In this introduction to his series of resources for English learners in the Hospitality and Tourism industry, Keith Harding provides some tips for using the materials, including teaching pre-work and in-work students, mixed ability classes and how to balance grammar and vocabulary with a focus on communication and functional language.

The language of Hospitality and Tourism

Hospitality and Tourism is often described as 'the pleasure industry' or 'the welcome industry'. It's an industry where communication is the key feature. It's also an international industry and will involve a range of intercultural encounters. The language of this industry is quite clearly English in a global context. Still, it is also the language of meeting needs, providing high service levels, understanding people, delighting people, and solving problems.

From a teaching point of view, the emphasis is on functional language – giving information, making recommendations, dealing with problems, and creating realistic situational practice where language functions can be demonstrated and developed alongside essential service-oriented performance.

A word about grammar and vocabulary

Grammar will be important, but, as with most ESP (English for Specific Purposes), grammar should be treated as the slave, not the master. The order in which learners will meet grammatical forms may not be the same as in a general-English or secondary school course. Question forms, for example, are fundamental and tend to be used more frequently than affirmative and negative statements. Past tenses occur less regularly than present and future forms.

Because nearly everyone travels, the specialized vocabulary of Hospitality and Tourism will be familiar to teachers and general English users to a greater extent than in other ESP subjects (for example,  package tours, five-star hotels, travel agents, tour operators, etc.). However, there will still be some less well-known technical lexis. Do you know what a TIC, pax, or a fam trip is?

As with other ESP subjects, it is not just the technical but also the semi-technical, or enabling, vocabulary that is important. Think of the verbs that are used when you check in at a hotel: fill in the form, take the lift, insert your card, breakfast is served, enjoy your stay, and so on. Collocation and context are important.

What does the series cover?

This series of lessons looks at several different Hospitality and Tourism encounters:

  • Giving information
  • Checking in at hotels and airports
  • Tour-guiding
  • Working as a holiday rep
  • Providing hospitality at tourism events
  • Travel agency situations

Each of these focuses on different functions and situations, but all have in common the general underlying feature of working with and interacting with the public to establish a particular result, whether it's checking someone into a hotel, solving a problem, or helping someone to choose and book a holiday.

They will involve a variety of media: not just face-to-face, but also telephone, email, websites, and printed information. The same core principles exist in all instances: service – function – register.

How to use the material

The lesson plans and worksheets provide the basic tools for your lessons. They are designed to be useable with large groups, small groups, and, in most cases, one-to-one classes as well.

Remember that Hospitality and Tourism classrooms are usually bright, lively places in which smiling professional providers meet pleasure-seeking tourists. Ideally, you will have a flexible furniture arrangement to act out dialogues and role-plays, and walls will be decorated with colourful brochures and maps to make the learning environment attractive and relevant. Homework and coursework should be practical and interesting, with real-life tasks rather than dry mechanical exercises. Teaching (and learning) Hospitality and Tourism is fun!


Teaching ESP has great rewards, but it also has challenges. Because of the nature of the subject, Hospitality and Tourism probably suffers less than other ESP subjects, but it is important to be aware of them – and how to deal with them. Here are some ideas:

Mixed levels and abilities: The fact that the learners have the subject in common often overcomes this challenge, but you should know your students' strengths and weaknesses, mix them, and group them accordingly.

Motivation: Some vocational learners can lack motivation in 'English' (particularly if they have not enjoyed their previous language learning experience). Keep the materials bright, interesting, and focused on the subject and the students' interests. Let the topic and the subject lead the language work, not the other way around.

In-work / Pre-work: If you have students working in Hospitality and Tourism already, they will be able to bring relevant experiences to the classroom, and you can tailor delivery to their needs. For pre-work students, you will need to set up contexts and situations very clearly, drawing on any experience they have of using hospitality services but making sure they switch to the provider/professional role.

Teacher knowledge: Some ESP teachers worry that their understanding of the subject will not be as good as that of their students. You need to stay one step ahead of the learner by reading about topics and subjects. However, it is also acceptable for you to tap into your learners' knowledge and get them to explain concepts and procedures.

Above all, remember to 'keep it real'. That way it will be fun for the teacher as well as benefit the learner. Enjoy!