Hospitality and Tourism Degree Overview

Matt Whittle
Updated March 27, 2024
Edited by
With a hospitality and tourism degree, you can accommodate guests in various roles and industries. Explore types of degrees, courses, and skills in this field.

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Have you ever received top-level accommodations from staff while traveling, attending an event, or enjoying a meal at a restaurant? These efforts require close, careful management by professionals in the hospitality and tourism business. If you ever considered working in this growing sector, you can pursue hospitality and tourism degrees at various levels.

Coursework in this major covers business and financial aspects of various hospitality organizations, along with marketing methods, legal issues, and property maintenance. Depending on the degree level, graduates can pursue entry-level roles in this field, like front desk associate, up to administrative positions.

In this guide, discover details on hospitality and tourism degrees.

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What Is Hospitality and Tourism?

Though hospitality as a human concept has existed for thousands of years, experts date the industry’s formal origins to around the 1700s, as Europeans traveled and sought accommodations across the United States.

In modern times, hospitality maintains the same core goal as it did hundreds of years ago: welcome guests and travelers with lodging, services, food, and assistance.

Given the financial, management, and procurement aspects of hospitality, this sector typically exists within the greater subject of business. As such, students can either pursue hospitality and tourism degrees or choose business programs with a concentration in the subject.

Schools offer these degrees at every level, which typically align with career goals. For example, an undergraduate hospitality and tourism degree can prepare graduates for roles as event planners, food service managers, and casino floor supervisors. Graduate degrees prepare students for higher-level administrative roles in the field.

What Skills Do Hospitality and Tourism Programs Teach?

Hospitality and tourism degrees cover hard and soft skills for aspiring professionals. Though the application of these skills may vary based on your position, sector, and employment level, the following abilities can apply to professionals across hospitality industries.

Soft Skills

  • Communication: Hospitality and tourism, at their core, require you to handle customer service. These programs sharpen your communication skills to interact with coworkers, managers, and customers.
  • Networking: Often, these businesses aim to attract guests for repeat visits and stays. By making lasting connections with customers, you can create lifelong business partnerships.
  • Cultural Awareness: Hospitality and tourism welcome guests from all backgrounds and ethnicities. To facilitate smooth interactions with all customers, these programs develop familiarity with various age levels, ethnic backgrounds, and cultural differences.

Hard Skills

  • Finance: Hospitality and tourism degrees focus on creating frictionless experiences for guests, but without strong financial oversight, budgets may not allow for ideal guest services.
  • Business Knowledge: Hospitality and tourism require problem-solving abilities with a business mindset. By developing business skills, these programs can prepare you to improve efficiency in workflows and eliminate redundancies in property management, event planning, and food service.
  • IT Systems: Depending on your intended role, you may need familiarity with point-of-sale systems, property management software, and booking platforms. These degrees develop your information technology abilities to prepare you for the technical aspects of hospitality and guest services.

What Are the Types of Hospitality and Tourism Degrees?

Colleges and universities offer hospitality and tourism degrees at every level. Though some roles are available without any formal postsecondary education, a certificate or degree on your resume can bolster your credibility with prospective employers. The following section explores these programs at each level, along with available career pathways.

academic-capCertificate in Hospitality and Tourism

Many schools offer these certificates under the name “tourism and hospitality management.” Some programs feature certificates within associate degrees or as standalone offerings, and they typically range from 18-30 credits, requiring 1-2 years of attendance.

Coursework is typically more specific to tourism and hospitality management than general business, covering areas such as hospitality marketing, casino management, and food operations.

If you have an unrelated degree, a certificate in hospitality and tourism can demonstrate your dedication and knowledge of the field to employers. A standalone certificate in the field can still help you land specialized roles in tourism and hospitality, as well, as many of the sector’s professions do not require formal education.

academic-capAssociate in Hospitality and Tourism

At the associate level, hospitality and tourism degrees typically involve 60 credits and require 2-3 years of attendance, depending on part-time or full-time enrollment. Though the curriculum may have a business foundation, core coursework focuses on areas such as hospitality marketing, location purchasing, technology in hospitality, and food services.

With an associate degree, you can pursue various roles in tourism and hospitality — up to and including supervisory positions. However, these roles may require professional experience, which you can pursue in entry-level roles in the field. You may encounter several types of hospitality and tourism degrees at the associate level, with names such as:

  • Associate of arts in hospitality
  • Associate of applied science in hospitality and tourism management
  • Associate in science — hospitality management
  • Associate of science in hospitality and tourism management

academic-capBachelor of Hospitality and Tourism

Bachelor’s degrees in hospitality and tourism, commonly falling under the banner of hospitality and tourism management or simply “hospitality management,” are four-year programs that typically require you to complete 120 credits. Given the credit load, bachelor’s degrees in the field may include more generic business courses, such as organizational behavior, business finance, and economics.

Core courses explore subjects like festival management, tourism planning, food and beverage management, and accounting for hospitality managers. With a bachelor’s degree, you can pursue management roles for resorts, restaurants, cruise ships, conventions, and more. Examples of hospitality and tourism bachelor’s degrees include:

  • Bachelor of science in hospitality management
  • Bachelor of science in business administration: hospitality and tourism management
  • Bachelor of arts in hospitality and tourism management
  • Bachelor of science in tourism and hospitality management

academic-capMaster’s in Hospitality and Tourism

Master’s-level programs in hospitality and tourism extend beyond the coursework found in undergraduate degrees to focus on topics such as crisis management in tourism, global service management, hospitality law, and research design. These graduate degrees usually comprise around 30 credits and take 1-2 years to complete.

Schools may offer their tourism and hospitality master’s degrees entirely in the subject or as concentrations within business degrees, like master of business administration (MBA) programs. In an MBA, the curriculum typically applies a business-focused approach.

Though many management-level roles are available to candidates with undergraduate degrees in the field, the additional experience provided by internships and capstone projects can give applicants a leg up in the job market.

Institutions may offer hospitality and tourism master’s degrees under the following names:

  • Master of science in hospitality management
  • MBA — hospitality and tourism management
  • Master of science in tourism and hospitality management
  • Master of hospitality management studies

academic-capDoctorate in Hospitality and Tourism

Hospitality and tourism degrees at the doctoral level typically take 4-7 years to complete, with more of a research focus than master’s degrees in the field. These programs prepare graduates to pursue roles in academia and policymaking, though they can still work as administrators for hotel, event planning, and restaurant operations.

Schools may prefer or require candidates to have professional experience to qualify for admission. In addition to research, doctoral programs in hospitality and tourism can take a data analysis approach to improving accommodations, and some allow enrollees to explore business coursework in areas like econometrics.

Doctoral programs typically culminate in an extensive research project called a dissertation. Each student must choose a topic and receive approval from faculty, allowing them to align their program with their professional aspirations.

For example, graduates interested in sustainability can work on dissertations covering climate change’s effects on tourism in specific regions, while tech-minded students can pitch projects on big data analytics in hospitality.

Examples of doctoral-level hospitality and tourism programs include:

  • Ph.D. in hospitality management
  • Ph.D. in hospitality and tourism management
  • Ph.D. hospitality, hotel management and tourism
  • Ph.D. in hotel administration

Is Hospitality and Tourism Better As an Undergrad or Graduate Degree?

Use your professional goals to figure out if you should pursue a hospitality and tourism degree at the undergraduate or graduate level. For example, if you know you want to work in management-level roles in the field, an undergraduate degree can often provide the education you need.

You may want to keep your options open while pursuing a degree — after all, not every student knows their ideal career while still in college. In these situations, it may benefit you to enroll in a business degree with a hospitality and tourism concentration. This way, you can explore the subject without having to commit to a degree dedicated entirely to it.

You can use this same logic in a master’s program. If you know that you want to pursue advanced business roles and may explore hospitality, you can enroll in an MBA program. These degrees focus more on business while allowing you to choose tourism and/or hospitality as a concentration.

Similarly, if you’re planning to effect change in the hospitality industry, a doctoral program will offer opportunities to educate and conduct research in the field. Doctorates typically require undergraduate and graduate degrees for admission.

Certification is generally not required in this field, so you do not need to consider any education requirements for these credentials.

Common Questions About Hospitality and Tourism Degrees

What is a hospitality and tourism degree?

A hospitality and tourism degree covers coursework relating to travel, vacation housing, dining, and event management. Contingent on the degree level, graduates can pursue entry-level or administrative roles in these fields.

What degree is best for hospitality?

The “best” degree depends on your personal and professional goals. For example, if you intend to work in travel, a tourism and travel management degree may meet your needs. Similarly, if you want to focus on residential spaces, a degree in hotel and motel management can offer the best pathway.

What do hospitality and tourism do?

Professionals in the hospitality and tourism sectors plan, market, and manage businesses such as lodging, travel, and food services. They ensure that customers have welcoming experiences and receive ample accommodations in restaurants, cruise ships, hotels, convention centers, and more.

Is a hospitality and tourism degree worth it?

People interested in lodging, travel, and event management can benefit from hospitality and tourism degrees. For example, the BLS reports that lodging managers earn a median annual salary of $61,910 as of May 2022 — about $15,000 more than the median for all occupations. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry appears poised for growth, with the BLS projecting a faster-than-average employment growth rate of 7% from 2022-2032.

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