The travel industry is losing increasing numbers of graduate entrants through a failure to be sufficiently professional, according to a leading academic.

Professor Rhodri Thomas told the Institute of Travel and Tourism Conference: “I challenge you to think about the extent to which the sector offers professional careers because new graduates are finding the sector less appealing.

“Latest statistics show a steady decline in students accepting places on travel courses, from 5,000 in 2001 to about half that in 2005. The number of bright, young, ambitious people wanting to enter the industry is declining.”

Thomas, the ITT chair at Leeds Metropolitan University, said his own research suggests a significant proportion of travel and tourism graduates do not intend to enter the industry.

He surveyed more than 900 graduates and found 40% undecided or not intending to work in the industry, and the proportion increases with the length of time students study.

“By the time students reach the exit point they are less enthusiastic than when they started,” said Thomas. “We have occupations in travel and tourism that are less appealing than they used to be.”

In a separate survey of 200 ITT members Thomas found one-third felt graduates did not add to the professionalism of the travel industry.

He contrasted this situation with the attitude to professional qualifications in other sectors, such as town planning and financial services as well as law and accountancy, which stress expertise based on long training and closed entry to professional associations.