Hospitality, leisure and travel
Key graduate employers in hospitality, leisure and tourism

The key graduate employers in hospitality, leisure and tourism

Whether you want to work for a world-renowned hotel chain or end up running your own pub, there’s a range of graduate employers out there with plenty to offer.

Key hospitality, leisure and tourism employers: Hotel chains | Pubs, restaurants and fast-food chains | Travel employers | Event management | Leisure employers | Small to medium-sized employers | Self-employment

Hospitality, leisure and tourism is a wide-ranging industry and key graduate employers include hotel chains, restaurants, specialist events companies, breweries, fast food chains, travel providers and cinemas. Some of the big names in hotels and food and drink offer a choice of graduate programmes while employers in smaller sectors, particularly in events, recruit graduates into entry-level positions as and when jobs become available. If you’re job hunting in this industry, these employers are where you could start your search.

Hotel chains: key graduate employers

Careers with hotel chains are a great choice for graduates who are looking for opportunities to travel with work and to have responsibility at an early stage. You’ll need great customer service and experience is advantageous, if not essential.

  • Whitbread is the UK’s largest hotel and restaurant group and owns Premier Inn, Costa Coffee, Beefeater Grill and Brewers Fayre. The organisation has 45,000 employees and runs several graduate schemes each year.
  • Hilton Worldwide is a giant hotel chain with more than 4,300 hotels and resorts in 94 countries under 12 brands. Graduate opportunities include the ‘elevator’ fast-track programme, the management development programme and entry-level roles.
  • Marriott International is a globally recognised employer with around 4,200 hotels in 80 countries. The graduate leadership development programme runs for 12 to 18 months in 30 countries.
  • InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG) is another hotel giant with more than 4,900 hotels in 110 countries and territories around the world. Its future leaders programme runs in operations, finance and revenue management.
  • Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group comprises a number of well known hotel brands, such as Radisson and Park Plaza, and operates in over 85 countries. Graduate opportunities include the management programme with Radisson Blu Edwardian as well as global vacancies advertised throughout the year.

Graduate careers in pubs, restaurants and fast-food chains

This is another good area to explore if you’re looking for responsibility at an early stage and a career in management. Many recruiters in this sector run programmes that are geared towards the graduate running their own pub, restaurant or fast-food chain by the end of it.

  • Mitchells & Butlers is a big player in the hospitality industry with 1,700 restaurants and pubs across the UK. It has been running corporate and retail graduate schemes for many years.
  • Compass Group is a giant employer with more than 470,000 employees globally and 60,000 of them are in the UK and Ireland. The group includes famous brands, such as Starbucks and Burger King. There are two-year graduate development programmes as well as entry-level roles.
  • McDonald’s has more than 1,200 fast-food restaurants and 100,000 employees in the UK. The trainee manager scheme recruits graduates and 12-month corporate and industrial placement schemes are open to undergraduates.
  • Greene King is a British brewer that was established in 1799 and now runs 1,900 pubs, restaurants and hotels. Roles are available in head office, management, breweries or running your own pub.
  • Marston’s is another brewing giant with around 1,700 pubs and bars across the UK and five breweries producing 60 permanent and guest ales. Pub management and head office roles are available to graduates.

Graduate recruiters in the travel industry

Careers in travel industry are particularly wide-ranging as graduate roles include everything from business development to entertainment.

  • Thomas Cook is a large leisure and travel group with more than 22 million customers. Its 27,000 employees operate in 15 countries and entry-level jobs are available both in the UK head offices and abroad, in a range of areas including retail, finance, engineering and holiday entertainment.
  • TUI Group is a global leisure and travel group with more than 220 brands in 180 countries and over 30 million customers. Several international and UK-based graduate programmes are available, most of which require a 2.1 degree.
  • P&O Cruises is a leading UK cruise operator, with an eight-ship fleet. On-board opportunities are available in hotel and entertainment, marine and technical, and medical departments. The range of on-shore roles includes finance, marketing, sales, operations and IT.
  • Flight Centre is an international travel company with 18,000 employees across 12 countries. Graduate opportunities are available in travel consultancy and business development.
  • Expedia UK is an online travel provider with more than 2,300 employees in 34 companies. Graduate career areas include sales, corporate and technology, and internships are available too.

Key employers in event management

As this is a smaller area of work, graduates usually start in entry-level roles rather than joining a graduate scheme. You’ll need great organisation and communication skills as well as technical knowledge to work in event management.

  • Reed Exhibitions manages more than 500 events in 43 countries each year. It employs 3,700 people worldwide in sales, marketing, operations and exhibition management, as well as in finance, HR and IT.
  • Clarion Events started in 1947 and now caters for 12,000 companies, with hundreds of thousands of people visiting their events each year. Entry-level roles are available in a range of areas and locations.
  • Zibrant is a global event management agency. The organisation doesn’t run a formal graduate scheme but it does recruit graduates for events management positions.
  • Sodexo develops and delivers a range of services, including catering and events. It employs 35,000 people including facilities managers, prison custody officers, supply chain consultants and finance managers. It also hires events managers to work in various locations across the UK.

Graduate recruiters in the leisure industry

Whether you want to run your own cinema or help manage a top visitor attraction, there are plenty of graduate employment options in this industry.

  • Merlin Entertainments is a British operator of visitor attractions, which are based in 23 countries. Graduate programmes in business management and marketing last 18 months, run in a number of locations worldwide and are available to candidates with a 2.1 degree.
  • Camp America hires around 7,000 people each year to work at its nine-week summer camps in a variety of roles across the USA.
  • Centre Parcs provides short break holidays in forest locations to around 1.7 million guests each year. Various roles are available for graduates in the head office and the holiday villages.
  • Odeon Cinemas was founded in 1930 and is now the UK and Ireland’s largest cinema chain with more than 120 cinemas and 850 screens. The graduate programme lasts 18 months and is a fast track to graduates running their own cinema.
  • Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL) is a leisure provider with more than 150 leisure centres and pools, 26 libraries and various sporting venues, including Crystal Palace National Sports Centre and the London Aquatics Centre. The trainee management scheme is open to graduates. Entry-level roles are available in events, customer service, sales and fitness instruction among others.

Small to medium-sized employers

There are many job opportunities available outside of the big names in hospitality, leisure and travel, since the majority of UK hotels and restaurants are independently owned. As these employers usually promote staff within their own workforce, long-term career prospects are good. Working with smaller organisations can also be rewarding, with more opportunity for a high level of responsibility early on plus input into the company as a whole. You’re also more likely to have frequent contact with the customers and staff in other departments, which is usually not possible in head office jobs with giant chains.

Smaller employers tend to advertise individual vacancies as they arise, through local press, recruitment agencies and their own websites.


Some graduate employers run programmes that have the end goal of graduates running their own cinema, pub or bar as part of a franchise. However, many people working in the hospitality, leisure and travel sector set up and run a business themselves, with the majority managing a restaurant or hotel.

Freelance work is also common in the events industry, although this does usually require building up a strong portfolio of events work first.