Numbers Game: Defining Tourism Employment Stats

Have you noticed that the number of people working in tourism seems to vary? You go to one presentation and there are 1.8 million people in tourism. At another, there are 1.78 million, and at yet another, the number drops to fewer than a million. And those are just the national numbers—forget the provincial and territorial ones. Why the inconsistency?

For one, the number of people working in tourism has been growing—rapidly. Over the past several years, the tourism sector has been adding jobs at a faster rate than the overall economy. Some of the confusion stems from new yearly numbers being released and used, while job numbers from past years are still being quoted in reports and presentations. For example, the 2011 census counted 1.6 million people employed in tourism. The 2016 census had over 1.8 million (1,833,190 to be exact). Until the 2016 census data was recently released, the 2011 data was still being used, and it takes a while for everyone to make the shift.

But what about that 1.78 million number? In short: the census isn’t the only source of information on tourism jobs. To explain why there are so many numbers out there, let’s examine the three datasets commonly used by Tourism HR Canada.

The census is our most recent dataset, counting 1.8 million people working in the tourism sector in 2016. The census is based on individual Canadians self-reporting a number of demographic factors about themselves, including their jobs and the industry in which they work. This makes it our most detailed dataset. Whenever you see a statistic such as 26% of tourism workers are immigrants, we are using census data. The census captures very detailed data, but only every fifth year, and the data is for a single point in time—usually April or May. Were the census taken in July or August—the height of Canada’s tourism season—it would likely show an even higher number of people working in tourism. If it were taken in January, it would show a lower number.

A second dataset we use evens out the monthly fluctuations in tourism employment and provides information for the years in between censuses. This is the Provincial-Territorial Human Resource Module (PTHRM). The PTHRM provides detailed information on the number of jobs in the tourism sector by province and territory. Unlike the census, the PTHRM counts jobs, not individuals. Also, it captures full-year jobs. A full-year job is defined as regular work for the period of one year, regardless of the number of hours per week. If the work exists for only a fraction of a year, then it only counts as the corresponding fraction of a job. The latest PTHRM is available for the years 1997 to 2015. In 2015, it showed there were 1.78 million full-year tourism jobs in Canada.

Finally, the labour force survey (LFS) can be used to show the level of employment and unemployment in tourism. Generally, we only use the LFS to show unemployment, to avoid confusion with employment numbers available from the census and PTHRM. However, we occasionally draw on the LFS when we need to show the monthly fluctuations in employment that occur within the tourism sector. The LFS surveys a sample of Canadian households—representing roughly 56,000 individuals each month. As a sample, it is prone to more variability than the census or PTHRM. But, at the national level, it can give us a good picture of monthly employment trends.

Labour Force Survey: Monthly Labour Force Size January 2011 to June 2018

The labour force survey also provides annual averages of employment. These tend to show a higher level of employment in tourism than the PTHRM or census. This is partly due to the level of refinement in the datasets: the LFS includes some sub-industries that are removed from the PTHRM. But it is also partly due to the PTHRM showing the number of jobs, whereas the LFS covers the entire labour force and includes both the employed—who are filling jobs—and the unemployed, who are not. However, even if we only consider employed individuals, the LFS does tend to show the tourism sector being a larger employer than the PTHRM or census do.

Tourism Jobs and Employees (Census, PTHRM and Labour Force Survey)

All three datasets covered so far show the total number of either people or jobs that exist within the tourism sector. But, there is another measure of tourism employment. This one measures the total number of jobs in the Canadian economy that are caused by tourists spending money. Not every job in the tourism sector is due to tourists. For example, the restaurant industry derives about 20% of its revenue from tourists—enough for it to be considered part of the tourism sector, but 80% of revenue and therefore about 80% of restaurant jobs are due to local residents.

In Canada, the national tourism indicators (NTI) track the number of jobs directly caused by tourism spending. These numbers are often used by destination marketing organizations because their mandate is to increase the number of tourists and local spending is less of a concern. The NTI reports the number of “jobs due to tourism”, whereas the datasets used by Tourism HR Canada report “jobs in tourism industries”. The difference is significant: in 2015 there were 1.78 million jobs in tourism industries, but 708,000 jobs directly caused by tourism spending.

Jobs in Tourism Industries (PTHRM) vs Jobs Due to Tourism (NTI)

Regardless of the dataset, the takeaway should be the rapid growth of tourism. The data that examine jobs in tourism industries show the tourism sector is growing at a faster rate than the economy as a whole. From 2011 to 2016, the census showed an increase of 3.8% in the number of employed individuals in Canada. And in tourism? An increase of 11.0%. Similarly, from 2011 to 2015, the PTHRM showed an overall growth rate of 4.0% in Canadian jobs, but 7.0% growth for tourism.