Month: June 2021

Despite ongoing public health restrictions that limited tourism businesses’ ability to operate, the sector gained employment in May, adding 45,800 workers. Gains in full-time employment were offset to a degree by declines in part-time employment.

The seasonally adjusted Labour Force Survey data for May shows employment across all industries decreased by 68,000. However, the unadjusted data shows an increase in employment of 288,700.

Why the large discrepancy? In most years, employment increases significantly between April and May as seasonal businesses scale up hiring. From 2015 to 2019, the average increase in seasonally unadjusted employment between April and May was 407,800. Last May, seasonally unadjusted employment grew by 634,600 as businesses started to rebound from the initial shutdowns that occurred at the start of the pandemic. Seasonally adjusted employment data takes into account these historical trends, and when that is done, this May’s employment increase is historically small. So small that the seasonally adjusted data interprets it as a loss of employment.

Data is from the week of May 9 to 15, 2021.


  • Tourism employment grew by 45,800, an increase of 3.0% from April.
  • In May 2021, tourism employed 1,551,900 workers, which is 306,200 more than in May of last year. But compared to the same month pre-pandemic, tourism employment is down 25.8%, with 538,500 fewer workers employed compared to May 2019.
  • The largest employment gains occurred in the recreation and entertainment, and food and beverage services industries.
  • Tourism employment increased in all provinces, except for Nova Scotia. Employment climbed 13.0% in Prince Edward Island and 7.8% in Saskatchewan. Despite continuing restrictions, Ontario added 23,900 tourism workers.
  • Tourism employment amongst youth grew 9.75% in May.
  • In May, tourism employment was down 23.4% compared to February 2020. The total actual hours worked by tourism employees was down 26.1%, from 64.0 billion hours to 41.5 billion hours.

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 April, seasonally unadjusted employment across all industries increased by 288,700. Tourism employment grew by 45,800, an increase of 3.0% from April. This was a relatively small increase in tourism employment for the month of May. Between 2015 and 2019, the average May increase in tourism employment was 95,620. The smaller increase was due to public health restrictions, which affects tourism to a greater degree than most other industries. The tourism sector accounted for 15.8% of employment gains in May. Usually, tourism accounts for about a quarter of employment added in the month of May.

In May 2021, tourism employed 1,551,900 workers, which is 306,200 more than in May of last year. But compared to the same month pre-pandemic, tourism employment is down 25.8%, with 538,500 fewer workers employed compared to May 2019.

Full-time tourism employment increased by 61,300, while the number of part-time tourism positions fell by 15,500. Employment increased in three of the five tourism industry groups, while declining by 6,300 in transportation and by 600 in travel services. The largest employment gains occurred in the recreation and entertainment, and food and beverage services industries, which gained 27,200 and 24,600 employees apiece.

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 recovering. It also helps illustrate the size of the employment increase or decrease, relative to total employment within a given industry group. Tourism employment is now down 23.4% compared to February 2020, the last month before pandemic-related employment losses began.

Change in employment levels in May ranged from a loss of 2.1% in the transportation industry to a gain of 7.6% in the recreation and entertainment industry.

Since the first month prior to the pandemic, employment is down 31.2% in accommodations, 27.1% in travel services, 25.1% in food and beverage services, 21.7% in transportation, and 17.9% in recreation and entertainment.

Although businesses faced significant restrictions due to public health orders associated with the third wave of the pandemic, tourism employment in May was 24.6% higher than it was last year, when businesses were just starting to reopen following the first pandemic-induced shutdown. Compared to May 2019, however, tourism employment was down 25.8%.  Compared to 2019, the accommodations industry had the greatest percentage decrease in employment, but employment levels remain depressed in all industry groups.

Provincial Tourism Employment

Tourism employment increased in all provinces, except for Nova Scotia. Employment climbed 13.0% in Prince Edward Island and 7.8% in Saskatchewan. Despite continuing restrictions, Ontario added 23,900 tourism workers.

The fact that tourism employment increased in provinces where restrictions were ongoing—or, in some cases, tightened—indicates that businesses are trying to prepare for the summer months as best they can, and that includes adding staff. Importantly, at the time data was collected, only Saskatchewan had produced an official reopening plan. Since then, several provinces have produced timelines and milestones that will allow business owners to predict when they will reopen. Due to this increased certainty, employment should increase significantly in June—even if restrictions are still in place when data is collected.

In every province except Newfoundland, tourism employment was higher this May than it was in May 2020. Compared to 2019, provincial tourism employment is well below pre-COVID levels, ranging from -6.2% in New Brunswick to -35.2% in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Tourism Unemployment Rate

The seasonally unadjusted tourism unemployment rate decreased from 11.3% to 9.8%. This was the second month in which the unemployment rate dropped. In April, it fell from 13.0% to 11.3%.

May’s decrease will partially be due to the increase in employment. But stakeholders should be aware that Statistics Canada only links unemployed workers to their former industry for one calendar year. After that, they are counted as unclassified. After over a year in which employment has been reduced due to the ongoing pandemic, the tourism unemployment rate—and by extension the unemployment rate for any industry—should be used with caution. The decreasing unemployment rate does not necessarily mean that tourism workers who have been unemployed for over a year have found a new job or dropped out of the labour force.

The number of unemployed workers in the “unclassified” category has increased from 571,800 in March to 777,400 in April, and reached 880,500 this month.

In May 2021, the unemployment rate in the tourism sector was 9.8%, which is 20.0 percentage points lower than the rate reported in May 2020, and lower than the previous month (April 2021), when the unemployment rate stood at 11.3%.

At 9.8%, tourism’s unemployment rate was above Canada’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate of 8.4%.

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

Unemployment Rate
Tourism Industry Group[1]

May 2020

April 2021

May 2021

Tourism 29.8% 11.3% 9.8%
Accommodations 34.4% 16.2% 13.0%
Food & Beverage Services 35.0% 11.6% 10.9%
Recreation & Entertainment 29.3% 13.1% 12.6%
Transportation 13.3% 6.7% 2.7%
Travel Services 30.4% 7.4% N/A

On a provincial basis, tourism unemployment rates ranged from 8.0% in New Brunswick to 17.3% in Prince Edward Island.

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

The Tourism Labour Force

The tourism labour force grew in May due to the increased number of employed workers. The labour force grew by 24,100, a combination of 45,800 workers gaining employment and the number of unemployed workers falling by 21,700. The tourism labour force is the smallest it has been in decades, with the exception of April 2021, when many individuals lost work and were unable to seek another job while the economy was shut down.

Employment by Sector

As of May, Canada’s tourism sector employed 473,300 fewer people than it had in February 2020. Across all industries, there were only 134,100 fewer people employed this May than there were in February 2020. Employment is in fact higher than it was pre-COVID in nine sectors of the economy.

That said, employment does tend to increase in a number of industries as the summer months approach. However, comparing May 2019 to May 2021 still shows that employment in tourism has decreased more than it has in the overall economy. To help eliminate seasonal swings in employment that can occur between the winter and spring, we can compare May 2019 to May 2021, which shows employment in tourism is down by 538,500, while overall employment is down 459,200. This does suggest that tourism is losing workers to other industries. Compared to May 2019, employment is up in five sectors of the economy. The finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing, and professional, scientific and technical services sectors have seen the greatest growth in employment.

The only other possibility is that employment increases in other sectors are being filled purely by former workers from non-tourism sectors or new entrants to the labour force. The reality is that higher employment levels in sectors such as utilities, construction, and finance are being filled by a mix of former workers from tourism, former workers from other sectors, and new entrants.

Hours of Work

Compared to the levels seen prior to the pandemic, total actual hours worked in the tourism sector remain significantly depressed, and to a greater degree than employment. In May, employment was down 23.4% compared to February 2020. The total actual hours worked by tourism employees was down 26.1%, from 64.0 billion hours to 41.5 billion hours. The total number of hours worked in tourism increased between April and May, rising 6.9% from 38.8 billion hours to 41.5 billion hours. Only in the recreation and entertainment industry has employment fallen more than actual hours of work. The travel services industry has the most significant gap in worker activity measures: employment is down 27.1%, but hours worked are down 39.2%.

The decrease in hours suggests that economic activity has fallen to a greater degree than employment data alone would suggest. Several factors could be behind this gap, but it is partially due to programs like the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) and other supports. The good news here is that this data suggests that there are underutilized workers still employed within the industry, thanks to supports like CEWS, and businesses are retaining workers—even at a financial loss—so that they have those employees available when demand starts to return. When it does, there is a reservoir of staffing capacity that already exists within the industry that can immediately be deployed.

Demographic Impact

Numerous studies have noticed the negative effect of COVID-19 on employment among women, immigrants, young people, and visible minorities relative to other demographic groups. To a large extent, the industries that have suffered the brunt of COVID-19 have a higher share of workers from these demographic groups than the overall Canadian labour market. Tourism, for example, has a higher percentage of jobs held by women, young people, and immigrants than the workforce as a whole. However, even within the tourism sector, COVID-19’s negative impact on employment has fallen on some demographic groups to a greater degree than others.


In May, tourism employment increased 2.3% for male tourism workers and 3.8% for female tourism workers. As a percent of pre-pandemic levels, female employment stood at 77.3% of February 2020 levels and male employment stood at 76.0% of February levels. It is too early to make any firm conclusions, but gender employment trends may be similar to last summer. In the early months of the pandemic, female tourism workers were impacted to a greater degree, but over the summer, employment among women rose higher. Last summer’s trend was likely driven by the food and beverage services industry, which is the largest employer within the tourism sector and which employs more females than males. If demand from tourists is limited this summer, those industries which draw on locals for significant revenues will recover earlier than industries that rely more on tourists. The food and beverage services industry relies on locals for 80% of its demand.

However, a countervailing trend could develop if there is significant demand in the recreation and entertainment industry. It also derives significant demand from locals, as opposed to tourists. Although it does not employ as many workers as food and beverage services, it does employ more males than females.


Tourism employs a very high share of young workers compared to the broader economy. The 2016 census showed that people aged 15 to 24 held 12.8% of all jobs in Canada. People in the same age category fill over 30% of jobs in tourism. Young people tend to be a particularly prominent part of the tourism workforce over the summer months. In July 2019, 37.0% of employed tourism workers were youth. Since the pandemic, the share of youth in the tourism workforce has declined. It is still much higher than in the broader economy and still spiked upwards in the summer of 2020—and is starting to increase again this year. However, as a percentage of the employed tourism workforce, it was 4.7 percentage points lower in May 2021 than May 2019.

Tourism employment amongst youth grew 9.75% in May. Employment decreased amongst those aged 25 to 44 and over 65. In terms of pre-pandemic employment levels, youth employment was still lagging, at only 70.5% of where it was in February 2020. All other age categories were also below their pre-pandemic levels of employment, but not to the same degree.

Immigrant Status

Employment levels amongst landed immigrants working in the tourism sector rose 1.3% in May, while employment among non-immigrants increased by 3.7%. This reflects the increased hiring of young workers (see section above), as there is a lower percentage of immigrants among younger workers aged 15-24. Employment levels among immigrants, as a percentage of pre-pandemic (February 2020) employment levels had been declining since February 2021 and only recovered slightly in May. Employment among non-immigrants has been on an upward trend since this January, with only a slight pullback in April.


Compared to the last month before the pandemic, tourism employment remained suppressed in all types of geographic regions. However, some regions have greater swings in seasonal employment, which makes it important to compare employment during the same month in previous years. This shows that as of May, the rural areas and smaller communities that are economically linked with larger urban centres have had the greatest recovery in tourism employment. Rural areas that are close to urban centres are the only region of Canada that has more employed workers than in both February 2020 and May 2019. Relative to February 2020, rural areas also show smaller increases in the number of unemployed workers in their region compared to urban cores and urban fringe areas.

Summer Outlook

Seeing employment gains in May, when most provinces had yet to lift restrictions, or even put forth reopening plans, is hopeful. It shows that even in the face of uncertainty, some tourism businesses were starting to increase staffing levels. A large increase in employment will occur in June because, in some provinces, restrictions will have eased. In others, where restrictions remain in effect, businesses have been given timelines for reopening that they can plan around.

However, in many provinces, a complete lifting of restrictions is not planned until late summer or even September—although there is a possibility that those timelines could be compressed if full vaccination speeds up. Because of this, employment levels in tourism will remain depressed relative to the pre-pandemic era. This will be particularly true for industries that rely more on tourists than locals for revenue.

But even with overall tourism employment lower than in 2019, many tourism businesses are uncertain whether they will be able to find enough workers this summer. Exactly how many workers are available for the tourism sector is a difficult question to answer.

We see some hopeful news in the gap between employment levels and actual hours being worked in the sector. The fact that hours have fallen more than employment suggests that the workforce that has been retained is currently underutilized. This means there are existing workers who can work more hours as demand ramps up.

Many Canadians remain unemployed and are available to work. However, this will be balanced by concerns people have about working in the tourism sector due to perceptions of the industry that have been negatively affected by the pandemic and lingering health concerns.

At least some former tourism workers have moved to other industries. How many is difficult to say. When comparing May 2019 to May 2021, employment in tourism is down by 538,500, while overall employment is down 459,200. This does indicate that tourism is losing workers to other industries. We know that employment has risen in other sectors of the economy, particularly the finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing, and professional, scientific and technical services sectors. These jobs are being filled by a mix of former workers from tourism, former workers from other sectors, and new entrants to the labour force. How many workers come from each group is difficult to ascertain.

For more on the impact of COVID-19 on Canada’s tourism workforce, please visit our Employment Tracker.

[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.

Workforce in Disarray

COVID-19 has caused significant disruption to the tourism labour market, much greater than the economy overall. Many workers are not going to return to jobs once they are restored, causing some of the greatest labour shortages ever seen and hampering recovery. The reasons for this are complex and solutions or ways to address the chronic shortfall require multiple strategies.

Where does one begin and what should the focus be?

Most workforce issues are attributed to three dimensions:

  1. The supply of workers: Do we have enough or too many workers?
  2. The alignment (or misalignment) of skills, i.e. the ‘skills mismatch’: Do the workers have the right skills for the job?
  3. Geographic and occupational mobility: Are learners and workers located in regions where they are needed?

Each of these dimensions helps diagnose and illustrate the tourism workforce challenges, most of which have been heightened or accelerated because of COVID-19.

Chronic Short Supply of Workers Hampers Recovery and Growth

The tourism sector was experiencing severe shortages of workers prior to COVID. As the sector recovers, the anticipated shortages will more acute and the difficulty to attract and retain workers is expected to be more difficult. Although there is currently a high level of unemployment, the longer the outlook for reopening, the more the sector is losing its workforce to other industries. Other factors such as the precarity of employment (e.g., uncertainty around job stability, worries about too few hours or suppressed wages), concerns about safety, changing job demands, inadequate childcare supports, and various other factors are creating the perfect storm. (You may also be interested in the Workforce Power Session webinar or Lost Momentum: Newly Released Data Shows the Rapid Tourism Job Growth COVID Interrupted.)

As stated in the Workforce Shortfall Report, a critical shortage of skilled labour hampers growth and recovery and contributes to higher operating costs and reduced profits. Without workers, businesses forego investments, lose their ability to compete, burn out staff, and ultimately anger and turn off customers. (This is clearly not the image we want for Canadian tourism.)

Skills for Sustained Economic Relaunch and Global Competitiveness

COVID-19 has significantly impacted the nature of tourism jobs and created an unparalleled shift in skill sets needed. Recovery, resiliency, and sustained competitiveness require new skills and lifelong learning, including a focus on digital transitions. All tourism workers (frontline, supervisory/operational, management) require the right skills to enable the sector to have a sustained economic relaunch and be globally competitive.

Training in many forms is needed to make sure people can acquire the skills they need for current and future job demands. Support for the development of new skills training content and new delivery modes, including addressing sub-sector and regional differences, is needed. Tourism HR Canada has previously reported that the tourism sector is going to rely heavily on accessible virtual learning that enables job seekers and workers to obtain micro-credentials and tailored learning products (i.e., just-in-time, cost-effective learning responsive to market and employer demands). One example of a program recently updated and relaunched in response to COVID is the Business Builders Series for operators and entrepreneurs. (Limited time offer: this program is available at no cost for anyone that signs up now.)

To get a glimpse at some emerging skills, check out Impact of Digitalization on Tourism Jobs.

Learner and Worker Mobility

Labour mobility is all about the ability of workers and learners to move around or relocate for employment. Mobility usually refers to both geographic and occupational concerns. Geographic mobility refers to the worker’s ability to relocate or change work location, while occupational mobility refers to changing of jobs. Learner mobility is most often associated with the rights to transfer credits or acquired learning to new educational pursuits.

Factors inhibiting mobility are often linked to outdated policies or resource constraints. Prohibitive costs associated with relocation, a lack of affordable housing, inadequate infrastructure, or institutional policies that prohibit mobility are all examples that prevent people from accessing employment opportunities.

Program and Policy Focus

Budget 2021 contains a lot of promising funding initiatives that have the potential to help address tourism workforce recovery efforts. The sector’s current focus is extended advocacy to help secure projects and funding for tourism workforce initiatives, anticipating the ability to tap into various new programs:

  • Canada Recovery Hiring Program
  • Skills for Success
  • Community Workforce Development Program
  • Sectoral Workforce Solutions Program
  • Canada Digital Adoption Plan

In addition, the sector may benefit from programs that have been extended or renewed. These include:

  • Student Work Placement Program
  • Helping Youth and Students Build Job Skills and Connect with Employers
  • Youth Employment and Skills Strategy
  • Canada Summer Jobs
  • Enhancing the Canada Workers Benefit

Other measures will contribute significantly to helping build the tourism workforce and meeting the needs of vulnerable and precarious workers in the sector. The Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care System, the National Mental Health Standards, and supports for businesses to pay for mandatory quarantine for Temporary Foreign Workers will be a great help to the sector.

What Employers Can Do Now

Checklist of Ten Practical HR Practices to Attract and Retain Workers

  1. Diversify recruitment strategy: go after new markets and ones that are best fit for the sector, e.g., New Canadians, Indigenous Peoples.
  2. Invest in professional development and value career progression: help workers grow professionally and personally; mentor and coach.
  3. Accommodate workers’ needs and personal work-life balance interests, e.g., flexible scheduling, providing workplace aids and tools.
  4. Enable increased flexibility in work duties: design the jobs to match workers’ interests.
  5. Prioritize safety and security, e.g., ensure there is sufficient and appropriate personal protective equipment (where applicable); provide taxi rides for safe transport late at night.
  6. Offer competitive compensation.
  7. Create a welcoming and inclusive workplace, e.g., enable employees to have input, share suggestions and ideas; be explicit on zero tolerance for anti-oppressive behaviours; communicate honestly and with fairness.
  8. Provide recognition and consistent feedback.
  9. Invest in HR practices: make human capital a business priority by ensuring managers have the skills and knowledge to motivate and manage productive teams.
  10. Be clear about company vision, corporate goals, and mission: establish a brand and reputation that is attractive and distinct to your competitors.

A few other important strategies that will help you build a competitive, inclusive, and resilient workforce:

  • Support the advocacy efforts of professional associations (e.g., Tourism Industry Association of Canada, Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, Hotel Association of Canada), who are working on your behalf to align policies and programs that address workforce issues.
  • Let your MP know the challenges you are facing and the need for sector-specific programs and policies that address workforce needs.
  • Lead or be involved in community-led workforce planning. Tourism’s future workforce relies on community-led models (it’s beyond enterprises and must involve collaboration between employers, governments, workers, education providers, and various support services).



CGLCC Champion Award, designed by Woodland Artist Patrick Hunter

The team at Tourism HR Canada was thrilled to be the recipient of the CGLCC Champion Award, presented last week at the LGBT+ Excellence in Business & Leadership Awards held virtually during the New World: 2021 Digital LGBT+ Global Business Summit.

“Our mission is to contribute to a thriving and inclusive Canadian economy by promoting economic growth and prosperity, in particular through enhanced supplier diversity, global trade opportunities, and LGBT+ youth mentorship,” stated Darrell Schuurman, co-founder and CEO at CGLCC – Canada’s LGBT+ Chamber of Commerce. “This award is bestowed by the CGLCC Board of Directors to an individual or organization that has made an outstanding commitment to the CGLCC. Tourism HR Canada is extremely deserving of this award given its ongoing support of the CGLCC over the years!”

CGLCC and Tourism HR Canada recently wrapped up a national diversity and inclusion initiative that saw workshops and seminars delivered for free across Canada, in-person and virtually, to over 1,100 individuals in tourism and hospitality. The program also conducted a number of destination audits on participating businesses’ LGBT+ travel market readiness and tourism strategies, and provided a toolkit with 11 new downloadable resources focused on helping participants become more inclusive and welcoming of LGBT+ travellers and employees. (A full summary of the project, funded by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada [ISED] can be found here.)

“This is absolutely thrilling and a great honour,” said Philip Mondor, president and CEO of Tourism HR Canada. “Tourism HR Canada has always been a great fan of the important work at CGLCC. The focus on inclusion, diversity, anti-oppressive practices, sustainable development respectful of people and place…these are all part of our DNA, and values we share with CGLCC. Our team worked hand-in-hand with CGLCC to attain overwhelming success over the past few years. We offer our thanks and our commitment to continue to work in partnership with CGLCC on many more initiatives.”

In addition to the programming mentioned above, Tourism HR Canada worked with CGLCC on its recently announced national Rainbow Registered accreditation program. The accreditation “will help consumers and prospective employees to more easily identify LGBT+ friendly businesses across Canada. It will also help businesses of all industries and sizes demonstrate their commitment and consistent efforts to provide a welcome and accepting experience through progressive policies and practices.”

COVID-19 has changed the playing field. For tourism businesses to recover, they will need to quickly react to the profound changes in the economy. Businesses now must align products and services with new markets, respond to new regulations, mitigate risk associated with their supply chain, learn to work with very different staffing situations, recover from significant losses in revenues, and more.

Tourism operators must now revisit their business strategies to align their products and services with new and different markets. The expected focus will be domestic markets (over international markets). This checklist outlines the basics on developing a sales and marketing plan. New and niche markets may have different requirements than previous target markets, therefore a company may need to use different tactics depending on the specific market.

Develop Sales and Marketing Plan for New Markets

Develop an organizational profile, including:

  • Name, address, contact information, and principal partners/owners
  • Business vision and beliefs (in line with target market)
    • What your business is about
    • Your business objectives
  • Core organizational goals and values

* Remember to develop the profile with the target market(s) in mind. Use plain language and wording that will be understood and meaningful to the market you are trying to attract.

Define overall marketing objective(s), for example:

  • Provide premium quality services to domestic markets
  • Deliver authentic guiding experiences to Canadian visitors
  • Increase sales by 10% over the next year
  • Generate $x to sustain operations

* Your marketing objectives should be based on understanding your strengths and weaknesses, the business environment you operate in, and your overall business strategy.

* In difficult economic times, many recommend focusing your objectives on the short term (e.g., next six months), and then revisiting them again later since market conditions are not stable and will change. Focus on objectives that are realistic and achievable.

Describe product/service offerings, such as detailing how the product/service is unique, meets a niche market, and/or is superior to the competition, or specifying the value of the product/service to customers

Outline characteristics of target market(s), such as:

  • Proximity to business: where do they live; how far is it from your business?
  • Demographic/socioeconomic profile (e.g., age, income, education level, ethnic group, religious affiliation)
  • Psychographic profile (e.g., attitudes, values, beliefs, interests, lifestyle preferences)
  • Motivations and needs (e.g., family holiday, business event)

Outline threats and opportunities to understand the environment, considering:

  • Social/cultural factors (e.g., attitudes, lifestyles, consumer confidence):
    • What is the demand for new products or services to address their social needs?
    • What about aging populations—what types of accommodations will you need?
    • Are there different attitudes (e.g., on gender equity, racial discrimination)? What does this mean for your business and the services you provide?
  • Technological factors:
    • Need for automation/robotization or augmentation to reduce contact points?
    • What about the growing demand for use of ‘big data’, social media, dynamic communications?
  • Economic variables (e.g., interest rates):
    • Business costs are rising—how will this impact your new business strategy and the products or services you offer?
    • What about consumer/visitor disposable income—are they thriftier?
  • Ecological, ethical, and environmental considerations (e.g., customer expectations):
    • Preservation of culture, heritage?
    • Alignment with Indigenous reconciliation considerations?
    • Brand management and link to corporate environmentalism/corporate social responsibility?
    • Legislated or voluntary waste management, disposal, energy-saving measures?
  • Political context (e.g., taxation, policies):
    • What is the competition for resources for tourism (over other sectors)? Is tourism a priority for your region and is it supported by government-led initiatives?
  • Regulator and legal considerations (e.g., changes in employment law, new regulations):
    • What are the new regulations or requirements you must follow?
    • What about new labour policies—how do these impact your HR plans and overall capacity?
    • Did you factor in the growing interest and demand for workplace health and safety?

Determine your marketing tactics:

  • What product or service will you offer? Do you need to change what you have offered in the past?
  • What price will you set? What price will this new market bear? How does it compare to your competition?
  • What is the best way to promote or reach your target market? Is this different than your past approach?
  • What are your sales objectives?

Develop contingency plans for dealing with potential challenges related to:

  • New regulations for packaging/labelling/claims
  • Shifts in trends or buyers’ preferences
  • Environmental issues
  • Marketing, advertising, and sales regulations
  • Changes in the economy
  • New competition
  • Negative business image or perceptions
  • Staffing issues

Implement plan:

  • Set out a schedule of the tasks you need to follow
  • Identify the resources (e.g., people, money, tools) needed for each task
  • Identify the costs and set a budget for your plan

Download the PDF version of this checklist for free at Be sure to also check out the newly launched Tourism Business Builders online resources, available free of charge until September 1, 2021.

Tourism has been severely limited since COVID-19 closed international borders, and it still has a long way to go on the road to recovery. The journey will not be without challenges, but there is room for hope.

Headwinds include the continued absence of international tourism and business travel. Many festivals and events, which would act as an incentive for domestic travel within Canada, have been cancelled. Tourism businesses have lost staff, some of whom have moved on from our sector permanently.

Still, with over half of Canadians partially vaccinated and the provinces announcing reopening roadmaps, tourism operators can start to plan for summer 2021 and beyond. The industry has shown a great deal of resolve, perseverance, and resiliency in the face of the greatest crisis tourism has ever faced. The focus has understandably been on finding the tricky balance between remaining financially solvent and keeping the business operational—three-quarters of businesses kept core staff employed even at a financial loss.

As the summer approaches, workforce issues will take centre stage. Although we know that recovery timelines will vary by region and industry, having enough staff will be a preeminent concern upon reopening. Every customer turned away because of a lack of staff to serve them is a lost opportunity.

To assess the state of business conditions and the workforce, in the late winter and early spring of 2021, Tourism HR Canada conducted two national surveys of tourism businesses. The national results are contained in the two COVID-19 Tourism Workforce and Business Impact Reports released today.

The first of these two surveys was conducted in January and February. Businesses were still dealing with the restrictions of the pandemic’s second wave. The full results of that survey, including information by industry group, region, and geographic location (urban/rural), are now available.

Download the COVID-19 Tourism Workforce Impact Wave 1 Detailed Report

The second survey gathered information from business operators in March and April, when, following a brief lifting of restrictions, more transmissible variants drove a third wave of the pandemic in almost all regions of Canada. National level data from that report is now available. Industry and regional level data will be available shortly.

Download the COVID-19 Tourism Workforce Impact Wave 2 National Report

Key Findings:

During the winter, only 5.9% of tourism businesses could fully open without any limitations or restrictions on their operations. Most businesses were placed under tighter restrictions, and 62.5% reported having to release staff due to those restrictions.

Over half of tourism businesses took on debt to survive, and three-quarters have maintained their core staff—even at a financial loss—to keep the business operating. Among firms that have taken on debt, the majority are concerned that it will hamper their ability to recover.

Almost half of the businesses were using the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) to subsidize wages. Importantly for the upcoming summer, many businesses stayed in touch with staff that they had been forced to release.

Besides the CEWS, businesses were accessing several other supports—though none was as popular as CEWS. In addition to federal support programs, 37.2% of businesses were also accessing support provided by the provincial/territorial government, municipal government, or other organizations. Despite the number of businesses accessing these supports, half reported that harnessing government supports was an area in which they required guidance. Concerningly, 43.1% of respondents to the first survey said they were not currently receiving the financial support they needed to remain viable.

Looking forward to summer, the greatest concerns tourism business owners have are another shutdown, travel restrictions on Canadians, and a lack of traveller confidence. Almost half of businesses fear that an inability to hire staff will negatively affect their business operations. Those concerned about staffing fear that workers will choose EI benefits over returning to work, that there are not enough workers in the region, or that they will face stiff competition for workers from other industries.

In terms of what they need this summer, businesses are very clear that they want to see straightforward communication on reopening timelines, clear communication on protocols, and marketing that encourages domestic travel.

The good news is that many of these needs are starting to be met. Provinces and territories are announcing reopening plans that indicate what conditions must be met for restrictions to be lifted, along with the protocols that will remain in place (such as mask wearing and social distancing). Marketing agencies are engaged in reminding Canadians of the importance of the tourism industry and encouraging them to frequent tourism businesses in their community, when it is safe to do so.

We, too, would like to take this opportunity to encourage all Canadians to engage in tourism activities when they are allowed, and when they feel safe doing so. Enjoy the patio of a local restaurant and visit a local museum when they reopen—if they aren’t already. Explore new destinations or return to favourite sights in your own province or territory.

The purpose of this report is to assess the state of workforce and business conditions in the tourism industry as we head towards summer. Our labour market research shows just how hard this crisis hit the tourism industry. It has been an incredibly tough year for business owners and tourism employees. We still have a long way to travel, but the journey has begun.

Download the COVID-19 Tourism Workforce Impact Wave 2 National Report

Download the COVID-19 Tourism Workforce Impact Wave 1 Detailed Report

Tourism HR Canada’s latest report, The Post-COVID Future of the Tourism Workforce, takes an in-depth look at the systemic issues facing the tourism sector’s labour force and at the effect of COVID-19, and recommends how to make the tourism sector more sustainable and resilient as we recover from this crisis. While the primary focus is employment-related considerations, broader economic, social, and political factors are also considered to contextualize the findings.

Download The Post-COVID Future of the Tourism Workforce


COVID-19: The Impact

Tourism has been the hardest-hit sector of the economy and faces significant challenges on its road to recovery.

Economic activity in tourism, including all sources such as local residents, has dropped much further than economic activity in other industries. Using January 2020 as a baseline, the gross domestic product (GDP) across all industries had not fully recovered to pre-pandemic levels by February 2021. GDP stood at 98.1% of January 2020 levels. However, across all tourism-related industries, GDP was only 58.1% of pre-pandemic levels.

Since the start of the pandemic, many businesses have been forced to close due to a lack of tourists and to public health measures that have restricted their ability to serve local customers as well. As of January 2021, there were 9.8% fewer active tourism businesses operating than there were one year earlier. By tourism industry group, the reduction in active businesses ranged from -2.2% in the accommodations industry to -27.9% in the travel services industry.

In the first two months of the pandemic, employment in tourism dropped by 43.1%. Employment levels started rising in May 2020, but over the summer, the tourism sector employed approximately 450,000 fewer workers than in 2019, depending on the month. Employment dropped once more in the fall. With tourism essentially non-existent since the summer of 2020, tourism employment levels have risen and fallen in response to public health orders. Outbreaks of COVID that resulted in lockdowns caused tourism employment to drop anywhere from 15% to 23%. As of April 2021, tourism employed 520,000 fewer workers than it had in February 2020, the last month before the pandemic reached Canada, an employment drop of over 25%.

Recovery: Different Speeds and the Importance of Local

Across the country, there are still some uncertainties about the pace of vaccination and the timelines for easing restrictions. But the provincial/territorial reopening plans being developed and implemented allow businesses to begin planning for an ongoing and sustained recovery.

That said, it is important to recognize that the “tourism recovery” will happen at different speeds, depending on industry and region. Tourism industries such as restaurants and recreation facilities that derive significant demand from locals (i.e., non-tourists) will have opportunities to recover earlier than those that rely on domestic tourists. Businesses that rely heavily on international travel face the longest recovery outlook. Regardless of whether they serve a local or a tourist, summer remains a key season for the industry. Tourism businesses in regions that open in June, July, and August 2021 (the earlier the better) will be at an advantage over those that can not. That said, tourism operators’ greatest concern is a fourth wave that leads to another lockdown. Another shutdown in the summer would devastate the sector—which calls for cautious management of the reopening.

When restrictions lift, there is likely to be significant demand for tourism goods and services from residents and domestic tourists. Demand will be driven by the increasing speed of vaccination rollouts, improving consumer confidence, building travel demand, and a substantial number of households (those that were fortunate enough to continue working during the pandemic) starting to spend some of the savings they have built up.

That economic activity is likely to be regionally focussed. There will be little international travel demand until the border reopens and some significant drivers of domestic tourism will be missing. In Ontario, indoor attractions such as museums and art galleries will not open until the final phase of the province’s reopening plan. Across Canada, major festivals, sporting events, and conferences have been cancelled. Inability to access major indoor attractions, or attend major events, will dampen travel to the host locations. A knock-on effect will be felt by hotels and, to a lesser degree, restaurants.

But Canadians do want to get outside and travel after over a year of the pandemic. Limited in terms of international or inter-provincial travel options, they will shift their travel plans to destinations closer to home, with a particular focus on outdoor-oriented activities. Last year, many individuals and families travelled to cottages, campsites, and other getaways within their own or neighbouring provinces, with campsites booked up at overwhelming rates across the country. 2021 is likely to be similar.

The most likely scenario is that some regions will see significant spikes in customer demand—with an accompanying need for workers. At the same time, customer demand will remain below pre-pandemic levels in urban centres due to missing international travel, business travel, and the continuation of work-from-home arrangements.

Implications for the Workforce

As demand returns, reattracting the displaced workforce is a key priority for the sector. Stakeholders across the board are highly concerned that displaced workers will not return to the industry even when the pandemic is over, leading to labour shortages for operators. Even if workers do return, businesses in those regions that see significant demand will be challenged to restaff quickly enough. One concern raised by businesses owners is that the loss of core, long-term staff means they will need to operate with a less experienced group of workers during the early phases of the recovery. Some good news on this front is that that recent surveys show that three-quarters of tourism businesses held onto a core group of staff throughout the pandemic—even though it came at a financial loss.

Of additional concern, perceptions of the industry as a place of work amongst the general population and current and former tourism workers have deteriorated during the pandemic. COVID-19 has negatively impacted desire to work in tourism, perceptions of safety and comfort while working in the sector, and perceptions of job security. Many workers are concerned about low wages and compensation, securing reliable hours, career development opportunities, and the industry’s stigma of being low-skilled with poor job security.

In the long-term, more focus is needed on reforming immigration pathways that align with the tourism industry. Regardless of the immediate short-term summer staffing challenges, the future workforce relies on immigration. Between 2017 and 2018, net immigration accounted for 80% of Canada’s population increase. By the early 2030s, Canada’s population growth will rely exclusively on immigration. Canada’s current and future prosperity depends on recruiting immigrants

The tourism sector’s recovery is starting, but from a policy perspective it is important to remember that the industries that rely heavily on domestic and international tourism face a longer recovery time and greater likelihood that former staff will permanently move to other industries.

The tourism sector’s focus has been on maintaining business operations and using available supports to stay financially afloat. Those concerns are not about to disappear, but as the visitor economy reopens, there is a pressing need to focus on the workforce to ensure the resurgence in customer demand can be met.

Download The Post-COVID Future of the Tourism Workforce

Investments in labour market strategies are essential to tourism’s ability to recover and be a key economic engine and future job creator for the Canadian economy. For this reason, tourism businesses often lead the way in developing a community-based workforce action plan. An effective strategy helps address labour force priorities set by government and ultimately builds a resilient and inclusive labour market.

Community labour force development plans aim to engage all community stakeholders. These plans focus on the economic development goals of the region or community, tourism’s growth potential, skills and capacity required, demographic data, potential industry partners and employers, existence of education and training to meet demands/needs, and opportunities for public-private partnerships.

To help communities build a resilient, productive, and inclusive tourism workforce, we share here Develop Workforce Action Plan, one of many checklists available on, a free resource hub to support the reopening of the visitor economy.

Develop Workforce Action Plan

Identify workforce/labour market information and data to be collected, such as:

  • Demographics (e.g., age, population trends, immigration trends, education trends)
  • Available job seekers
  • Type of jobs available
  • Tools and resources to connect people to jobs (e.g., training supports)
  • Workforce challenges and opportunities (e.g., barriers, labour or skills shortages, credential recognition for new Canadians)

Identify information to be collected on factors contributing to community workforce planning:

  • Economic development goals and related skills and jobs demands
  • Available education and training services
  • Available housing or other infrastructure needs
  • Employment support services (e.g., career development professionals, immigrant serving agencies)
  • Potential public-private partnerships
  • Available resources or tools aimed at helping connect job seekers to employment opportunities

Conduct research:

  • Use range of methods (e.g., surveys, interviews, focus groups, web searches)

Review and analyze research findings:

  • Compile statistics
  • Integrate information from various sources

Develop key recommendations to address workforce needs:

  • Seek feedback and input by community stakeholders
  • Set economic, social, educational, and employment strategic goals, for example:
    • Increase workforce participation of underrepresented groups
    • Improve productivity and competitiveness
    • Improve quality of employment
  • Outline the types of activities and investments to address infrastructure deficiencies, for example:
    • Improved education and training needs
    • Improved housing options

Develop strategies to achieve stated goals, in areas such as:

  • Skills development
  • Recruitment and retention
  • Immigration
  • Diversity and inclusion

Develop action plan, for example:

  • Identify outcome metrics (i.e., what you want to achieve)
  • Define activities and timeline to meet goals
  • Identify needed resources (e.g., expertise, tools, money)

Engage/consult community stakeholders to review and feed into the plan

Finalize plan:

  • Incorporate changes based on the consultation

Implement labour market action plan, for example:

  • Secure necessary resources (e.g., financial supports, expertise)
  • Present action plan
  • Delegate activities
  • Develop communications strategy
  • Establish schedule to review progress
  • Adjust strategies as needed

Download the Checklist PDF here

Watch the Tourism Recovery webinar series