Hospitality & Tourism Degrees: Associate, Bachelor's & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a hospitality and tourism degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of associate's and bachelor's degree programs, and potential careers.
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Studying Hospitality and Tourism: Associate's and Bachelor's Degrees at a Glance

Hospitality and tourism degree programs can prepare students to work in a broad industry aimed at making tourists and vacationers feel comfortable while traveling. Although many people work in hospitality and tourism jobs without a college education, the knowledge and work experience gained in a degree program can help you advance your career, especially since employers typically want to hire people who have worked in the industry (often with 1-3 years of prior experience).

However, the health of the hospitality and tourism industry often depends on the overall economy, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted strong job competition in this field. BLS job growth projections showed a 3% decline for restaurant managers, 0% change for flight attendants, 8% increase for lodging managers and 10% growth for travel agents for the 2010-2020 decade; growth for meeting, convention and event planners was estimated at 44% for the same period.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? - People interested in entry-level hospitality or tourism careers
- Students who wish to later transfer to a 4-year hospitality and tourism degree program
- Hospitality, tourism or travel industry professionals looking to update or expand their skills
- Students looking to obtain entry-level managerial positions in hospitality and tourism
- Associate's degree holders interested in advancing their careers with additional education
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Food service, catering or banquet manager ($53,000)*
- Motel or hotel manager ($55,000)*
- Travel agent, counselor or consultant ($36,000)*
- Travel or tour guide ($33,000)*
- Flight attendant ($42,000)*
- Meeting, convention or event planner ($50,000)*
- Additional career paths for the bachelor's degree are similar to those of the associate's degree, but bachelor's degree holders may have better opportunities for career advancement, management positions or supervisory roles
Time to Completion Two years full-time Four years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements Internship or co-operative work experience - Internship (typically around 400 hours)
- Work experience
- Senior capstone course
Prerequisites High school diploma or GED - High school diploma or GED
- A degree-completion program requires a previous associate's degree
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Associate's in Hospitality and Tourism

Associate's degree programs in hospitality and tourism are designed so that students can either seek entry-level jobs as soon as they graduate or transfer to bachelor's degree programs with a large portion of their general education and introductory courses completed. Because hospitality and tourism jobs can include working for hotel properties, operating a tour company or travel agency, selling vacation packages and many other careers, these degree programs typically seek to provide a broad overview of the business skills and industry knowledge needed for a variety of careers rather than focusing on a specific path. Schools often include work experience opportunities and internships with area hospitality and travel companies so students can better explore their job options, gain experience and make connections with industry professionals.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Prepare students for a variety of career options in a broad industry
  • Internships and co-op requirements let you gain some experience while in school
  • Curricula teach job skills employers look for (computers, customer service, etc.)

Cons

  • Many careers in this field do not require a college degree
  • Broad curricula may not provide enough depth for your chosen career path
  • Employers may still require 1-3 years of experience beyond what a degree program provides

Common Courses and Requirements

In addition to general education requirements, 2-year degree programs give students an introduction to the skills needed to manage a hotel or restaurant or work for a travel company, with an emphasis on industry-specific business, computer and marketing skills. Electives allow students to learn more about event planning, destination travel, hotel front desk operations and other topics. Degree programs typically include the following courses:

  • Accounting
  • Public speaking
  • Customer service
  • Hospitality and tourism marketing
  • Computer reservations and booking systems
  • Food service, safety and sanitation
  • Hospitality management

Online Course Info

Students interested in taking online classes can find options ranging from individual courses to certificates to associate's degree programs, with some schools offering a hybrid of online and on-campus classes. Online courses are comparable to onsite courses and are often intended to provide flexibility to hospitality and tourism industry professionals who want to update their skills or complete their education while employed.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Because competition for travel and hospitality jobs is expected to be fierce, graduating from an associate's degree program with co-operative work experience or an internship can set you apart from other applicants. Consider degree programs with an emphasis on customer service, communication and computer skills, which many employers cited as essential in job postings listed on CareerBuilder.com in July 2012.

If you're planning to work at a travel agency, tour company or cruise line, it can be especially important for you to learn about sales and marketing. Additionally, an in-depth understanding of available travel products may help you compete with vacation planning websites. Specializing in destination travel or offering tour packages targeted at specific types of travelers can position you as a valuable resource to customers.

Student membership in a professional association can offer an edge for networking and education. For example, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) offers student membership, which allows hospitality workers in training to attend conferences, meet employers, learn of scholarship opportunities and tap into educational and career resources; additionally, the organization also offers members free webinars on technology topics. You may also be able to earn professional certifications while still in school, such as those offered through AHLA with a student membership.

Degree Alternatives

A certificate program in a hospitality or tourism specialty may be a good option for working professionals who need to update their skills or for students who wish to learn some basic skills and enter the workforce more quickly. Community colleges and continuing education programs at universities may offer certificate programs in culinary arts, food service or restaurant management, hospitality sales and marketing, event planning, hotel management and others.

The overall cost and time commitment needed for a certificate program is less than that for an associate's degree: program requirements vary, but often range from 18-30 credit hours and typically take one year to complete. A certificate program can give you specific training for a chosen career path (for instance, in front desk operations at a hotel), but that might make you less versatile and necessitate returning to school to broaden your options.

Bachelor's in Hospitality and Tourism

Bachelor's degree programs provide hospitality and tourism industry career preparation similar to what associate's degree programs offer, but they are typically management-oriented and prepare students for leadership and supervisory roles at hotels, casinos, restaurants, travel companies or event planning businesses. Students may also be able to use concentrations or minors to pursue a specialty area in more depth than would be possible in a 2-year program, with the added benefit of additional career opportunities in event planning, travel marketing or other entrepreneurship in the hospitality and travel industry.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Internships, work experience and professional development can make you more desirable to potential employers
  • Business coursework can prepare you for management positions and career advancement
  • Electives, minors and concentrations can help you specialize in your chosen career path

Cons

  • A bachelor's degree may not be a hard requirement for many jobs (only 48% of event planners and 28% of lodging mangers held bachelor's degrees in 2011)*
  • Even with a degree, competition for jobs can be fierce
  • Employers may still require additional management training

Source: *O*Net OnLine

Courses and Requirements

A 4-year degree program in hospitality and tourism typically has a curriculum similar to that of an associate's degree program, consisting of general education courses and introductory professional courses, as well as advanced courses and electives. Most bachelor's degree programs include internships, capstone courses and other hands-on opportunities for professional skill development, such as work in on-campus restaurants or partnerships with hotels, casinos and other hospitality properties. Additional coursework and electives often include the following:

  • Human resource management
  • Organizational behavior
  • Hospitality and tourism sales
  • Hospitality law
  • Hospitality cost control
  • Financial analysis

Online Course Info

Working professionals, non-traditional students or others interested in taking online classes can find hospitality and tourism bachelor's degree programs that offer a portion or even the majority of the courses online. Some programs require that certain courses be taken on campus, or allow you to transfer credits from another college or university to fulfill these requirements. If you intend to pursue an online degree, your program may require that you have already earned a certain number of college credits and completed prerequisites prior to enrollment.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

To gain firsthand travel experience and an understanding of other cultures, some schools offer study abroad programs. Additionally, many employers look for foreign language skills, and some degree programs have a minimum language requirement for graduation. Another option is to tailor your curriculum to enhance your business skills; a minor or concentration in entrepreneurship, business, marketing or a similar field might be available and can help broaden your career opportunities.

The BLS said meeting, convention and event planning is a career with excellent growth prospects, and a hospitality and tourism bachelor's degree program may offer a minor, concentration or elective coursework in this discipline. You can also pursue a Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) designation through the Convention Industry Council (CIC); to be eligible, you must have three years of work experience, a bachelor's degree and have completed an industry internship.

Degree Alternatives

If you want to find a career aimed at the business and marketing aspects of the hospitality and tourism industry but want a more versatile degree, you could consider a bachelor's degree in business with a marketing major. A marketing curriculum includes courses in consumer behavior, sales and retailing, market research and product development, in addition to a business core of economics, professional communication, management and other courses.

With a business or marketing degree and strong communication skills, you could pursue a career as a marketing manager, with the option of specializing in a particular industry or type of product. Although the BLS said the field is highly competitive and poised for average job growth of 14% in the decade from 2010 to 2020, marketing managers are well-compensated, with a mean annual salary around $126,000 reported in 2011.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Business Admin
      • BSBA - Investment
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Science in Business for Secondary Education
      • Bachelor of Science in Hospitality Management
      • BS in Applied Management
      • BS in Business Admin.
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS - Business Management
      • BS - Organizational Leadership
  • Campus and Online Programs
    4. Full Sail University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • B.S. - Music Business
  • Campus and Online Programs
    5. Centenary University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS in Business Administration - Management
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • B.S. - Business Management With No Concentration
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Virginia International University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (BSBA)
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS - Business Administration - Management
      • Bachelor of Science in Business Administration - Organizational Behavior
      • Bachelor of Science in Business Administration - Business Development
      • BS - Business Administration - General
  • Online Programs Available
    9. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Business Admin: Management
      • Bachelor of Business Administration - Generalist
      • Bachelor of Business Admin: Operations Management
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Indiana Wesleyan University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • B.S. Hospitality Management
      • B.S. Business Administration - No Specialization
      • B.S. General Studies - Business
      • B.S. Management - No Specialization

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Bachelor of Business Admin
  • BSBA - Investment

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Grand Canyon University

  • Bachelor of Science in Business for Secondary Education
  • Bachelor of Science in Hospitality Management
  • BS in Applied Management

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Colorado State University Global

  • BS - Business Management
  • BS - Organizational Leadership

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Full Sail University

  • B.S. - Music Business

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Centenary University

  • BS in Business Administration - Management

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Herzing University

  • B.S. - Business Management With No Concentration

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Virginia International University

  • Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (BSBA)

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Colorado Technical University

  • BS - Business Administration - Management
  • Bachelor of Science in Business Administration - Organizational Behavior
  • Bachelor of Science in Business Administration - Business Development

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