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Tourism Counts: One Quarter of August Job Growth in Tourism Sector

In August, tourism employment increased by 54,300 jobs, the smallest monthly gain since tourism employment began to recover in May.

Tourism employment dropped by 881,700 jobs through March and April. The sector has now gained back 572,200 of those lost jobs. But summer is the height of Canada’s tourism season, and on a year-over-year basis tourism employed 463,400 fewer individuals than it did in August 2019.


  • Tourism added 54,300 jobs in August — one quarter of Canada’s seasonally unadjusted job growth.
  • Ontario was responsible for the majority of employment growth, adding 41,300 jobs.
  • The tourism unemployment rate has fallen to 17.1%, which remains 6.1 percentage points higher than the overall unemployment rate.
  • On a year-over-year basis, seasonally unadjusted employment across all Canadian industries was down 5.3% from August 2019. In comparison, tourism employment was down 21.2% from the same month a year ago.

Please note: To allow comparisons with tourism sector data, which sees significant employment fluctuations over the year, we use seasonally unadjusted data for both tourism employment and overall employment.

Tourism Employment Rate

In the tourism sector, the seasonally unadjusted labour force survey data shows that the number of employed individuals grew by 54,300—an increase of 3.2%. Most of the added employment occurred in Ontario, which added 41,300 jobs, 76.1% of the total employment gain. This was driven by the reopening of businesses in the Greater Toronto Area and Peel region, which did not enter Stage 3 of Ontario’s reopening plan until the end of July.

Over four months of increases, tourism has gained 572,200 jobs. However, tourism employment is still below pre-COVID levels and well below the level of employment seen in August 2019. Employment levels were 15.2% below February 2020 and 21.2% lower than August 2019.

Last August, tourism employed over 2.2 million Canadians. This August, just over 1.7 million Canadians worked in the tourism sector.

In August, employment (unadjusted for seasonality) across the entire Canadian economy increased by 219,900 jobs. The increase in tourism employment accounted for 24.7% of that overall increase.

Despite overall employment increases, the travel services and transportation industry groups lost employment in August. Travel services lost 2,500 jobs and the transportation industry lost 4,800 jobs. In the case of transportation, this was the second straight month of losses. The food and beverage services industry gained 34,900 jobs, followed by accommodation (a gain of 18,700) and recreation and entertainment (8,000 jobs added). As a percentage of July’s employment levels, the accommodation industry had the strongest gains, as the additional 18,700 jobs represented an increase of 13.6% compared to July.

Overall, 78.8% of August’s employment gains were full-time jobs. However, the recreation and entertainment industry lost 2,100 full-time jobs while gaining 10,100 part-time jobs. The food and beverage services industry, on the other hand, gained 36,000 full-time jobs and lost 1,100 part-time jobs.

Because the industry groups that make up tourism are different sizes, looking at the monthly change in employment as a percentage change relative to the previous month provides a more equitable picture of how each industry is doing. It also helps illustrate the size of the employment increases, relative to the employment decreases that occurred in past months.

Employment in all industry groups remains below pre-COVID levels. This is despite four months in which overall tourism employment increased. As tourism employment usually begins to drop in the fall, it is likely that the coming months will see a return of employment losses. Employment in the recreation and entertainment industry is only 1.8% below February levels and employment in the accommodation industry is only 6.5% below February levels. However, the situation in the other three tourism industry groups is more dire. Employment in the travel services industry group is still down 42.8% and employment in transportation is 31.9% lower than February. Employment in the food and beverage services industry is 15.1% lower than it was before the COVID-19 shutdowns.

July and August are a peak time in demand and employment for the tourism sector. Therefore, it is important to compare year-over-year employment, as March is usually a low point for tourism employment. Starting in April, jobs are steadily added until a July or August peak. Under normal circumstances, tourism employment drops again as the summer tourism season ends.

On a year-over-year basis, seasonally unadjusted employment across all Canadian industries was down 5.3% from August 2019. In comparison, tourism employment was down 21.2% from the same month a year ago, although it is an improvement over July, when tourism employment was down 25.0% from the same month a year earlier. By industry group, year-over-year employment losses in June ranged from -35.0% in travel services to -16.5% in food and beverage services.

Ontario was the main source of additional employment in August, adding 41,300 jobs. Although sub-provincial tourism employment data is not available, it is likely that the Greater Toronto Area and Peel are responsible for the increase. Those regions did not reach Stage 3 of Ontario’s reopening plan until the end of July. Thus, businesses reopening in those regions are the main drivers of the overall employment trend in August.

The normal employment trend in August is a small increase—or even a decrease—in employment compared to July. Outside of Ontario, the employment trend followed this historical pattern. For example, British Columbia gained 5,800 tourism jobs, while Quebec shed 1,000 tourism jobs and New Brunswick lost 500 tourism jobs. All other provinces recorded small gains.

Compared to last year, employment in all provinces remained well below last summer’s levels. In August, Manitoba and British Columbia were closest to last summer’s employment levels being “only” 10.6% and 11.9% below the employment levels of August 2019. Despite employment gains, Prince Edward Island, Ontario, and Saskatchewan remained the farthest from last summer’s employment levels for the second month in a row.

Tourism Unemployment Rate

The overall and tourism unemployment rates decreased in August. Tourism unemployment fell slightly to 17.1% from 18.7% in July. By industry, the unemployment rate was highest in travel services, at 27.2%.

In August 2020, the unemployment rate in the tourism sector was at 17.1%, which is 12.2 percentage points higher than the rate reported in August 2019, and lower than the previous month (July 2020) when the unemployment rate stood at 18.7%.

At 17.1%, tourism’s unemployment rate was above Canada’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate of 11.0%.

The unemployment rate dropped in four of the five industry groups that make up the tourism sector, while it rose in the transportation industry.

Unemployment Rate
Tourism Industry Group[1]

August 2019

July 2020

August 2020

Tourism 4.9% 18.7% 17.1%
Accommodations 5.1% 25.7% 21.3%
Food & Beverage Services 5.3% 17.0% 16.2%
Recreation & Entertainment 4.6% 20.6% 18.1%
Transportation 5.3% 14.6% 15.0%
Travel Services N/A 27.2% 21.7%

On a provincial basis, tourism unemployment rates ranged from 8.1% in Newfoundland and Labrador to 18.6% in Ontario.

The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates for tourism in each province, with the exception of Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, and Manitoba, were above the rates reported for the provincial economy.

Total Actual Hours Worked by Sector

Much like July, the number of actual hours worked in August decreased in many sectors, due to summer vacations. The significant drop in hours worked in the education sector is due to the closure of schools for summer. The number of actual hours worked in tourism-related sectors continued to increase. In August, the number of actual hours worked increased by 12.5% in the accommodation and food services sector, but decreased slightly—by 0.1%—in the information, culture and recreation sector. Accommodation and food services employees worked 26.5 million hours, fewer than the 31 million hours they worked in February and almost 10 million hours fewer than the 36.1 million hours worked in August 2019.

Workers in the information, culture and recreation sector worked 26.6 million hours in August 2019. This August, they worked a total of 20.9 million hours.

As a percentage, COVID-19 caused a greater reduction in hours worked than in employment in these two sectors. This continues to be true in the information and culture sector, where employment is actually higher than it was in February, despite hours worked still being lower. The reduction in hours of work and employment in accommodation and food services is now roughly the same, with both still below February levels.


Employment by Age Group and Gender

Employment continued to rebound for all age groups in August after a mixed result in July. The summer has been helpful for youth employment. The 15-24 age group is the only one in which employment is above pre-COVID levels. This trend is being driven by summer employment which boosts employment among young people who are available to work when they are not in school. Employment among this age group is likely to fall back over the next few months as seasonal businesses close and young people return to school. Indeed, on a year-over-year basis, youth employment has greater losses than any other age group. This shows that this summer’s youth employment increase has not been as great as in the past. Also worrisome is the significant loss of employment among those over the age of 65.

Employment levels for male and female workers increased by roughly the same percentage in August (1.1% and 1.4%, respectively). For males and females aged 15 to 24, the August increase in employment was the same (1.4%). However, for both females overall and females aged 15 to 24, the employment recovery since February has not been as strong. For males, employment is only 1.0% below February levels, while female employment is still 5.8% below February levels. For males and females aged 15 to 24, employment has surpassed the levels seen in February, but the recovery has been stronger for males.

On a year-over-year basis, the narrative is similar. Female employment losses since August 2019 are just over a percentage point greater than those of males. Among youth, the year-over-year change in employment is more equitable: both males and females who are 15 to 24 have lost approximately the same percentage of employment.

Autumn Employment Predicted to Fall

As expected, August brought a further employment increase in tourism, but the employment growth rate slowed. Most of the employment increase came from regions of Canada that had not started their final reopening phase when July labour force data was collected.

Going into September, expect to see employment drop for the tourism sector and for young workers. These may be muted somewhat in September by continued demand for patio dining and the continued use of outdoor recreation. Yet some decline is inevitable as summer vacations end and student workers return to school. While clubs and banquet halls must once again close in British Columbia due to COVID-19, other businesses focused on indoor recreational activities, such as museums and casinos, are just beginning to reopen. At the regional and industry level, employment will be highly volatile for some time.

With the border closed, Canadians looking to travel this autumn will need to consider the Canadian travel options available to them, instead of trips outside the country. While Canadians are still showing hesitancy to welcoming visitors from other parts of Canada, they are much more comfortable with domestic travel than they are welcoming visitors from outside the country. Any employment growth this autumn will need to be driven by demand from locals and Canadians travelling within the country.

Canada’s tourism sector is seasonal, and with the significant headwinds faced by the industry we are projecting employment declines in tourism during the fourth quarter of 2020 and in the first quarter of 2021, with a full recovery to 2019 levels is not expected until 2023.

[1] As defined by the Canadian Tourism Satellite Account. The NAICS industries included in the tourism sector are those that would cease to exist or operate at a significantly reduced level of activity as a direct result of an absence of tourism.

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