Tourism Employment Remains Significantly Lower

Employment across the economy often drops slightly in September. On average, between 2010 and 2019, seasonally unadjusted employment declined by 151,300 in September. This year, seasonally unadjusted employment increased by 34,300 individuals. Since the number of employed workers usually decreases, this small gain translated into a significant jump in employment when seasonal adjustments were added. The seasonally adjusted labour force survey data showed a gain of 157,100 jobs.

Tourism employment usually decreases in September, and this year was no exception. Seasonally unadjusted tourism employment fell by 130,000 from the month before.

Data reflects labour market conditions during the week of September 12 to 18, 2021.

Highlights:

  • Tourism employment decreased by 130,000 from August to September, a decline of 6.9%.
  • 1,762,200 people were working in tourism, over 300,000 fewer than in September 2019.
  • Overall, tourism employment is down 15.2% compared to 2019, while employment across the entire economy is now 0.2% higher than in September 2019.
  • The recreation and entertainment industry saw the greatest employment loss from August to September, down 75,500, or 15.2%.
  • Travel services and accommodation have had the greatest reduction in employment since the start of the pandemic.
  • The province of Manitoba was closest to pre-pandemic employment levels, being down only 0.4% compared to September 2019. In other provinces, employment losses ranged from -23.6% in Quebec to -10.7% in British Columbia.
  • The number of unemployed workers remains elevated as of September.
  • The number of people not in the labour force is lower than in September 2019 in all age groups except for those over the age of 65.

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

Tourism employment across Canada declined by 130,000 from August to September, a decline of 6.9%. It was the first decline in tourism employment since April 2021. In September, a drop in tourism employment is expected due to decreased demand and student employees returning to school. Almost all of September’s employment decline occurred amongst 15- to 24-year-olds. In fact, tourism employment increased among most other age groups, except for a small decrease among 55- to 65-year-olds (see Figure 2).

As of September, 1,762,200 individuals were working in the tourism sector’s five industry groups, an increase of 34,100 employees compared to 2020. However, compared to the same month in 2019, over 300,000 fewer individuals worked in the tourism sector.

Four of the five tourism industry groups experienced employment declines following the end of the summer. The exception was the transportation industry, which added 21,800 workers. However, much of that employment increase occurred in the school and employee bus transportation industry.

As a percent, the greatest employment loss was in the recreation and entertainment industry, where employment dropped by 75,500, or 15.2%. Employment fell by 4,100 in travel services (-14.2%), by 10,900 in accommodation (-6.7%), and by 59,000 in food and beverage services (-6.5%). Employment losses were strongly concentrated in full-time positions.

Employment in all tourism industry groups is once again below pre-pandemic levels. Employment is particularly depressed in the travel services industry when compared to February 2020 (see Figure 4).

If we compare September’s employment levels to the same month in 2019 and 2020, the challenges facing the travel services industry stand out even more. It is the only tourism industry group where employment has fallen compared to 2020. All other industries have seen employment increase since last year (see Figure 5).

Compared to September 2019, employment remains substantially suppressed in all tourism industries. Overall, tourism employment is down 15.2% compared to 2019, while employment across the entire economy is now 0.2% higher than in September 2019. The industry groups with the greatest loss of employment are travel services and accommodation. Those industries derive the majority of their revenue from tourists, which partially explains why employment remains so low. The other industry groups derive more demand from locals, but still have employment levels that are substantially down.

Hours of Work

The total number of hours worked by employees also dropped in September. The total number of hours being worked in the tourism sector is more suppressed than employment is—although this is not the case in the transportation and recreation and entertainment industries. Overall, tourism employees continue to work fewer hours on average than they did pre-pandemic. As of September, full-time tourism employment was down 17.0% compared to 2019, while part-time employment was down 12.1%.

Provincial Tourism Employment

Compared to 2019, tourism employment was lower in every province during the month of September. The province of Manitoba was closest to pre-pandemic employment levels, being down only 0.4% compared to September 2019. In other provinces, employment losses ranged from -23.6% in Quebec to -10.7% in British Columbia.

For the most part, employment was up compared to 2020, with some exceptions. Notably, tourism employment was lower this September than last year in Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec. There were also small employment losses relative to 2020 in British Columbia and New Brunswick.

Job Vacancies

While job vacancy data is not as timely as employment data, it does clearly show that some segments of our industry were struggling to find workers this summer. In July, there were over 130,000 vacant positions in the accommodation and food services sector. The vacancy rate was 11.6%. There was more than one empty position for every ten employed workers for the second month in a row. Vacancies were not as acute in the arts, entertainment and recreation sector, but businesses were still looking to fill 10,940 positions, giving that sector a vacancy rate of 4.8% (see Figure 10).

Employment by Sector

As of September, employment in eight sectors of the economy is higher than it was two years ago, while it is lower in seven sectors of the economy. Employment is notably down in accommodation and food services, agriculture, and other services.

Total Unemployed and Unemployment Rate

Unemployment fell in September, but it should be noted that this is a seasonal trend. Unemployment usually drops because students who were looking for work in the summer return to school, as do education workers on temporary layoff for July and August.

The number of unemployed workers declined by 347,200 between August and September, dropping the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate to 6.3%. September was the first time since the pandemic began that the unemployment rate dropped to a level last seen in 2019. It is worth noting that although unemployment dropped by almost 350,000, seasonally unadjusted employment only increased by 34,300. Thus, the drop in the number of unemployed workers reflects people dropping out of the labour market rather than finding jobs.

Despite the drop, the number of unemployed workers does remain elevated. There were 274,000 more unemployed individuals in September 2021 than there were in September 2019.

Not in the Labour Force – Not Employed, Not Seeking Work

In September, the number of individuals who are not in the labour force (not employed or actively seeking work) increased by 347,600. The increase falls within the usual seasonal pattern for September. In 2019, the number of people not in the labour force jumped 422,300 between August and September (see Figure 13).

Still, one possible reason the increase was smaller in 2021 is that the number of people not in the labour force was already elevated in July and August relative to those same months in 2019. And, the number of people not in the labour force remains elevated. Compared to September 2019, there were 270,900 more people not in the labour force this September (see Figure 14).

In August, the number of young people (aged 15 to 24) who were not in the labour force was 2.6% higher than it was in 2019. That indicates that over the summer, young people did not seek work to the degree they had two years prior. As of September, that trend had reversed. The number of 15- to 24-year-olds who were not in the labour force was 1.7% lower than in September 2019.

We know that the number of young people who fall into this category rises substantially in the fall because they return to school and do not actively seek work. The comparison of September 2019 to 2021 suggests that there are fewer young people who can potentially be drawn back into the labour force in the future.

With the number of young people not in the labour force being lower than it was two years ago, the entire increase of people in this category is due to people over the age of 65. In every other age category, the number of people who are not in the labour force has decreased compared to September 2019. There are fewer people of prime working age and young people—a key tourism labour market—who can be drawn back into active participation in the labour force.

The number of people who wanted to work but were not in the labour force also declined by 4.1% from August to September (see Figure 15).

Labour Force Trends to Watch

The Canada Recovery Benefit is currently scheduled to end on October 23rd. The rules around unemployment insurance have already changed. The automatic top-up has been removed, and individuals are now required to have worked for 420 hours before claiming employment insurance. Both of these changes should push anyone who was reticent to enter the labour market. Employers viewed these supports as one reason they could not find workers this summer. In March, we surveyed 959 tourism employers; 69.4% cited potential workers choosing employment insurance payments over returning to work as a potential cause of labour shortages.

The fall and winter are not when most tourism operators are adding workers to their employment rolls—the winter-focused businesses being the obvious exception. Over the summer, unemployment and the number of people who were not actively participating in the labour force remained elevated—as they continued to do in September. Those who are not working will be given more incentive to find jobs at a time when most of the tourism sector has fewer positions to fill. Workers may return, but it may be to other industries.

View more employment charts and analysis on our Tourism Employment Tracker.