The people major: parks, recreation and tourism management

Vanessa Infanzon

Photo by Clemson University

Do you love to travel or be outdoors? Were you the best counselor at camp? Were national parks your family’s go-to vacation spot – and you looked forward to it each year?

You can make a career based on these interests. Tourism and visitor’s bureaus, national and state parks, country clubs and city recreation organizations need people with training in parks, recreation and tourism management.

Here’s information about the parks, recreation and tourism major:

What is a parks, recreation and tourism management major?

The parks, recreation and tourism management degree is a professional program offered at several schools in the Carolinas, including Appalachian State University, North Carolina State University, Clemson University, East Carolina University, Western Carolina University and UNC Greensboro.

The Council on Accreditation of Parks, Recreation, Tourism and Related Professions (COAPRT) is the accrediting body of the National Recreation and Park Association. You can find information about jobs, on-going training, certifications and professional conferences on the websites.

Lauren Duffy, assistant professor in the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management in the College of Behavioral, Social, and Health Sciences at Clemson University, explains that it’s a discovery major because it’s not one that students have heard about from parents, friends or other sources.

“Students don’t know who we are until they get to campus,” she said. “A lot of our students come over during their sophomore year.”

Clemson students tour Nashville. Photo by Clemson University

What classes are offered in this major?

At Clemson, there are five concentrations within the major: travel and tourism, parks and conservation management, recreational therapy, community sport and camp management, and professional golf management. Classes emphasize management with topics such as human resources and administration. There are classes about finance, programming and events. As part of their program, students gain hands-on experience by coordinating festivals, parades, fundraisers and corporate events with local organizations.

Clemson students complete a practicum as part of their studies. “It is meant to give them clinical experience working with people in the settings,” Duffy said. Some have worked in hospitals, nursing homes, convention and visitor’s bureaus, and camps.

At N.C. State, Lincoln Larson is an assistant professor in the Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism Management in the College of Natural Resources. The program’s concentration areas are program management, parks and natural resources, and sustainable tourism. Like Clemson, the classes have management and program planning components. They also discuss community health and why recreation is important. During lab classes, students visit parks weekly and talk with professionals in the field.

“We work through a real problem they’re dealing with,” Larson said.

Students also complete an internship with a 400-hour requirement. Students in N.C. State’s program have interned with the U.S. National Park Service, YMCA, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, hotels, professional sports teams and the Chamber of Commerce.

Parks, recreation and tourism management students work together to help plan the future of downtown Raleigh’s next premier public space: Dorothea Dix Park. Photo by N.C. State University

What strengths and interests does a student need to succeed in this major?

“The absolutely essential skill that people need to possess is enthusiasm for working with people,” Larson said. “This is a people profession, and every aspect requires you to interact with people on a daily basis.”

Strong oral and written communication skills, flexibility, adaptability, the ability to be a team player and lead groups, live a healthy and active lifestyle and problem-solve are all essential strengths to succeed in this major.

Duffy adds that students in this program have a desire to improve the community and quality of life. “You walk out often making an impact in your local communities,” she said. “You have to have the desire to leave the world a better place.”

Students volunteer at a senior citizens center in Cary. Photo by Roger Winstead, N.C. State University

What kinds of careers do graduates pursue with a degree in parks, recreation and tourism management?

Depending on graduates’ focus and interests, they may work for the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, a city’s convention and visitor’s bureau, a golf resort, a municipal parks and recreation department, a private travel or adventure company, or an event planning company.

“There’s also increasing prominence in the private sector in outdoor recreation industry jobs and parks and recreation specifically,” Larson said. “If you think about the outdoor adventure providers who are creating trip experiences for people: It’s rapidly increasing.”


Vanessa Infanzon is a freelance writer based in Charlotte. In her former life, she worked in Student Life at Davidson College, UNC Charlotte and Queens University of Charlotte. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @morethanVMI.