Tourism is a thriving industry, bringing in $919 billion worldwide in 2010. A diverse and vibrant business specialty, tourism brings together cultural discovery, recreation, business travel, and leisure. Businesses range from accommodations to airline transport, cruise ships to spa resorts, eco-tours, and cultural attractions.
A master's degree in business in travel and tourism prepares you to lead a hospitality business in any of these areas. The program typically takes a year or two to complete, and covers the applied business skills and cultural knowledge necessary to thrive anywhere in the tourism industry. Distance graduate education enables you to earn a master's degree online while you build work experience.
To get the most out of your graduate school training, define your career goals and plan an academic journey that helps you achieve them. This guide to the master's degree in travel and tourism presents your graduate education options and takes you through the process of applying to schools.
Guide to Master's Degrees in Travel & Tourism
Travel and tourism applies business skills in the context of cultural discovery, recreation, and global commerce. The discipline draws together business skills--strategic analysis, marketing, operations--and deep cultural and geographic knowledge. Advanced tourism education takes a close look at transportation and lodging services, facility design, and developing cultural, entertainment, and sports tourism.
Professional and Academic Master's Degrees
As an applied business specialty, travel and tourism leans toward professional development training. The curriculum emphasizes case studies, internships, work clinics, and other activities designed to provide exposure to the tourism business. However, a growing number of academic master's degrees are incorporating theoretical scholarship and social science research into the standard business curriculum.
Master of Business Administration (MBA)
The MBA is a broad professional degree that covers business fundamentals such as marketing, finance, strategic analysis, and accounting. MBA programs in travel and tourism feature elective courses in hospitality management, destination marketing, and other tourism-specific topics.
Master of Science (MS)
The MS introduces elements of the traditional social science graduate degree into the applied business curriculum. Programs focus on issues and problems specific to the tourism industry, as well as theoretical topics intended to deepen students' perspectives on tourism development. The MS degree often culminates in an independent research project or thesis.
Which Degree Is Right for You?
The MS offers a deeper, more focused education in the business of tourism, allowing students to pursue a specific topic of interest. The MBA, by contrast, builds a broad foundation in business skills with some applied work in tourism. The right master's degree for you depends on your career goals and current stage in your career (entry-level or senior).
Specialized study is a standard feature of graduate-level education. Depending on your master's degree program, specialization can mean taking elective courses, developing a tourism business initiative or program, or researching and writing an original master's thesis.
- Tourism Development focuses on the development of tourism products and services, including cultural and heritage tours, events and entertainment, sports tourism, and urban tourist attractions. A related area focuses on the development of business travel services, including conferences, technology centers, and business accommodations. Recent trends in tourism development include ecotourism, sustainable tourism, medical tourism, and educational tourism.
- Tourism Planning focuses on the planning and management of a travel and tourism business. Topics include statistical analysis and business trend forecasting, destination analysis, transportation systems, and accommodations planning.
- Marketing focuses on developing a tourism business through communications, brand development, and promotion. Topics include advertising and public relations, tourism market research, destination marketing, and e-commerce sales and marketing strategies.
- Customer Relationship Management focuses on developing a customer base in the context of a travel and tourism business. Topics include consumer behavior, employee training and evaluation, using customer relationship management software, and customer service standards for hospitality businesses.
Each graduate travel and tourism program presents a unique selection of applied tourism business specializations. In addition, some programs let you focus on a specific topic for further study and research, such as global travel security or travel for older adults. Knowing the general drift of your interests can help you identify the best master's degree program for you.
Careers in Travel & Tourism
A master's degree in travel and tourism is a ticket into a leadership position at a range of hospitality businesses. Graduates go on to manage and coordinate operations for airlines, hotels, event management companies, theme parks and tourist attractions, sports stadiums and athletic event committees, and national tourism administrations.
Graduate-level jobs in travel and tourism include:
- Manager of a travel agency
- Tour director
- Convention or event planner
- Travel industry analyst or trend forecaster
- Tourism marketing or PR manager
- Tourism agency administrator
- Tourism policy analyst
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for tourism professionals and travel agents should hold steady throughout decade ending in 2018. According to the UN World Tourism Organization, the tourism industry is on track to grow 3 to 4 percent in 2010, a rebound following a difficult 2009. The industry foresees growth in specialty tours and travel arrangements that cater to specific travel customers such as older adults.
Plan for a Master's Degree in Travel & Tourism
Once you have a sense of your professional trajectory, begin researching and lining up the academic resources to get you there. Take the following steps to find the right master's degree program, prepare your applications, and position yourself for graduate study.
Step One: Find the Right Graduate Travel & Tourism Program
With careful research, you can identify the program most closely aligned with your career goals. Zero in on the right fit by considering the following factors:
Accreditation is a critical baseline requirement. Independent program reviews evaluate each program's adherence to academic quality standards. In addition to ensuring the quality of your education and the value of your master's degree, accreditation is a requirement of many financial aid programs. Find approved regional and national accreditation agencies at the U.S. Department of Education Web site.
WorldWideLearn.com represents a selection of online master's degree programs in travel and tourism.
Peterson's Guides spotlight U.S. graduate schools with accredited master's degree programs in travel and tourism.
2. Program Format: Campus and Online Master's Degrees
Next, consider how you would like to earn your degree: on campus or online? Each format offers unique advantages:
Online programs offer a lifeline to higher education for working professionals. The flexible, self-paced schedule and virtual classroom make it possible to earn a master's degree online while you work and manage other life commitments. The Internet format brings together students worldwide, creating a vibrant global alumni network valuable for travel professionals.
Campus programs offer access to campus facilities and face-to-face interaction with faculty and peers. These features are valuable for students pursuing academic research and specialized study.
The right format for you depends on your learning style, circumstances, and available resources. Whether you choose to earn a master's degree online or on campus, you have the opportunity to apply your learning in an internship with a local tourism business.
WorldWideLearn.com's Online Degree Programs and Campus Education sections help you find programs with your chosen delivery format. Search Degrees by Location for campus graduate programs near you.
3. Academic Programs
The crux of your research is identifying the unique program resources of individual schools. Fortunately, you can accomplish most of this research online. Take into account these factors:
- Activities and program requirements
- Industry relationships
- Career support services
- Learning environment
WorldWideLearn.comfeatures links to program information and an automated search tool designed to match you with programs that meet your academic criteria. You can also sign up to be contacted by school representatives, who can answer specific questions about the master's degree in travel and tourism.
School Web sites post program information online, including course requirements and descriptions, special programs, facilities, and faculty profiles. You can also find links to faculty publications, master's degree program brochures, course reading lists, and more.
Informational interviews with graduate students and alumni offer a reliable source of information about the academic environment and program resources. If possible, arrange to tour the campus and visit with faculty members in your specialty area.
4. Program Quality
Finally, evaluate academic programs for quality and selectivity. In addition to ranking programs by quality, take into account the competitiveness of the program. Schools publicize the average GPA and test scores of admitted applicants to help you gauge your admissions prospects. Factors to consider include:
- Job placement and salary statistics
- Student demographics
Admissions Departments supply a wealth of general data about the graduate class, from academic background to job placement to demographics. Demographic information such as country of origin and years of industry experience can help you assess the diversity of the graduate class, which can be an asset in the context of a global tourism degree.
Rankings give you a general sense of the program's reputation. There are no specific rankings of travel and tourism programs, but you can get a sense of business school reputation through sources like U.S. News & World Report, Best Business Schools and BusinessWeek, Business School Rankings & Profiles.
Step Two: Apply to Graduate Travel & Tourism Programs
With your sights set on a selection of perfect-fit master's degree programs, it's time to put the application process in motion. Expect to accomplish the following tasks as you prepare your applications:
1. Complete Prerequisites
Most master's degree programs in travel and tourism mandate the following eligibility requirements:
- A bachelor's degree in hospitality, travel, business, or a related field such as geography or foreign language.
- If your degree is in an unrelated field, you may have to complete basic prerequisite courses in business.
- Standardized tests. MBA programs generally require the GMAT; MS degrees, the GRE exam. International students take the TOEFL to establish their English language proficiency.
- Work experience (required by some advanced and executive master's programs).
2. Prepare Application Materials
Most schools use an online application, accessible via the department's Web site. Fill out the information form and submit it, along with the following supporting documents:
- Academic transcripts
- Letters of recommendation
- Test scores
- Personal essay or statement of research interests
- Resume or CV
Be sure to request transcripts and recommendation letters well in advance of the application deadline.
3. Finance Your Master's Degree in Travel & Tourism
Financial aid programs can help you offset the cost of your educational investment. Submit financial aid applications at the same time as your admissions documents. To access all the funds to which you're entitled, plan to leave no stone unturned:
- Meet with financial aid advisors at your top schools.
- Fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This comprehensive application covers all federal financial aid programs including Stafford Loans.
- Submit the university's own financial aid application (if appropriate), which may cover teaching assistantships, university grants and scholarships, and institutional fellowships.
- Ask your employer about tuition grants or other educational incentives.
- Apply for private scholarships through civic organizations, nonprofits, and other resources.
- As a last resort, consider taking out a low-interest student loan.
Many students reduce the financial burden of graduate school by opting for distance graduate education, which allows you to earn a master's degree online without quitting your job.
Step Three: Build Your Professional Network
Networking is crucial in the travel industry, which relies on cooperative business relationships and a global reach. Travel and tourism students can take advantage of the networking opportunities in graduate school by:
- Joining professional associations such as the National Tour Association, the International Association of Tourism Professionals, the U.S Travel Association, and smaller-scale tourism associations dedicated to specific regions or types of travel.
- Reading journals gives you a glimpse into upcoming trends and research that affects the tourism industry. Major publications include the Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing and the Journal of Travel Research.
- Attending networking events and conferences allows you to establish personal contact with your peers and potential mentors. Swap ideas and develop an insider perspective on the travel industry.
Academic travel and tourism programs offer more than a great education--you can meet travel industry leaders and build relationships that sustain you throughout your career.
With a clear vision of your career plans and careful research, you can set yourself up for a successful journey through the graduate travel and tourism program. Get the most value from your master's degree by lining up the resources you need, from faculty experts to international colleagues to internships with major industry players. Whether you earn a master's degree online or on campus, you can graduate with the expertise and perspective to make a name for yourself in the world of tourism.
- Accelerated Master of Tourism Administration Program, George Washington University.
- Best Business Schools, U.S. News & World Report (2009).
- "Business School Rankings and Profiles," BusinessWeek.
- Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs, U.S. Department of Education.
- Graduate School Search--Travel and Tourism, Peterson's Guides.
- Master of Science in Recreation and Tourism Studies, Arizona State University.
- Master of Science in Tourism and Travel, New York University Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism, and Sports Management.
- "Master's Degree in Sustainable Tourism in the Works at Eastern Carolina University," Terracurve (Mar 26, 2009).
- "Travel Agents," Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-2011 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- UNWTO World Tourism Barometer January 2010, UN World Tourism Organization (Jan 2010).