Guide to College Majors in Hospitality Management

That's the secret of entertaining. You make your guests feel welcome and at home. If you do that honestly, the rest takes care of itself.
--Barbara Hall
Table of Contents

What is Hospitality Management?

What do the high school student serving you popcorn, the concierge at your five-star hotel, and a museum tour guide have in common? They all work in the hospitality industry. It's the biggest industry in the world, and the main source of income for many countries.

Although it can encompass everything from chambermaid to CEO, we'll look at the upper management positions within the tourism and hospitality industry - and how an online degree in hospitality management can give you a competitive edge in finding a satisfying career.

The industry is generally divided into travel, tourism, and hospitality. Although many people enter the tourism and travel industry because of their own love of traveling, the one common factor in all these jobs is the concern for helping customers to enjoy their leisure time or to make their business travel as easy as possible.

An advanced tourism and hospitality degree may not be required for all management positions in the hospitality industry, but working your way up through the ranks can mean years of lost income potential and missed opportunities. By upgrading your academic training, you'll advance faster and have more careers open to you.

Career Education in Hospitality Management

Online tourism and hospitality degree programs, from associate's degrees to MBAs, offer plenty of options. A formal education provides fills in any gaps that practical experience alone can't provide, and provides recognized endorsement of your skills and abilities. Online college classes in travel, tourism and hospitality have become increasingly popular for employees already in the industry who want to advance without taking a pay cut to attend a traditional school. The courses combine theory and skill development with an emphasis on practical work experience.

Associate Degrees in Hospitality Management

Associate-level degrees in business can provide you with a logical starting point for further studies in tourism and hospitality. A more specialized program, such as an Associate of Science in Hospitality Management, can prepare you for a travel career through industry tailored coursework and internships with airlines, resorts, and travel agencies

Bachelor's Degrees in Hospitality Management

A bachelor's degree in tourism and hospitality management is designed to prepare you for a broad range of managerial roles across the hospitality and tourism industry. Your curriculum cover industry standards and practices; you can focus on hospitality management; convention and meeting planning; destination services management; travel and tourism; recreation related industries; fundamentals of purchasing; or food and beverage. These courses will be supplemented with classes in liberal arts, business, specialized courses in technical applications, leadership, and case analysis applied to the global industry.

Other Bachelor of Science programs will allow you to specialize in:

  • Casino Management
  • Club Management
  • Food and Beverage Management
  • Lodging Management
  • Tourism, Convention and Event Management

Learn more about hospitality management degree programs offered at these sponsored universities:

Ashford University, DeVry University, & University of Phoenix

Certificate Programs in Hospitality Management

For those not interested in pursuing a full degree, or those who need a short program to round out their skills, other colleges offer certificate programs. These focused courses allow experienced professionals to add a hospitality dimension to existing business skills, or brush up on new developments in the industry.

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What Can You Do With a College Major in Hospitality Management?

The diversity of careers in tourism and hospitality makes it impossible to cover every job description. But with increasing levels of education, you open up the door to more opportunities, different branches in the field, and locations around the world.

Hotel Manager

As a hotel manager, you will be responsible for making a "home away from home" for business travelers and vacationers. You'll oversee the daily operations for the 'front of house' and 'back of house' staff, based on the guidelines set by the owners (or the top executive staff, in the case of larger chains). In your approximately 55-hour workweek, you'll field complaints from customers, ensure the premises are kept clean, hire and train new staff, order and maintain supplies, oversee advertising and marketing, and monitor accounting practices.

You're suited for this career if you have a flair for organization and communication and can work with people from all backgrounds. You should be cool under pressure, prefer to manage with a hands-on approach, and be able to think on your feet. The job can be monotonous in ways, but every day you can see something new.

Many companies now consider a bachelor's degree in hospitality to be a minimum requirement for management positions. General business degrees can also be applied, but you will be expected to have considerably more hotel experience to be considered.

Certification is not a career requirement for hotel managers, but is offered by professional groups such as the Educational Institute of the American Hotel and Lodging Association, if you want to further boost your career credentials.

Event Planner

Event planners, special events coordinators, meeting planners, bridal consultants, and party planners all do the same kind of job, but on widely divergent scales. If you choose any one of these careers, you'll organize and plan events, such as a wedding, open house, convention, or special celebration - up to and including the date, location, agenda, guest list, and catering. With so many details, it's important that you're "born to organize," have a good head for planning an entire event, and be adaptable and creative when faced with the inevitable snags you'll encounter.

You may have event planning as part of your larger job description if you work in marketing, corporate communications, or public relations. You may be employed by a company that specializes in event planning on a contract basis, or you may work in-house for a convention center or tourism bureau. Your job can further be specialized by the function you perform--you might work as a travel coordinator, exhibit planner, facilities manager, display or trade floor coordinator, or registration coordinator.

Many companies find that it is most cost-effective to let an event coordinator handle their trade shows or conventions. The event coordinator will be familiar with all the logistics of the venue, such as fire regulations and space limitations, contact lists for caterers, registration services, advertising and support material production, display companies, travel and accommodation planning, and staffing.

A bachelor's degree in hospitality, business, communications, public relations, marketing, or sales is considered acceptable in the events coordination profession. A graduate degree is the norm for event company directors or meeting planning executives.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that healthy growth in the industry is expected in coming years. Expect to work unusual hours (this is a draw for many planners, who can't abide the 9-to-5 in a cubicle), and in a pinch you may need to roll up your sleeves to help get the 200 chairs in place for the opening in less than an hour.

Certification is available from several organizations such as Meeting Professionals International, which offers the Certification in Meeting Management, or the International Association for Exhibitions and Events, which provides the Certified in Exhibition Management designation.

Travel Agent

Travel agents provide a dual service. First, they help pleasure and business travelers to make arrangements for transportation, accommodation, and excursions. Second, they help cruise lines, resorts, and specialty travel groups promote travel packages to millions of people every year. As a travel agent, you must be well-organized, accurate, and meticulous to plan and organize your client's travel itineraries. Other desirable qualifications include good writing, interpersonal, and sales skills.

For the general public they serve, travel agents are expected to be experts on weather conditions, restaurants, tourist attractions, recreation, customs regulations, required papers (passports, visas, and certificates of vaccination), and currency exchange rates - and then bear the brunt of the complaints if the information they provide isn't accurate.

The Internet and travel publications are the main sources of information that travel agents use, and they can supplement this hard data with their own personal experiences or on the feedback they receive from clients. Depending on the size of the travel agency, an agent may specialize in type of travel, such as leisure, business, or adventure, or specialize by destination, such as Europe or Africa.

Many agents, especially those who are self-employed, frequently work long hours, but with advanced computer systems and telecommunication networks, some travel agents are able to work at home. More than 8 out of 10 agents work for travel agencies with a 40-hour work week.

Previously, the minimum educational requirement for a travel agent was a high school diploma, but with advances in technology and computerization, formal career training is increasingly important. A college education and proficiency in a foreign language is often desired by employers. Courses in accounting and business management also are important, especially for those who expect to manage or start their own travel agencies.

As Internet travel sites start to overtake traditional travel agencies, keen competition for jobs is expected. Industry perks also crowd the field; travel agents get reduced rates for personal transportation and accommodations. In addition, agents sometimes take "familiarization" trips, at no cost to themselves, to learn about various vacation sites. These benefits attract many people to this occupation. Career training in travel and tourism can put you at an advantage when competing for jobs or launching your own agency.

Experience, sales ability, and the size and location of the agency determine the salary of a travel agent. Agencies focusing on corporate sales pay higher salaries and provide more extensive benefits, on average, than do those that focus on leisure sales.

Certification and Licensure

There are no federal licensing requirements for travel agents. However, nine states (California, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington) require some form of registration or certification of retail sellers of travel services. After five years of experience, you are eligible to take an advanced course to obtain your Certified Travel Counselor designation. The Travel Institute also offers certificates of competence in area-specific tours.

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