Hospitality, Leisure and/or Tourism.

In 2014, 2.9 million people were employed in UK hospitality, making up around 9% of the country’s total employment. Now the UK’s fourth largest industry, it is an area that carries widespread appeal for many young people. Experiencing buoyant growth that is set to continue in the future, and with jobs now exceeding pre-recession levels in 2008, it’s never been a better time to hop aboard the tourism train.

What do I need to get into the industry?

Much of hospitality is about customer service, and knowing how to identify, understand and respond to their needs. Covering a huge range of roles in a constantly growing sector, the following soft skills are normally required to work successfully in the industry:

  • Enthusiasm
  • Communication
  • Flexibility
  • Teamwork
  • Decision making
  • Organisation
  • Leadership

If you believe you have these skills, and are willing to complete a nationally recognised qualification, then this might be a fantastic career path for you.

However, since a degree is not always necessary to secure a job, don’t feel you have to apply to university to get started.  Other options are out there, and in this post, we weigh up all the paths that will lead you into this exciting industry.

Not all of the information outlined below may apply to you, as it depends on where you currently are in your academic journey. So let’s start at the beginning…

#1 GCSE Subject Choices

If you’re at school or college, and think you might be interested in entering a hospitality career, you may want to select subjects that will be of most use to you.

Widely-spoken languages such as French, German and Italian are always a good choice at GCSE level, as these will improve your communication with international customers. Try to sign up for at least one if possible. This will also provide a foundation for studying languages at a higher level, i.e. A levels. Should you wish to do this, you will have to aim for at least a grade C or above at GCSE.

Business Studies is another beneficial subject that provides students with an understanding of how companies such as hotels, restaurants, cruise liners and travel agencies operate. This will raise your commercial awareness, and give you an idea of the different roles involved in making a successful hospitality or tourism business venture.

If you feel you may want to work overseas for a while, then Geography is another subject worth taking, as it will teach you more about the world around you, and the syllabus often covers topics on tourism and its environmental impact.

Of course, you also want to take subjects that you excel at and actually enjoy, but it’s certainly worth considering the subjects mentioned above if you think you will be relatively happy studying them for a couple of years.

#2 GCSE Work Experience

Hospitality and tourism is a worldwide industry that covers a number of different working environments, from accommodation, food and catering to bars, clubs and ski resorts. It also offers plenty of chances for travel. Therefore, work experience is essential in terms of both giving you a taste of what it’s like being in the industry, and which area really appeals to you, but also to impress employers and show your commitment to this sector.

There are many opportunities for gaining this experience during the holidays, weekends or after school, so make enquiries to local businesses near you and see if any of them are willing to take you on for a week or two.

You may not always get paid for a placement, but if you do, the money will come in handy too!

By getting work experience under your belt as early as possible, you’ll be able to grasp the basics of working in this type of industry. This will then give you a good grounding for whichever route you choose to take in the future, as well as giving your CV a boost when you enter the job market.

#3 A levels, National Diplomas and Apprenticeships

If you’re in Year 10 or 11, your next step to a career in hospitality and tourism could be:

  • Signing up for A levels at your current school sixth form (or your local further education college, if you prefer)
  • Taking a Level 3 BTEC National Diploma in Hospitality
  • Applying for an apprenticeship.

If you’re considering taking the A-levels route then again, like GCSE subjects, certain ones will be more useful than others for a career in hospitality and tourism. These include:

  • French
  • German
  • Spanish
  • Business Studies
  • Economics
  • Geography
  • ICT
  • Travel & Tourism

Not all schools and colleges will offer these subjects at A level, so check to see whether you’ll be able to study them where you currently attend.

Don’t worry about taking all of these subjects though – as well as thinking about what’s relevant, you should make your decisions based on what your strengths are, and what you enjoy studying. A couple of them should be enough, although if you feel you might want to go on to university, it’s worth checking entry requirements for Hospitality & Tourism degrees (see below for more details), and whether any specific subjects are asked for or would be particularly useful in helping you gain offers.

The Level 3 BTEC Diploma in Hospitality is a vocational qualification where you will learn about the food and drinks service, financial control, customer service, planning and managing an event, and a number of other topics.

The diploma takes two years to complete, and at the end you will be awarded the Hospitality BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma, which is equivalent to 3 A Levels. This is a recognised qualification for university entry, so you can go on to a higher education course should you wish to later on.

For those who prefer a more hands-on approach to learning, apprenticeships are another great option at this point, with two types available:

  • Intermediate level apprenticeship – this allows you to train in roles such as a receptionist, waiter, housekeeper and bar attendant. A minimum of five GCSE passes at grades A* to C are required to apply.
  • Advanced level apprenticeship – provides you with the opportunity to train as a hotel manager, team leader, regional supervisor of a restaurant, and other senior management roles. At least 2 A level passes are needed.

As long as you’re 16 or over, eligible to work in England and not in full-time education, you can apply for a Hospitality apprenticeship. Gov.uk is the best place to start looking for vacancies, but try searching the internet for other openings being advertised elsewhere at local businesses.

Apprenticeships mean you can earn while you learn, and are well-suited to those who prefer vocational qualifications. As well as working alongside experienced colleagues in the industry, you’ll gain job-specific skills and receive pay for at least 20 days of holiday per year, plus bank holidays.

#4 Hospitality, Management and/or Tourism Degrees

If you think you will thrive in a more academic environment, then take a look at the university courses on offer. Many higher education institutions teach at least one hospitality-related degree programme, so there will be plenty to choose from.

The Complete University Guide currently ranks the following as the best universities for Hospitality, Leisure, Recreation and Tourism:

1. University of Surrey
2. Strathclyde
3. Loughborough
4. Oxford Brookes University
5. Birmingham University
6. Coventry University
7. University of Kent
8. Stirling University
9. Lincoln University
10. Aberystwyth University

Expect to be asked for at least one grade A at A level for entry on to hospitality courses at these top universities, with applications for places fairly competitive. Other universities will have lower entry requirements, so where you apply to depends on what your predicted A level grades are.

Once you start your degree, you’ll cover a range of topics including accounting, marketing, ethics, business law and digital media. Some programmes include an industry placement, which will look great on your CV to potential employers, and put you ahead of the competition when you begin to apply for jobs.

When you have completed your studies, your degree will open the door to a wide range of careers in hospitality, from event planning to adventure tourism. While in some cases your working hours may be unsociable, and you might be paid on a performance or commission basis, you are likely to gain a large amount of job satisfaction from almost any role you are offered.

You will also have access to graduate training schemes at management and supervisory level, although these can be competitive if they are with a large organisation, so you will need to make sure your application stands out from the crowd.

Be prepared to sit through at least one interview for the chance to be offered a place on a scheme, though some companies may ask you to participate in several rounds of interviews before making their final decision.

While there can be significant variations in graduate starting salaries, a degree will usually help you start at a higher rung on the career ladder, as employers appreciate the value that your qualification can bring to the table. This also carries the added benefits of an increase in earnings and faster progression to more senior roles.

Currently, the average graduate starting salary for recent hospitality graduates is between £15,000 and £19,000, but the exact figure you’ll receive depends on the size of the organisation and the sector you work in.

It’s important to note at this point that starting salaries for graduates are not too dissimilar to those for non-graduates. So if you feel that university isn’t for you, don’t think that a lack of higher education will hold you back for long.

#5 Further study

Like a degree, this level of qualification isn’t required to enter the industry, but can be helpful if you wish to specialise in a particular aspect, such as human resources or events management. Some universities offer postgraduate courses containing a years’ work placement.

For example, the International Hospitality Management MSc at the University of Brighton offers a Professional Enquiry module, where for one semester you can take up a part-time job, internship or volunteering opportunity in an area of the industry you’re interested in entering.

Before applying for postgraduate study, do some research into the sector you’re interested in specialising in – is a postgraduate course really necessary to get ahead? Will it give you a big enough edge over other candidates to justify the cost in both time and money of another year of studying? Investigate the benefits of another qualification carefully, and see if there are any employers who will support your postgraduate studies while you work for them.

In 2015, The Guardian ranked the following universities as the top 10 in the UK for hospitality, event management and tourism postgraduate courses:

1. University of Bedfordshire
2. University of Birmingham
3. University of Brighton
4. Bucks New University
5. Cardiff Met University
6. University of Central Lancashire
7. University of Derby
8. Edinburgh Napier University
9. Glasgow Caledonian University
10. University of Greenwich

During a master’s course, you will look at real-life industry case studies, recent developments in hospitality and tourism, financial management, and a number of other related topics in more detail. You will also have the opportunity to attend field trips, with the overall aim to equip you with hands-on experience and practical skills that can be applied in your chosen job role.

Hopefully the points above outline the different routes available into the hospitality and tourism industry. Remember that whatever your parents, friends or teachers tell you, a university degree isn’t the only way to get a job, especially if you are less academically inclined and prefer other methods of learning to sitting in a lecture and studying independently.

Of course, if studying in any shape or form just isn’t for you, or you want to take a break from the books for a while, you could always try applying for jobs directly out of school or college and get some experience behind you while you consider your next step. Working in a paid role will also help you decide which areas of the industry you do and don’t like, whether a particular sector is the right working environment for you, and what you might like to learn about in more detail later on in a qualification.

Whichever way you choose, the scope of this sector will almost certainly provide you with a rewarding and stimulating career for the rest of your life.

If you have any questions, suggestions or feedback on my post, please leave your reply below.