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Careers Centre

Travel, tourism and the holiday business

Sector Overview

This page has been written by Shona Mach, the relevant Careers Adviser for this occupational area. To see how you can meet Shona, or any of our advisers, visit our website.

Travel, tourism and the holiday business is both a major employer and an important source of revenue for the UK. The sector can be broadly divided into three categories: incoming, outbound and domestic tourism. The industry has experienced significant growth over the last few years due to increasing affluence and lifespans, but is now having to adapt to the pressures of the economic climate, price of fuel and green concerns. New technology is having a major impact on the business. Websites are used increasingly for booking hotel rooms, flights, other travel and holidays, although recent airline and tour company failures are still encouraging customers to chose travel agencies for security. While it is difficult to predict the future impact of new technology on the travel, tourism and holiday business, it is clear that all businesses in these markets will continue to develop and rely on it.

The majority of employers in this sector are small to medium-sized (SMEs), though local authorities, national governing bodies and independent sports associations also offer employment opportunities. The most likely employers are tour operators, travel agencies and organisations, tourist boards, travel operators, tourist attractions and hospitality providers. Like many other employment sectors a wide range of functional roles are represented including sales and marketing (especially digital roles involving areas such as SEO, PPC, CRM, web traffic, social media and copy writing), buying/merchandising, PR, IT, finance, logistics, customer service management and human resources. The Prospects website has a good guide to the leisure, sport and tourism sector, with descriptions of some main job roles.

For such a major and dynamic occupational sector, it is surprising how few employers have specifically targeted graduate recruits. It is however now recognised that greater business expertise is needed in the industry and many more graduates are being recruited by major employers. Given the nature of the sector, duties are likely to revolve around customer interaction, selling or advising on deals and packages, or taking a developmental approach, for instance teaching children sports, running classes, etc. As a customer focussed industry, perhaps the key requirements are:

Salaries in the sector tend to be quite low but, depending on the size of the organisation, there can be large differences in the rate of pay.

The Travel Industry Careers Association. It has lots of information about what work in the sector involves and offers practical advice on what sort of skills are needed as well as sector-specific roles and CV templates.

For general information on the sector see Milkround, TARGETjobs and The National Careers Service.

Travel, Tourism & The Holiday Business attributes profile

Key attributes needed for the roleWhere you could develop these skills or attributes

IT Skills


Taking advantage of the University’s subscription to the Microsoft IT Academy can help you develop your IT skills. 

You may also be able to undertake the Microsoft Office Specialist Qualification, offered as part of CAPOD’s Professional Skills Curriculum

Willingness to learn languages

A number of languages can be studied as part of the University’s Evening language courses programme.

Flexibility and stamina in challenging situations

Taking on positions of responsibility in student-run societies will give you the chance to put them into practice.

Organisational skills and the ability to work using initiative

Other key attributes demanded for the role: do you possess them?

  • Excellent customer service and interpersonal skills
  • Confidence when working with/in other cultures

Nature of sector or roles

There is an enormous variety and range of careers in this sector, from office jobs in IT and data analysis, website design for companies and online booking, to on-site jobs, such as hotel rep, sport psychologist, tour operator, or event organiser/host. For many of these occupations you will need specialist training and qualifications, though the former might be offered by your employer as paid professional development.

Networks - why and how to use them

Networking is particularly important and can really help you succeed with your applications. If you have been in contact with someone working for an organisation you are applying to you will have extra information to back up your case for why they should employ you.

Use social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to keep up-to-date with employers and the sector.

St Andrews graduates have gone on to work in travel and tourism-related roles for Virgin Atlantic, TUI Travel, British Exploring Society, Visit Scotland, North Highland Initiative and STR Global, to name but a few. These alumni can make extremely useful contacts, giving you an "edge" with your applications and interviews. There are several ways to make contact with alumni.

Have a look at the Network with Alumni section of our website for more advice and information.

How to get experience

An excellent way to gain experience in the Travel and Tourism industry is to take advantage of the American summer camp organisations that frequently hold sessions in the Careers Centre. During their talks they will give you all the information you need to know about working with them and they will give you the opportunity to join their team. Keep an eye on the events section of the Careers Centre website to find out when they will next visit. Not only is working at kids' camps during the summer holidays a great source of experience, they can also be a brilliant aid to self-development and they are also very fun! An example is CCUSA.

How to get a (graduate) job

Given the range of specialised jobs in the sector, employers take on graduates of a great many different subject areas. This means that personal skills, achievements and experience can often be even more important than your degree during the application process. As many of the jobs in this sector are customer-facing (hotel reps, child assistants, instructors, etc.), good inter-personal and communication skills are vital and can mean the difference between securing a job and failing in the application stages. Having a second language will also help you to stand out during the application process and might be a skill required by the employer depending on the location of the job. Due to the nature of work in the sector flexibility in working times is necessary as many roles can demand long hours and weekend work.

When applying for jobs, bear in mind that many vacancies will be seasonal and depend on the location where you are hoping to work. However, speculative applications can usually be sent throughout the year, especially if you are more interested in working for a particular organisation than in any specific job they might be advertising.

If you would like to travel to foreign countries in order to help with conservation projects, the Careers Centre has a book you might find interesting: ‘Green Volunteers: The World Guide to Voluntary Work in Nature Conservation’. It has a comprehensive list of different projects and organisations across the world for which volunteers can offer their services. There are also many jobs available for conservation work abroad and at home which are largely similar to the jobs mentioned above but with an emphasis on sustainability and conservation.

These companies have run graduate training schemes in the recent past. Check their websites for current requirements. Closing dates tend to be early and competition is fierce.

Employers who have advertised jobs suitable for graduates include:

The following websites advertise jobs in the travel, tourism and holiday business sector:

Applications, interviews and assessment centres

See the following link for tips:

Relevant Postgraduate Study

Use the following link to find appropriate postgraduate courses in the sector:

Some options include the School of Tourism at Bournemouth University and the University of Westminster's Tourism Management MA.

For many positions in this sector a relevant undergraduate degree will be all that is necessary, though for more specialist positions extra qualifications or training might be required or preferred, though in many cases the necessary training will be provided on the job.

Key UK links and resources

Careers Centre resources


Use CareerConnect, your central careers hub, to:




Professional Bodies, Trade Organisations & Journals/Magazines

General Travel, Tourism and Holiday Business careers information


USA resources


The USA job market and recruitment timetables, for both internships and graduate jobs, for sectors of employment often differ from the UK.

The Careers Centre subscribes to the reputable independent USA careers information and vacancy provider Vault. The link below will take you directly to Vault subscription resources which cover this sector. You may find further useful and relevant resources linked from there as well.


Internships USA