Careers advice and planning

The key graduate employers in hospitality, leisure and tourism

2 Aug 2023, 16:16

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.

A hotel sign.

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, Beefeater and Brewers Fayre. The organisation runs a number of graduate schemes each year.
  • Hilton Worldwide is a giant hotel chain with more than 6,300 properties in 118 countries and territories under 18 brands. Graduate opportunities include a management development programme, and a revenue management programme.
  • Marriott International is a globally recognised employer with more than 7,000 properties in more than 130 countries and territories around the world. They have previously offered a graduate leadership development programme.
  • InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG) is another hotel giant with more than 5,900 hotels, and that employs staff in more than 100 countries around the world. It typically offers as a number of future leaders programmes in different specialisms.
  • Radisson Hotel Group comprises a number of well-known hotel brands, such as Radisson and Park Plaza, and operates in many countries and territories. Graduate opportunities have previously included the hospitality management programme with Radisson Blu Edwardian as well as global vacancies.

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 around 1,700 restaurants and pubs across the UK. It typically runs corporate and retail graduate schemes.
  • Compass Group is a giant employer that operates in more than 50 countries. The group specialises in providing food services to locations such as factories, hospitals, universities and schools. They offer graduate programmes as well as entry-level roles.
  • McDonald’s has more than 36,000 restaurants in more than 100 countries. Its six-month management training programme recruits graduates.
  • Greene King is a British brewer that was established in 1799 and now runs 2,700 pubs, restaurants and hotels across the UK. Roles are available in head office, breweries and running your own pub.
  • Marston’s is another brewing giant with around 1,400 pubs across the UK. Pub management and head office roles are typically available to graduates.

Graduate recruiters in the travel industry

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

  • TUI Group is a global leisure and travel group with operations in 180 countries and 27 million customers. It typically offers several international and UK-based graduate programmes.
  • Carnival Corporation is the world’s largest cruise company, with nine brands and a fleet of 87 ships. It offers roles in various areas, including sales and marketing and in the people team (working on the employee experience), and some may be open to graduates.
  • Flight Centre is an international travel company with more than 1,900 stores across the UK. It has previously offered graduate opportunities are available in travel consultancy and business development.
  • Expedia Group is an online travel provider. Graduate career areas include analytics, data science and product management.

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 typically manages 500 events in 30 countries each year. It recruits for operations, sales, marketing, HR, technology and finance roles.
  • Clarion Events started in 1947 and now has 15 offices around the world. Entry-level roles are available in a range of areas, such as marketing and technology, and locations.
  • Prestige Venues & Events develops and delivers a range of services, including catering and events. It operates at over 70 venues in the UK, and typically offers entry-level roles.

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 has headquarters in the UK and runs more than 125 visitor attractions across the world. Its Accelerate graduate programme offers two options, business management and marketing, both of which offer a number of placements at different Merlin sites and are open to candidates with a 2.1 degree. There has historically been a preference for candidates with degrees either in relevant subjects such as marketing or business, or in areas such as finance and law.
  • Camp America typically holds annual recruitment fairs in the UK to hire candidates to work at its nine-week summer camps in a variety of roles across the USA.
  • Centre Parcs provides short break holidays in five forest locations around the UK. Various roles have previously been 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. You might be able to find a role in cinemas (from cinema host to general manager) and in support office functions ranging from film booking and finance to property.
  • Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL), which also operates under the brand name Better, is a leisure provider that manages sporting and leisure facilities, and typically gets 58 million visitors to its centres each year. Entry-level roles in events, customer service, sales and fitness instruction – among others – have previously been available.

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.

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This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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