The hospitality and leisure industry attracts individuals who enjoy interacting with people and who have a gift for helping others feel at ease. The industry is divided primarily into travel, tourism, hospitality, recreation and sports with literally tens of thousands of job titles to choose from in each field. There is no “tenure” tract in the hospitality and leisure industry. Success in the field comes down to deciding what it is you want to do, focusing on that goal and obtaining the training and experience you need to do it. Advancement to the higher levels of the industry relies heavily on performance rather than “time-served”.

Career Foundations

The foundation of a career in hospitality and leisure is training and experience. Because the field is primarily about the business of leisure, an associate degree in basic business is a good way to get started. Every aspect of the industry is about making money. A familiarity with business principles helps provide those looking for a career in hospitality and leisure with the management skills they need to move more easily to jobs of greater responsibility. If you’ve already decided on a specific career track, such as travel, restaurant or hotel management, you may take a specialized Associate Degree aimed at an industry-specific certification or credential. Certification is not a career requirement for hotel managers or event planners, but various professional groups like the Educational Institute of the American Hotel and Lodging Association, do offer credentialing.

Advanced Education

A college degree in the tourism, recreation, leisure studies or the hospitality field is no guarantee of success, but it does give you credibility when you’re out there job-hunting. Rising in the hospitality industry is a matter of working your way up through the ranks. Fortunately, hospitality and leisure is a field that promotes talent quickly to the top. A degree in some aspect of recreation or hospitality management helps you look serious about staying in the field and may help you catch an internship or a plum assignment. It’s those choice jobs that give you an opportunity to shine in front of people who can help your career along.

A bachelor's degree in tourism or hospitality management covers industry standards and practices, management, event planning, travel, tourism, fundamentals of purchasing, recreation planning, fundamentals of purchasing and an introduction to food and beverage services. In addition, you’ll take classes in business, technical applications, leadership, analysis of industry trends which prepare you to specialize in areas such as casino, club and restaurant management, golf course management, sports planning and management, club management, tourism, convention and event management.

Advanced degrees, equivalent to an MBA in leisure studies or hospitality management, can help give you a serious leg up in the industry, but don’t expect to be assigned to run a major hotel right out of school. You’ll still have to earn your wings unless you are related to the company’s owner.

On-the-Job Training

Training can help fill in the gaps in your education along the way. Many hospitality companies offer on-the-job training opportunities, workshops, internships or assistant level jobs that give you practical front-line experience working at recreation venues, hotels, restaurants and sports events. There are online degrees you can pick up while getting the essential “years of experience” you need to get ahead. Though not as impressive as a traditional degree, such training shows your employer that you are interested in expanding your range of skills. Individuals already employed in the industry often take online degree programs so that they can advance at work without having to take a pay cut to attend a traditional school, Workshops and on-line courses combine theory with work experience and practical skills development to encourage employees to acquire skills employers want to encourage.