A Comprehensive Guide to Hospitality Career Paths

For Candidates, Hospitality

comprehenive guide hospitality career paths

After taking a hit during the pandemic, the hospitality industry has roared back to life. The leisure and hospitality sectors added 1.3 million jobs in the second quarter of 2022 and that growth shows no signs of slowing, with the sector accounting for 32% of new jobs created in September. 

This industry growth means exciting opportunities for professionals embarking on a career path in hospitality. Working in hotels, restaurants, and travel can be both rewarding and challenging, offering lots of opportunities for personal and professional growth. It’s also a sector that offers a lot of variety, and there are many hospitality career paths to choose from. If you’re considering a career in this exciting sector, here are some tips to get you started. 


Benefits of a Career in Hospitality

If you like meeting new people, you’ll love a career in hospitality. Many businesses in this industry cater to travelers, giving you a chance to interact with individuals from different backgrounds and cultures on a day-to-day basis. This also makes it a great choice for individuals who like to travel themselves. Working for an international hotel chain opens up the opportunity to easily move to a new state or country, and a love of traveling is often a plus for professionals. 

Hospitality is also an exciting career field with a lot of variety. With new challenges everyday and a plethora of roles to choose from, it’s hard to get bored with a career in hospitality. This also makes it a great field for people who want to keep learning and growing since there are always new skills to acquire and new roles to learn. 

From a practical standpoint, hospitality is also a growing industry with ample job openings. While many entry-level roles in the sector are lower-paying positions, you don’t need to acquire much experience before you rise up that ladder. A late-career professional in the hospitality industry can easily earn a 6-figure salary, especially in corporate leadership roles like VP of Operations or Regional Director with a hotel or resort chain. 


First Steps to Start a Career in Hospitality

While many roles within the hospitality industry don’t have a specific degree requirement, a university program can be an excellent way to develop the baseline skills you’ll need to grow your career. It can also jump-start your career progress, clearing the way to administrative, sales, and finance roles that start at a higher salary than customer-facing roles. 

Whether or not you have a degree, you’ll need to get some experience in the industry before you start applying for management positions. The good news is, these roles are widely available and the skills are highly transferable. For those interested in ownership or management, getting experience in a variety of roles can give you a broader understanding of the industry. This could mean spending some time as a waitress, front desk agent, bartender, housekeeper, or customer service representative, just to name a few options. 


Who Thrives in Hospitality Careers?

While there is a lot of social interaction involved in most hospitality roles, that doesn’t mean it’s a career path exclusive to extroverts. In fact, introverts can make excellent hospitality workers because they’re naturally inclined to shift the attention to other people–in this case the customers, which is exactly where the focus should be. 

The most important thing is that you’re friendly, approachable, and equally comfortable speaking to and listening to a wide range of people. Empathetic people do especially well in hospitality. Whether it’s a business trip, a family vacation, or a life milestone like a wedding, travel and events can be stressful, and you’ll be interacting with people at both their best and their worst.

That can also make hospitality a demanding career. Professionals in this industry may work long or odd hours and often find themselves in high-pressure, high-stress situations. The ability to maintain a cool head and keep a smile on your face, even when facing high demands from multiple directions, is a good indication of success in hospitality. 


6 Popular Hospitality Career Paths

Hospitality Management

Typical education: Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree in Hospitality Management
Average entry-level salary: $40,000/year
Average salary after 10 years: $83,000/year

In a broad sense, professionals in hospitality management are focused on providing an exceptional guest experience at hotels, resorts, cruise lines, restaurants, and other attractions. These roles also oversee the business aspects of hospitality and leisure organizations, coordinating the sales, marketing, and finance departments with human resources, customer service, and operational employees to ensure the overall success of the team. 

Some skills that are crucial for success in this field include teamwork, communication, time management, and organization. A high level of emotional intelligence and empathy is also crucial for interacting with both guests and reports, and strong leadership skills will help you advance along this career path. Manager and director positions in this field will also have administrative duties, which can include reviewing sales and customer data analysis as well as practical and logistical tasks like scheduling staff and events, so those who thrive in these roles have skills in a range of areas. 

Fresh graduates in hospitality management will often start off in hospitality jobs like hotel front desk agent, concierge, and other guest relations roles. As you’re ready to take on more responsibilities, positions could include roles like event planner or coordinator, front office manager, director of rooms, or catering manager. This combination of education and experience also opens up career opportunities like hospitality sales representative, hospitality recruiter, or hospitality trainer, while other experienced professionals go into business for themselves as a hospitality consultant. 


Restaurant Management

Typical education: High school diploma, Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree
Average entry-level salary: $38,000/year
Average salary after 10 years: $57,000/year

A restaurant manager coordinates the operations of businesses in the food services industry. This can include stand-alone restaurants ranging from fast food all the way through fine dining. These professionals may also work as part of a larger team, managing the food and beverage services of hotels, cruise lines, casinos, and other types of in-house dining. 

While some restaurant managers hold a degree in hospitality, in most cases that’s not a requirement, making it one top choice for those without a college education. In fact, a number of restaurant managers have no education beyond a high school diploma or GED, and even that’s not a requirement with enough experience, especially since many restaurant chains offer training courses. Communication and interpersonal skills are crucial for people in this industry, as is a deep knowledge of and interest in the broader food and restaurant world.

Many restaurant managers start off in front of the house roles like server, waiter, host, or bartender, but you can also gain the needed skill sets working as a cook, chef, baker, or barista. Along with direct management roles within restaurants, experienced professionals may also work in corporate settings as a regional or company director of restaurants, or share their knowledge as a consultant or crew trainer. 


Culinary Arts

Typical education: High school diploma, culinary school
Average entry-level salary: $35,000/year
Average salary after 10 years: $73,000/year

While restaurant managers focus on the operations of a restaurant and the people who work in it, a career path in the culinary arts focuses on the food. Similar to other restaurant leadership roles, experience matters more than education, and many professionals at the top of their field were never students in a culinary school course. 

Careers in the culinary arts often start with back of the house roles like dishwasher, prep cook, line cook, or sous chef, though those more interested in beverages than food may start as a bartender or barista. Where your career goes from there will depend on your skill sets and interests. Experienced professionals may work as executive chefs, pastry chefs, food stylists, private caterers, butchers, or food and beverage directors within a hotel or resort. Roles on the beverage side can include brewer, wine maker, or sommelier, just to name a few options.

Whichever area of the food industry you want to work in, those in the culinary arts share some core skill sets. Flexibility is crucial since these roles often work long hours, evenings, and weekends, and the ability to work well under pressure is a must. Attention to detail and strong communication and interpersonal skills are also a benefit.


Hotel Management

Typical education: Bachelor’s degree in hospitality or business
Average entry-level salary: $40,000/year
Average salary after 10 years: $89,000/year

Where hospitality management encompasses a variety of roles within the hospitality and leisure industry, a hotel manager is focused on hotel operations. This can include roles like innkeeper or owner/operator. These professionals can also serve as property manager or director within a larger hospitality corporation as they advance through their careers. 

Like other roles in hospitality, a hotel manager needs to have strong team building, communication, and interpersonal skills. They also need a strong understanding of hotel finances and excellent attention to detail, both as it concerns data about their hotel and the cleanliness and functionality of the property. 

Some hotel managers start in customer-facing roles like front desk agent or housekeeper. However, it can also be helpful to have experience on the behind-the-scenes side of hospitality, especially in HR, sales, and marketing. Other examples of roles in hotel management include hospitality marketing manager, general manager, or hospitality educator or trainer. 


Tourism Management

Typical education: Bachelor’s degree in business or hospitality
Average entry-level salary: $58,000/year
Average salary after 10 years: $78,000/year

Like hospitality management, tourism management is a broad career path that can include positions in a lot of niche industries. A tourism manager may work for a hotel or resort, but they’re also employed by travel agencies, conference and convention centers, amusement parks, casinos, and other entertainment businesses, like sports arenas or concert venues. They may even work for city and state governments putting together media packages and other outreach to increase tourism income. 

Because of this variety of careers in the tourism job market, the entry level roles you can take to get started are equally varied. Often, they’ll start off interacting with customers, for example as travel agents, concierges, or tour guides. You can also start off working with booking systems and other technologies that are increasingly prevalent in the tourism industry. 

The specific aspect of tourism you’re involved in will influence the specific skill sets you’ll need to develop. That said, a personal touch is expected in nearly every aspect of this industry, making customer service, communication, emotional intelligence, and networking skills among the most desirable across roles. Strong organization, leadership, and problem solving skills will also be helpful for advancing within this career. 


Event Planning

Typical education: Bachelor’s degree in hospitality, business, or management
Average entry-level salary: $37,000/year
Average salary after 10 years: $69,000/year

The typical duties of event planners are right there in the job title. These professionals arrange all the details for meetings, conferences, celebrations, festivals, and other large social and professional gatherings. They may also work for universities and schools to help them plan outreach and educational programs, or take roles with nonprofits to help plan fundraisers and charity services. 

This is a role best-suited to outgoing, social people. They coordinate and communicate with a wide range of people both within and outside organizations and need to feel comfortable in a range of social situations. Organization and time management are also critical, and you’ll need a strong eye for detail to ensure every aspect of an event is planned to perfection. 

Some typical job titles within this career path include hospitality event coordinator, events manager, corporate planner, and promoter. In the nonprofit sector, roles include hospitality fundraiser and volunteer coordinator. 


How to Choose the Right Career Path?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer for this question. Think about your interests and the type of work environment that allows you to be your best. If you’re not sure which aspect of hospitality is the best fit, there’s no substitute for getting hands-on experience. Even if you end up pivoting to a different type of role in the future, the transferrable skills you learn working in any hospitality role will contribute toward your career progress. 

Bristol Associates, Inc. is an executive search firm with over 55 years of excellence in recruiting nationwide. Bristol specializes in recruiting for the Casino Gaming; CBD; Facility and Concession; Food and Beverage Manufacturing; Healthcare; Hotel and Resort; Nonprofit; Restaurant and Foodservice; and Travel, Tourism, and Attraction industries.

If you’re interested in working with Bristol Associates, click here if you’re an employer or here if you’re a candidate.

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