Annual LFS Snapshot: What Are We Missing?

The Labour Force Survey (LFS) is published monthly by Statistics Canada, and the customized data set that Tourism HR Canada purchases provides a current estimate of the state of the tourism labour force throughout the year.

The LFS is based on a sample of the population and scaled up to reflect the larger economy, and so it does not provide a real-life snapshot at any given moment: but it is a very useful tool for noting trends in the labour force, in employment, and in unemployment, and it forms the basis of Tourism HR Canada’s monthly labour force snapshots.

As well as the monthly data, Statistics Canada releases an annual LFS data set, which allows for an interesting year-over-year comparison of the workforce that is unaffected by the peaks and troughs that characterize the tourism sector’s employment calendar. Again, it is not intended to be a perfect reflection of the reality, but does reveal trends at a sector level.

One extra bit of information that the annual LFS data can tell us is how good our current definition of ‘tourism occupations’ is at reflecting the diversity of jobs in the sector.

Defining Tourism Occupations

This issue of defining tourism occupations—like the question of defining the industry groups or the sector as a whole—is a complicated one. Everyone who works in tourism knows that there are any number of jobs that are necessary for tourism businesses—things like accounting and marketing—but are not fundamentally “tourism” jobs. Rather, they are jobs that are held in tourism industries (an accountant working for a hotel, for instance, or a marketer who works with a tour operator).

The challenge comes in trying to decide where to draw the line: which jobs are tourism, and which are simply in tourism?

One approach has been to look at tourism’s share of any given occupation (see this discussion from August 2023). Another has been to focus on the occupations that make up the bulk of employment in tourism. Another still has been to take a more introspective and intuitive perspective on the jobs that seem to be important enough that tourism businesses could not operate without them. And another has been to look at the occupations whose national standards fall under the oversight of the tourism sector.

Each of these approaches has its merits and deficiencies, and in truth we probably need some combination of all of them to arrive at anything approaching an accurate picture of the tourism workforce.

Current Coverage

What the 2023 annual LFS allows us to do is to look at the distribution of a specific set of 70 occupations—a list compiled internally by Tourism HR Canada using all of the approaches discussed above—across tourism and across the Canadian economy as a whole.

Why do we want to do that? Well for one thing, the 2023 annual LFS allows us to cross-tabulate between the NAICS (the industry groups that make up tourism) and NOC (the specific occupations) classification systems.

The LFS data was first categorized by NAICS, which captures everyone who works in a tourism industry (regardless of their job), and then by NOCs, which allows us to estimate what kind of coverage we have of tourism employment when we look at our selected occupations.

Table 1: Occupations Included in 2023 Annual LFS
NOC codeOccupation
10011Human resource managers
10022Advertising, marketing and public relations managers
11200Human resource professionals
11202Professional occupations in advertising, marketing and public relations
12103Conference and event planners
22113Conservation and fishery officers
22114Landscape and horticulture technicians and specialists
50010Library, archive, museum and art gallery managers
50012Recreation, sports and fitness program and service directors
51101Conservators and curators
51114Translators, terminologists and interpreters
51122Musicians and singers
52110Film and video camera operators
52114Announcers and other broadcasters
53100Registrars, restorers, interpreters and other occupations related to museum and art galleries
53121Actors, comedians and circus performers
53124Artisans and craftspersons
53202Sports officials and referees
54100Program leaders and instructors in recreation, sport and fitness
55109Other performers
60030Restaurant and food service managers
60031Accommodation service managers
60040Managers in customer and personal services
62010Retail sales supervisors
62020Food service supervisors
62021Executive housekeepers
62022Accommodation, travel, tourism and related services supervisors
62023Customer and information services supervisors
62024Cleaning supervisors
64100Retail salespersons and visual merchandisers
64300Maîtres d’hôtel and hosts/hostesses
64310Travel counsellors
64311Pursers and flight attendants
64312Airline ticket and service agents
64313Ground and water transport ticket agents, cargo service representatives and related clerks
64314Hotel front desk clerks
64320Tour and travel guides
64321Casino workers
64322Outdoor sport and recreation guides
64409Other customer and information services representatives
64410Security guards and related security service occupations
65200Food and beverage servers
65201Food counter attendants, kitchen helpers and related support occupations
65210Support occupations in accommodation, travel and facilities set-up services
65211Operators and attendants in amusement, recreation and sport
65310Light duty cleaners
65312Janitors, caretakers and heavy-duty cleaners
65320Dry cleaning, laundry and related occupations
65329Other service support occupations
70020Managers in transportation
72024Supervisors, motor transport and other ground transit operators
72404Aircraft mechanics and aircraft inspectors
72600Air pilots, flight engineers and flying instructors
72601Air traffic controllers and related occupations
72602Deck officers, water transport
73201General building maintenance workers and building superintendents
73301Bus drivers, subway operators and other transit operators
73310Railway and yard locomotive engineers
73311Railway conductors and brakemen/women
74200Railway yard and track maintenance workers
74202Air transport ramp attendants
75200Taxi and limousine drivers and chauffeurs
82031Contractors and supervisors, landscaping, grounds maintenance and horticulture services
85121Landscaping and grounds maintenance labourers

The list of 70 occupations singled out in the 2023 annual LFS is provided in Table 1, using the NOC 2021 coding system (more information on the NOC framework is available here). This list is not exhaustive of tourism as a whole, but was intended to capture the bulk of employment in the sector. As it turns out, it does a much better job of capturing the workforce for some industries than for others (see Table 2).

The 2023 annual LFS estimated a total of 20,170,900 Canadians in employment, of which 2,022,200 worked in a tourism industry. Of these tourism workers, 1,651,900 were included in the list of 70 NOCs—meaning that, overall, this list of NOCs misses around 370,300 people in tourism: a coverage gap of around 18%.

Table 2: NOC coverage gap by industry group (uncorrected for suppression)
Industry groupEmployment estimate by NAICSEmployment estimate by NOCDifference between NAICS and NOC estimatesCoverage gap
TOTAL: Tourism sector overall2,022,2001,651,900370,30018.3%
Food and beverage services912,500883,80028,7003.1%
Recreation and entertainment552,500323,100229,40041.5%
Travel services39,50017,80021,70054.9%

When we break the distribution down by industry group, we see that this coverage gap is not evenly distributed across the sector. Food and beverage services has very good coverage, with only 3% of its workforce omitted from this list. On the other hand, recreation and entertainment is missing around 42% of its workforce, and travel services is missing 55%.

One note of caution in reading Table 2: when the sector totals are distributed across the industry groups, data suppression becomes an issue. Statistics Canada suppresses data that threatens to violate the confidentiality and anonymity of the survey respondents. When we look at the 70 occupations across five industry groups, as opposed to when those five industry groups are rolled into one sector, there are 34,400 jobs that disappear. It’s not possible to deduce where those missing data points are; if most of them, for example, are in travel services, then the coverage gap for this industry group would all but disappear.

Exploring Solutions to Data Suppression

One option is to distribute those 34,400 jobs across five industry groups, according to each industry’s share of the tourism sector (see Table 3). Although this is not a perfect solution, it at least attempts to correct for the suppression issue.

In truth, the suppressed data is unlikely to be so evenly distributed—some occupations occur in high numbers in some industry groups but very low numbers in others, and very small industry groups will have disproportionate suppression just because of their small size— but in the absence of better distributional data at the occupational level, this is as good an estimate as any.

Table 3: NOC coverage gap by industry group (with estimated suppression correction)
Industry groupEmployment estimate by NAICSEmployment estimate by NOCDifference between NAICS and NOC estimatesCoverage gap
TOTAL: Tourism sector overall2,022,2001,651,900370,30018.3%
Food and beverage services912,500899,32313,1771.4%
Recreation and entertainment552,500332,499220,00139.8%
Travel services39,50018,47221,02853.2%

Under this imperfect correction, the coverage gap in food and beverage services has fallen to less than 2%, and recreation and entertainment has fallen to around 40%. Travel services remains at over 50%, but it should be noted that many of the administrative and managerial business occupations (e.g., those working in human resources, those working in marketing and advertising, those working in customer service) are likely suppressed in travel services, so the true figure for this industry group is likely much lower.

For the larger industry groups of recreation and entertainment and transportation, the coverage gaps are more interesting. In recreation and entertainment, we are missing 220,000 people who are working in occupations outside of our list, and in transportation, we are missing around 94,000 people. Even if these are crudely derived estimates, they point to serious oversights in the compilation of the working list of tourism occupations.

Food and beverage services has excellent coverage under this set of NOC codes, and accommodations is likewise adequately represented—many occupations that are core to running a hotel are covered, although things like spas and other value-added services are not included. It’s not a perfect fit, but moreover, it does demonstrate that the definition of tourism that we use when describing and analysing the sector is inherently weighted towards these two industry groups.

Part of the issue is that recreation and entertainment and transportation are both composite groups with a lot of internal differences, making it all the more difficult to characterise either industry with a small number of occupations.

The transportation industry in tourism subsumes air, water, and ground (road + rail) transportation, which means it is likely to have a large total number of occupations, each one with a relatively small share in tourism. The industry ratios for transportation need adjustment based on sub-industries, and the overall ratio for these occupations ought to be calculated against the industry values rather than those of the tourism sector overall. A small piece of a small pie is still important in terms of that particular pie.

For recreation and entertainment, we similarly see a number of disparate industries brought together: heritage, arts, performance, culture, sports, gambling, outdoor adventure…. Each of these sub-industries is small with respect to the entire Canadian economy, which is why they have been rolled together into one industry group for statistical reporting purposes, but that means that the actual composition of the workforce for this industry group is largely unknown and under-analyzed in terms of employment, skills, training, and retention.

Change on the Horizon

As Tourism HR Canada continues to work at refining the definition of tourism, the question of industry groups and occupations will come under closer scrutiny. Changing this definition is not a matter of a stroke of a pen: this definition impacts many other organizations that collect and analyze statistics around tourism, in terms of the labour force and in terms of the economic footprint of tourism.

We will keep collaborating with our various partners and stakeholders—in government, industry, and education—to develop a better understanding of the nuances of this sector, and to implement the right definitions and approaches that will support the needs of our workforce and our operators.

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