Accredited Online Hospitality Management Degree Guide for 2015

Hospitality Management is a service industry job specialization best suited for those with a clear interest in customer service. Jobs related to hospitality management degrees involve lots of direct customer contact. If you don’t like dealing with people personally, attending to all types of customer needs, and smiling through all types of difficulties, you may not be comfortable in careers related to this degree. On the other hand, if you are a “people person” and want to pursue a career that could involve extensive travel, in addition to the customer contact component, then this could be right up your alley. Hospitality management professionals must develop excellent customer service skills, as well as management and communication skills to effectively attend to employees and customers alike.

Hospitality is an industry that includes working in such venues as hotels, resorts, cruise ships, casinos, theme parks, and restaurants. Hospitality management degrees can lead to make careers in the hospitality industry. In all cases, though, the positions are highly focused on the customer and providing a positive customer experience. In many positions you will also be responsible for training and managing staff.

Expect to study many business administration-related topics, including accounting, marketing, and feasibility studies. Other courses may be specific to the industry including beverage management, human resource management, food service management, and hospitality and tourism law. Some courses are denominated in hospitality management while others are business administration degrees with a specialty in hospitality management. The main difference between the two types of programs is the degree of specialization each offers.


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Quick Answers

Is the hospitality industry growing?

Yes. This industry is strong in the United States and around the world.

Are hospitality management degrees generalist or specialist degrees?

Typically, they are specialty-oriented. They will prepare you for jobs in the hospitality industry, but not so much for jobs in other fields. Skills and knowledge acquired are highly transferrable within hospitality venues and specific subsections of the industry.

Do I have to get a bachelor’s or master’s degree to have a good career in hospitality management?

While associate’s degree will be sufficient to prepare you for entry-level positions, continued education and advanced degrees will prepare you for higher-level positions that garner better pay.

Does school accreditation matter for this type of degree?

Yes. The school should be accredited and, if possible, the degree program should be, as well.

Available Degrees

The courses and degrees available in hospitality management, as well as the time required to obtain them, vary widely. There are courses, certificates, specializations, AA, BA, BS and master’s degrees available in hospitality management, hospitality and tourism. Courses and certificate programs by themselves will be of little practical use when preparing for a career. However, if you already have a business degree, for example, they can provide the additional specialization necessary to open doors in this industry. Entry-level positions are accessible with an associate’s degree or high school diploma. Positions with more responsibility are more easily accessible with additional education such as the bachelor and master’s programs.

  • Courses and Certificates: Very short, specialized courses. These will add little value by themselves in seeking jobs in this sector. On the other hand, if you already have a degree, they can provide the additional specialization needed to enter this industry without having to complete a new degree program.
  • Associate’s degree (AA, AS): Short degree programs. Ideal for entry-level positions within the industry, such as front desk, concierge, tour guide, and food service.
  • Bachelor’s degree (BA, BS): Some bachelor’s degrees are highly specific to the industry, like the BA in hospitality management, while others are more general, like a BA in business administration with a specialty in service sector, hospitality management, or restaurant enterprise management. These degrees prepare students to advance to line management and mid-management positions, such as event planners, lodging manager, and food service managers.
  • Master’s degrees (MA, MS, MBA): These prepare mid-level managers for executive roles in the industry, including top management at on-site positions, such as hotel director or sales director, as well as positions at corporate headquarters. Master’s degrees are most beneficial to those with some practical work experience in the sector under their belt. Depending on your undergraduate degree, there may be some prerequisite work required to be accepted to these programs.

Online Degrees & Accreditation

Online study affords several benefits to the student. Most important is they can take the courses anywhere, anytime, in most situations. Therefore you can fit the classes into your busy schedule when they are most convenient for you: early morning, late night, weekends. Also, you are able to take courses that may not be near you geographically, but which most closely match your interests and career aspirations. Online courses should be comparable to on-campus courses in terms of content.

One of the most important aspects to consider, as mentioned previously, is accreditation. For your degree to be taken seriously by employers and other schools, the online school you attend must be accredited. When possible, the degree program itself should be accredited by industry accreditation organizations.

For the hospitality management field, see these resources for accreditation information:

Course of Study

The associate’s degree coursework will be almost entirely focused on industry-specific classes.

Bachelor’s programs will have significant general education components as well as some business classes, along with specific courses relating to the major/industry. The mix of coursework will depend on whether the degree program is specialist or generalist. This will be clear in the name of the degree program.

Master’s degree programs have a similar structure to the bachelor’s programs, with generalist and specialist degrees available. For admission to master’s programs you will need an undergraduate degree and to demonstrate either study in a related field or work experience sufficient to prepare you for the upper-division courses. You will have to take some prerequisites (typically in business administration areas) if your undergraduate degree was not related to business administration, finance or marketing. Neither the associate’s degree programs nor the bachelor’s programs will typically have prerequisites to begin studying.

In addition to any business courses, like accounting and marketing, expect to take at least some courses on the following topics when working on your degree:

  • feasibility studies
  • foodservice management
  • human resources management
  • convention sales and service
  • hospitality and tourism law
  • sanitation
  • introduction to tourism
  • purchasing
  • quantity food production and service
  • resort, cruise, and entertainment operations
  • lodging management/operations
  • beverage management
  • service operations management


Careers with a BA or BS in hospitality management, hospitality and tourism, or service industry management:

Corporate travel manager

Manage and facilitate travel and lodging of employees, seeking both the satisfaction of employees and keeping costs low for the company

Restaurant manager

Responsible for all aspects of running the restaurant, including the financial, operational, human resource, and procurement aspects, often through area managers.

Travel agency manager

Manage a team of travel agents, either in a boutique agency or a large, international company.

Convention/event planner

Event planning is an operational position. You must plan and oversee conventions, group meetings, and trade shows, handling staff and coordinating services.

Careers requiring advanced degrees or degrees in other fields:

General manager (hotel, resort, golf course, etc.)

Ultimately responsible for all of what happens at the site, working primarily with employees through middle management.

Corporate Office executive positions (sales, marketing, finance, HR, operations)

When working at the corporate level you are responsible for a specific set of results related to job functions across many locations, possibly the entire company, nationally or internationally.

Hospitality Consultant

Provides expert advice to companies on how to improve practices, processes, and financial results by implementing “best in class” practices and management programs.

Scholarship Directory

Licensing, Certifications, and Exams

Licensing and certification is not mandatory for the majority of the positions in hospitality-related industries. However, there are certifications available. These add an additional stamp of approval to your education and professional background. They may also allow you to network with peers and possibly access employment opportunities published with member organizations.

  • General Manager: Certified Hotel Administrator
The Certified Hotel Administrator (CHA®) is the most prestigious certification available to a hotel general manager and hospitality executive.
  • Department Heads: There are certifications available for many of the department heads including food and beverage managers, hospitality facilities executives, hospitality trainers, lodging security directors, and many others.
  • Event/Meeting Manager: Certified Meeting Professional
  • Sommelier (wine expert) is the big exception to the certification norm in this industry. Sommeliers have a four-stage certification process that prepares them to offer the highest levels of service in this specialized field and also be recognized for their expertise. The certifications are recognized internationally.

Additional Resources for Certification information

Future Outlook for Primary Career

The hospitality industry is one of the largest industry sectors in terms of employment and economic impact in the United States. It is a highly human-capital intensive (needs lots of people) industry meaning they always need good people – and you aren’t likely to get displaced by technology. There are generally a wide variety of entry-level positions available at all times. The industry is growing steadily and offers many opportunities for long and interesting careers, many of which can include travel and relocation.

The leisure/hospitality industry tends to promote from within, so investing in a specialized degree and working with the industry can provide for a long career. It is also worth noting that the careers in this industry are not necessarily linear but allow for lateral movement and “reinventing yourself” to find the areas that best suit you. In fact, it is common for hotel general managers and top management to be rotated through all the different areas of the hotel/business to get hands-on experience and a deep understanding of all aspects of the business.

The United States Department of Labor – Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides data, analysis and projections on job growth, expectations, and salaries. While there is variation depending on the specific positions, the employment growth expected in the sector should be strong at 5 to 35% growth over 10 years. The entry-level and mid-management positions are expected to show the slowest growth, while positions regarding events, convention and meeting planning, and sales should expand quickly.

Salary expectations

Salaries in the hospitality industry tend to be somewhat low, in general because there is typically a large supply of qualified workers for entry-level positions. On average, salaries range from $20,000 to $30,000 annually for jobs in foodservice, food preparation, front desk, security, and housekeeping. Having an associate’s degree will help you get to the top of that range and prepare you for additional responsibility.

Bachelor’s degrees in hospitality management and related areas will prepare you for more skilled and higher paying positions, including line manager, events manager, lodging manager, and food services manager. These earn $40,000-48,000 per year on average. General managers, department managers, and corporate executives will benefit from advanced degrees. They can expect to earn $60,000 – $100,000 or more per year.

Marketable Skills

One of the great things about a degree in hospitality management is that the skills are highly transferrable, especially within sectors of the industry, but also to related industries, such as retail.

These skills include:

  • Customer service skills
  • Customer experience skills
  • Communications skills
  • Sales skills
  • Problem resolution skills
  • Patience and grace under pressure
  • Time management skills
  • Prioritization
  • Attention to detail
  • Multi-tasking
  • Project management skills in some areas (like event planning)
  • “Soft skills” (emotional intelligence) – highly valued by employers, including: teamwork, work ethic, positive attitude, flexibility, problem resolution and analytical skills

Undergraduate Internships

Internships are not generally required in most degree programs for careers in the hospitality and leisure industry. This does not mean that they are not available, nor does it mean that they are not beneficial. Internships are a great way to get your foot in the door at a company and build experience in a job and an industry.

The following is a list of internship possibilities for a hospitality management major:

  • Planning events
  • Selling services to corporate clients
  • Assisting in restaurant management
  • Assisting in food preparation and service
  • Waiting on guests
  • Acting as concierge
  • Servicing VIP clients as a customer experience professional
  • Assisting the general manager
  • Assisting department managers

Professional Associations

  • American Hotel & Lodging Association(AH&LA): Professional association that provides career services and information on the field in addition to other services.
  • Meeting Professionals International (MPI): Provides education and certification, a career portal to help match employers and job seekers, and more.
  • The International Ecotourism Society(TIES): This non-profit organization is specialized for eco-tourism professionals. They offer many unique resources for those in the booming environmental tourism industry.
  • National Restaurant Association(NRA): The NRA is a good source for career information and development opportunities for those who work in, or want to work in, the restaurant and food service industries.

Suggested Online Degree Programs

There are many reputable, accredited schools offering degrees in Hospitality Management and related fields. Most schools will have different tuition rates for resident and non-resident students. Check locations and tuition costs carefully as, even though the degree may be online, where it is offered is important.