Want to be a strategist in a quick-growing sector? Do your postgrad in tourism

How does a city such as Belfast, once blighted by a dying shipbuilding industry and years of political strife, succeed in reinventing itself as a tourist destination?

This is one of many questions pondered by postgraduates on an MSc in international tourism and hospitality management at London South Bank University (LSBU). Like many around the country, they are doing the course because they are eager to get a leg up into a buoyant sector.

Hospitality is a popular postgrad choice, and is forecast to grow. “After all, every visitor has to eat and sleep somewhere,” says Dr Alexandra Kenyon, leader of the MSc in international tourism and hospitality management at Leeds Beckett University.

“Currently one in 11 of the world’s jobs are in tourism and hospitality, and that’s projected to shift to one in 10 by 2023,” says Graham Miller, head of the school of hospitality and tourism management at the University of Surrey, where 225 students – from former cabin crew to business graduates – are currently enrolled on a range of postgraduate programmes.

While undergraduate courses may focus more on operations, postgraduate education addresses wider management issues, leadership and strategy: how to maintain big brand values in local markets for instance.

The course for LSBU students, based in one of the biggest tourist cities in the world, is strategic rather than practical. “We look at case studies, discuss theory; there’s no operational aspect whatsoever,” says course director Alison Askew.

At Leeds Beckett, students adopt a similarly broad approach, learning to forecast wider trends in global tourism. But it’s not all theory; the year is peppered with industry projects and career fairs. Good courses collaborate effectively with businesses – such as hotel chains and food and drink companies – to allow students the experience of working in consultant roles.

Students at Leeds Beckett also consider issues of sustainability: environmental concerns are now central to the tourist industry, says Kenyon, who points out that “for every 1,000 miles you travel, you leave a big carbon footprint”.

Kenyon adds: “You can’t knock down every village to make way for a new hotel. We need to cover this so future generations don’t oust people who’ve lived somewhere for generations.”

Angela Vickers
Angela Vickers says her MA inspired her to be more entrepreneurial. Photograph: Mike Wilkinson/Mike Wilkinson

Angela Vickers, manager of Apex Hotels, graduated in July from a two-year executive master’s in hospitality and tourism leadership at the University of Strathclyde business school.

I started in the business as an accountant, so I haven’t come through the traditional hotelier route.

I’m now responsible for strategic direction. As a small, independent chain, we need to make sure we’re up with the big boys such as Hilton and keeping a step ahead of the competition.

The beauty of this course is that it takes examples from outside the hospitality industry, which can be a bit of a bubble; it gives you a broader outlook. It did make me think more strategically.

We had students and guest speakers from overseas so there was a global focus and we spent an intensive week at affiliated universities in the US and Switzerland – Cornell and Lausanne.

One of the modules on entrepreneurship inspired me to set up our own laundry to service our hotels – we were having problems with quality. I’d never have had the confidence to do that without the course. I’ve since sent my operations and revenue directors on the course too.

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