Staggering Tourism Employment Losses Far Exceed Overall Economy

Tourism employment decreased for the second month in a row in November, falling by 34,400 jobs, a 2.1% decrease from October. (Data is from the week of November 8 to 14.)

Unlike last month, when employment losses were concentrated in Quebec, most provinces saw a loss of tourism employment in November. The greatest loss occurred in Manitoba (-13,900), followed by Quebec (-11,400) and Ontario (-10,200). The decline in Manitoba is particularly notable as it represents a loss of 22.6% of tourism employment compared to October.


  • Tourism employment declined by 34,400 in November, a decline of 2.1% from October.
  • Employment gains occurred in the transportation (23,500) and travel services industries (7,200).
  • Approximately 32,000 jobs were lost in both the food and beverage services and recreation and entertainment industries, while the accommodation industry group lost 1,300 jobs.
  • In November, the tourism sector employed 466,000 fewer people than in November 2019.
  • Despite employment losses, the tourism unemployment rate declined to 13.9% (from 14.5% in October). This was driven by a decrease in the number of unemployed individuals. The number of unemployed tourism workers dropped from 282,300 in October to 262,700 in November.
  • In tourism, employment losses since February exceed employment lost across all industries. Employment across all industries–including tourism–is down by 300,000 jobs, while tourism employment on its own is down 410,000 jobs since February.

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 November, employment (unadjusted for seasonality) across the entire Canadian economy decreased by 19,800. Overall, tourism employment dropped by 34,400 jobs due to a loss of 43,400 part-time jobs and a gain of 8,800 full time jobs.

From October to November, employment declined in the accommodation (-1.1%), food and beverage services (-3.9%), and recreation and entertainment industries (-8.1%). Employment gains occurred in the transportation (+8.1%) and travel services industries (+18.3%).

In November 2019, tourism employed 2,056,000 Canadians. This November, the sector employed 1,652,000 Canadians.

The recreation and entertainment industry lost 8.1% of its employment between October and November, due to a loss of 35,400 part-time jobs and a small gain in full-time positions. Following a 15.6% loss of employment between September and October, the accommodation industry lost an additional 1,300 positions in November. The food and beverage services industry lost 31,600 jobs in November, the second month in a row in which employment losses in that industry exceeded 30,000 positions.

November did see some employment gains in tourism industries: transportation gained 23,500 jobs and travel services gained 7,200 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.

Following two months of employment losses, the accommodation industry has lost the greatest percentage of employment relative to February, down 27.1% since the start of the pandemic. Despite having come close to getting back to February employment levels in August, the recreation and entertainment industry in November had 23.2% fewer workers than it did at the start of the pandemic. Even with two months of employment gains, the travel services industry still has 23.2% fewer employed workers than in February. Compared to February, food and beverage services employment was down 19.2% and transportation down 15.1%.

On a year-over-year basis, seasonally unadjusted employment across all Canadian industries was down 3.2% from November 2019. In comparison, tourism employment was down 22.3% from the same month a year ago. Employment losses in tourism currently make up 75% of all year-over-year employment losses. By industry group, year-over-year employment losses in November ranged from -37.4% in accommodations to -13.5% in transportation.

Unlike last month, when employment losses were concentrated in Quebec, most provinces saw a loss of tourism employment in November. The greatest loss occurred in Manitoba (-13,900), followed by Quebec (-11,400) and Ontario (-10,200). The decline in Manitoba is particularly notable as it represents a loss of 22.6% of tourism employment compared to October.

Employment in most provinces remains below 2019 levels. In November, on a year-over-year basis, the greatest employment losses have been in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Quebec. The labour force data for November shows that tourism employment in Prince Edward Island is the same as last year. The labour force survey data can have a high degree of variability in smaller provinces. However, it is possible that due to the seasonal nature of that province’s tourism sector, local demand is sustaining employment at usual levels.

Tourism Unemployment Rate

In November 2020, the unemployment rate in the tourism sector was at 13.9%, which is 8.6 percentage points higher than the rate reported in November 2019, but lower than the previous month (October 2020), when the unemployment rate stood at 14.5%. At 13.9%, tourism’s unemployment rate was above Canada’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate of 8.0%.

All tourism industry groups have reported higher unemployment rates than the same month last year.

The tourism unemployment rate decreased despite a loss of employment. Although the number of employed individuals decreased, so did the number of unemployed individuals. The unemployment rate is calculated by taking the labour force (the total of employed and unemployed individuals) and dividing it by the number of unemployed persons whose last job was in the tourism sector. While the number of employed individuals decreased by 34,400 in November, the number of individuals considered unemployed also decreased, by 19,600. This implies two possibilities:

  1. Some of those who lost employment in November had not yet started to look for new work and were therefore not counted as unemployed.
  2. Individuals who had been unemployed in October either found work in another industry or stopped looking for work entirely. In either case, they would no longer be counted as unemployed tourism workers.

Unemployment Rate
Tourism Industry Group[1]

November 2019

October 2020

November 2020

Tourism 5.3% 14.5% 13.9%
Accommodations 8.6% 20.5% 23.6%
Food & Beverage Services 4.8% 13.4% 13.5%
Recreation & Entertainment 7.2% 16.4% 13.3%
Transportation 2.8% 11.0% 10.5%
Travel Services 4.5% 23.5% 19.4%

On a provincial basis, tourism unemployment rates ranged from 6.4% in Nova Scotia to 18.1% in Prince Edward Island.

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

Shrinking Tourism Workforce

Since 2001, the average yearly decline in tourism employment from July to November has been 2.2%. This year, the decline during the same period has been smaller because continued reopening during the summer drove employment higher in August and September. However, the employment declines in October and November have been greater than they usually are.

Average Monthly Employment Change in Tourism (2001-2019 vs. 2020)

Average Monthly Employment Change 2001 to 2019 Monthly Employment Change 2020
August -0.6% 3.2%
September -5.6% 0.2%
October -0.8% -4.1%
November -1.8% -2.1%

Seasonally unadjusted data from the labour force survey shows that overall employment in Canada is still 300,000 jobs lower than it was in February[2]. Employment within the tourism sector in November was 410,000 jobs lower than it was in February. The fact that employment losses in tourism have now exceed the total employment losses in the economy suggests that former tourism employees are either dropping out of the labour force (i.e., not seeking employment) or have found employment in other industries.

Further investigation is needed to determine exactly what is happening to these tourism workers. It is difficult to draw strong conclusions due the labour market volatility being created by Canada’s second wave of COVID-19, and the resulting second wave of business restrictions. For example, the decrease in unemployed workers may be partly due to laid-off workers waiting to return to their jobs once restrictions lift, rather than seeking new employment.

Still, we do know that some sectors have gained employment through the pandemic while others have not. Construction, wholesale trade, the professional/scientific sector, and education services, among other sectors, have all gained employment since February, while for other sectors employment is below where it was in February. Tourism-related industries remain the hardest hit by far. The decline in the overall unemployment rate suggests at least some workers are moving to those industries less affected by the pandemic.


[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.
[2] Seasonally adjusted employment is still 573,800 jobs lower than it was in February.

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