• Academic vs Practical

Qualifications versus practical experience

One of the most common questions asked by young people either considering the tourism industry as a career or already in it but wanting to get ahead is what study they should undertake.

Today, it is almost expected that to get ahead you need a qualification of some sort. But weirdly enough it isn’t the necessarily the qualification itself that people see as important in recruitment, but more so the fact that you did it.

Will an academic qualification give me a leg up?

Tourism is a funny industry. You can study for three years and be top of your class, but on graduation, you are still going to be starting at step one in most businesses, in the same place those that didn’t study will also be starting out. It is also unlikely that you’re going to be using your qualification to any great extent in the immediate future.

Whether we like it or not, in many tourism careers there is still a significant need for practical on-the-job learning before people are promoted into management roles.

What a qualification can do however is show your potential employer just how committed you are to the tourism industry, the resilience and drive that comes from completing formal qualification may just help you to get a better entry-level job or an opportunity to interview with that ‘dream’ tourism company. It will also most likely fast track your rise through the ranks as you will have quality theory supporting you as you make practical decisions.

Different career paths in tourism

Ultimately the decision to study or not, and then what you study should reflect your long-term goals.

If you want to be an Operational Manager, then you don’t have to study to get there. But you do need to be aware that as you advance in your career, you will need to learn new skills and sometimes that means studying while working. Managing finances and a team of staff are critical elements of operational management and skills that can benefit from study.

But if you’re keen on working in more support service roles such as marketing, governance or human resourcing then yes it would be advantageous to do some study. Though it should be noted that it isn’t impossible to get into these areas without study. These can often be very popular roles and holding a qualification might just help you stand out from the rest.

Of course, there are always some roles you just can’t do without qualifications, chefs, and pilots being two good examples.

One of the great things about tourism is it accepts anyone and there are few barriers to entry. That means without investing significant money and time, people can experience the industry, explore different sectors and discover the areas they love.

That may mean a return to study later, or not at all. It simply comes down to what your long-term plan is.


Check out the hugely varied career paths of the tourism professionals who have shared their first steps (qualified or not) into tourism and any future study they have taken to get where they are today. (Link to videos)