One year ago, I talked about the unprecedented disruption to the tourism industry and the impact on 100,000s of businesses and 100,000s of workers.
One year ago, we were facing a record shortfall of workers in terms of the number of people we needed to fill job vacancies, increasing skills shortages, and growing concerns about employment barriers, as well as sustained, if not heightened, reputational damage made worse by the pandemic. These structural challenges remain today, although we have seen some gains in the number of workers.
One year ago, we were short about 500,000 workers (using 2019 as the benchmark). Today, that gap is 160,000 workers. However, if you factor in the predicted labour demand this summer, we will need around 360,000 workers. Of those, only about 107,000 to 110,000 are expected from immigration streams. Our ability to compete for domestic labour—especially youth—is waning.
The numbers also tell us that more of our workforce is part-time. We’ve had the highest retirement rate (higher than the economy overall), at about 28%. Sentiment surveys of current workers indicate many are still planning to leave the sector—although the sentiments are not as bleak as they were in 2021. The accommodations industry lags in workforce recovery, whereas recreation and entertainment and travel services have surged.
There is a growing narrative and concern about wages. This is like many other economic sectors, partially because of inflation, but also because of an increasingly tight labour market. The tourism sector’s ability to compete for the scarce labour will require an aggressive attraction and retention strategy, along with improved workforce conditions, including higher-paid workers.
The impact of not having enough workers is severe. Without skilled labour, the industry is taking longer to recover, and growth is hampered despite the increased demand for tourism experiences.
You’ve heard me say it before: Not having workers means higher operating costs and reduced profits. Without workers, businesses forego investments, lose their ability to compete, burn out staff, and see service standards diminish—which also means we are no longer able to compete for the so-called high-yield travellers.
In terms of Indigenous tourism: we are learning much more about the unique challenges to fulfil the demand for the culturally situated workforce. This segment of the workforce will continue to be particularly difficult to grow.
The other main segment of concern is the more tenured/seasoned professionals—managers and operational staff, including those that facilitate HR functions. With the retirements we’ve seen and the growing demands and complexity with these functions, finding and keeping these workers will get increasingly difficult.
Better utilization of tailored resources and supports, along with adapting business models and improving HR practices, is essential, but not enough to address the chronic and systemic issue we are facing. Addressing structural constraints requires an advocacy focus to better align public policy to meet both short-term and long-term labour needs in the tourism sector.
On this front, the last year has resulted in some significant policy changes—all gains—many concerning immigration streams. There have been some changes with EI programs, changes to labour laws, and many ongoing discussions with various other departments, post-secondary education systems, and corporations.
Many thanks to our Directors and partners who have been instrumental in their steadfast efforts that led to these changes. Without the coordinated advocacy efforts, I believe this sector would not have benefited as it did. However, we need to be reminded that we are at the beginning of seeing reform or changes to policy; many that were enacted remain temporary and more is needed.
In the past year, the Government of Canada consulted industry as it prepares to announce a new federal tourism strategy. Tourism HR Canada’s submission and further consultations with Minister Boissonnault and his office have already resulted in some concrete actions and investments by the Government of Canada.
A focus over the past year was on the increasing narrative and efforts for tourism to demonstrate its unique value proposition to the Canadian economy. As we emerge from this pandemic, this effort is becoming more important and must remain a steadfast all-of-sector effort. A coordinated and cohesive approach that engages all stakeholders is needed. We need to draw on the capacity and expertise of our DMO network, Destination Canada, education and training bodies, the career services sector, and more. I believe the national associations have a big role here.
I also think the risk of not doing this well is the risk of losing the visibility we’ve all worked so hard to gain. This is about seizing this rare moment to elevate Canadians’ understanding of the industry. Tourism is synonymous with Canada’s identity: it emphasizes social capital and cohesion, promotes inclusion and diversity, and contributes to cultural and heritage preservation. As the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada often says, it’s reconciliation in action. In Destination Canada’s words, it’s all about wealth and wellbeing.
Looking forward, the Government of Canada will launch a new federal tourism strategy, and we fully expect to see an emphasis on workforce recovery, which will further shape the work of Tourism HR Canada.
There is much more. This will be a year of increased capacity on research in new areas and part of a federal data collective. We will soon be launching a comprehensive attraction and retention program and campaign. Several initiatives are shifting our focus to employer practices and supports without losing sight of the continued efforts to inform policy. Much more is in store and will be reported through our usual communications channels.
It’s important to acknowledge the tremendous body of work that has been accomplished over the past year—and beyond—in response to the impact of the pandemic on the workforce. Our team—a group of highly talented and truly dedicated professionals—has really stepped up and responded. The enquiries and demands on the organization continue to grow more than we’ve seen in the past. And the team delivered.
Finally, I want to thank all of our partners, the Government of Canada, and the Board of Directors, for your continued support in our 30th year, to help build a resilient, competitive, and inclusive workforce.