According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the leisure and hospitality industry employed roughly 15.5 million people as of May 2016. While a degree may not be necessary for all travel-related careers, it can open doors to new opportunities. In particular, employers often prefer to hire those with formal education for management or supervisory positions.
What to Know About Online Travel and Tourism Degree Programs
Travel and tourism are not topics that require hands-on teaching methods, and there are online degree programs available in this subject at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. These programs may go by different names, including hospitality, tourism management, or travel services management.
Some short-term educational programs focus specifically on the fundamentals of the tourism trade, while longer or more advanced degrees may cover business topics such as marketing, management, and sales. Here's a closer look at the type of travel and tourism degree programs you can find both online and on-campus:
- Certificate: Depending on the school and the certificate program in question, an undergraduate certificate in tourism and hospitality may be earned in as little as one year or less. Students in these programs generally receive an introduction to the field along with basic instruction in marketing, management, and related subjects.
- Associate degree: Completed in two years, an associate degree is the next step up from a certificate. Students may need to complete some general education classes in addition to their travel-related coursework. This degree can be used to gain entry-level employment, or the credits could be transferred and used as the basis of a bachelor's degree.
- Bachelor's degree: A bachelor's degree is traditionally completed in four years, and is the standard education for many tourism management careers. Students enrolled in these programs often have the chance to customize their education and focus on a particular niche within the sector, such gaming, lodging, special events, or international hospitality.
- Master's degree: As the highest level of education commonly obtained by travel professionals, a master's degree is available in two formats. A Master of Science (MS) often allows graduates to specialize in a particular segment of travel, such as sustainable tourism. Other students may choose to pursue an MBA in tourism management. These degrees provide a more intense business education and are suitable for those who want to work in high-level corporate positions or become entrepreneurs.
Job Outlook for Travel and Tourism Graduates
The career outlook isn't pretty for travel agents. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a 12 percent decline in jobs for these professionals from 2014 to 2024. This is likely due to the prevalence of online booking websites and services.
Fortunately, that is only one profession within the travel and tourism industry. Graduates have plenty of other career choices that are expected to see good growth and incomes in the years to come. They may go on to work as resort managers, recreation coordinators, cruise line directors, special event planners, or any one of the numerous positions held by travel and tourism professionals today. Here's a look at the job growth and income potential for a few of those jobs:
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)
National Average Income (2015)
Meeting, Convention, or Event Planner
Food Service Manager
Choosing the Right School
There are several factors to consider when selecting a travel and tourism degree program. Among other things, you should look for:
- School accreditation
- Education level (certificate, associate, bachelor or master's degree)
- Learning format options (online or on-campus)
- Expected class schedule
- Availability of specializations
If you're planning to pursue a bachelor's or master's degree, you may also want to inquire into whether internship opportunities are available. Colleges -- even online schools -- can sometimes place students into positions with convention bureaus or local businesses to help them gain real-world experience and make networking connections prior to graduation.
- Hospitality and Tourism Certificate, Columbia Southern University, http://www.columbiasouthern.edu/hospitality-tourism/certificate
- Hospitality and Tourism Management, UMassAmherst, https://www.isenberg.umass.edu/programs/undergraduate/online/majors/hospitality-tourism-management
- Industries at a Glance, Leisure and Hospitality, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, http://www.bls.gov/iag/tgs/iag70.htm
- Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
- Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2015, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, http://www.bls.gov/oes/
- Tourism Concentration, The George Washington University, http://business.gwu.edu/current-students-2/mba-programs-and-concentrations/concentrations/tourism/