A housekeeping room attendant makes a bed in a hotel room.

Breaking Down Silos

Occupational Concentration and Diffusion Across Tourism Industry Groups

It’s easy to fall into the habit of siloed thinking when it comes to the tourism workforce. There are five industry groups (accommodations, food and beverage services, recreation and entertainment, transportation, and travel services). Each one is characterized by a particular specialism, and these different areas of specialisation slice the occupations into discrete categories. We can make a fairly educated guess about the jobs we’ll find in food and beverage services, for instance, or in travel services. Right?

Well, yes and no. There are certainly some core occupations that are particular to their industry groups, but a number of occupations cross-cut the different industry groups that make up tourism.

Partly this is an issue with the two classification systems used to define industries (the North American Industry Classification System [NAICS]) and occupations (the National Occupational Classification [NOC]). Both are excellent statistical frameworks through which to look at labour issues in Canada, but it doesn’t take much exploratory poking around in either system to realize that neither was designed to be used the way we use them in tourism.

The tourism sector lacks the clear-cut boundaries that characterize many other sectors, and as a result, trying to define the boundaries of the tourism workforce can be a complicated business.

As we’ve explored before, the agreed-upon tourism occupations offer substantially better coverage for some industries than others. The average coverage gap across the five industry groups is around 18%, and ranges from around 1–3% for food and beverage services to 53–55% for travel services.

The Other Question

The flipside to the question of missing occupations is to ask: which occupations are common across two or more of our industry groups? That is to say, which occupations (or more precisely, which NOC codes[1]) are distributed across the sector, rather than being siloed in one industry group?

Table 1 provides an overview of the distribution of 70 occupations in tourism, across the five industry groups that comprise tourism. This data comes from the 2021 census, which is the most up-to-date and comprehensive data source available for this type of comparison. The Labour Force Survey (LFS) is updated every month and would provide a more up-to-date snapshot, but it has a small enough sample size that data suppression becomes a serious impediment to an occupation-level analysis.

Predictably, some occupations are very clearly associated with unique industries. Many occupations in transportation are precisely those we would anticipate: pilots, deck officers, railway occupations, and various other licensed roles. Likewise, there is a swathe of occupations in recreation and entertainment that are found almost exclusively in that industry group: arts and cultural occupations, sports- and recreation-related roles, and some occupations pertaining to recording and broadcast media. Hotel front desk clerks are almost exclusively found in accommodations.

Equally, there are a number of occupations that are unsurprisingly spread across the different industry groups. HR/administrative, advertising, and marketing occupations, as well as roles relating to generalised customer service are fairly evenly distributed, and in fact the different weightings across the five industries largely reflects the relative sizes of each industry group. Food and beverage services is by far the largest employer of the five, so it tends to attract the largest share of these occupations.

This is an important point to recall when considering the distributions in Table 1: percentages are calculated per occupation (i.e., across each row), so there is no relative weighting that accounts for the scale of the industry group. A small percentage of an occupation attributed to a (relatively) small industry group can nevertheless represent a substantial proportion of that industry’s workforce.

Occupations that are heavily concentrated in food and beverage services—such as those involved in preparing and serving food—are also present to varying degrees in accommodations (dining rooms and restaurants owned and operated directly by their host hotels) and in recreation and entertainment (cafeterias, restaurants, and other food service outlets within recreation, leisure, and amusement centres).

Of more interest are those occupations that are more distributed than might first be obvious (a few have been identified in bold in Table 1).

  • The strong majority of conference and event planners (12103) are employed in recreation and entertainment (80%), followed by accommodations (11%) and travel services (3%). This highlights that one of the key sub-industries in tourism—business travel—is hard to define through the NAICS system, and therefore hard to isolate for the purposes of accounting for its particular labour force concerns.
  • Translators, terminologists and interpreters (51114) are not an obvious ‘tourism’ cluster of jobs, but nevertheless work in recreation and entertainment (77%), presumably largely in heritage and cultural organizations; they are also present in small numbers in food and beverage services (9%) and transportation (9%).
  • Accommodation, travel, tourism and related services supervisors (62022) have a diffuse distribution across most industry groups, most heavily represented in accommodations (59%), but also in relatively high rates in recreation and entertainment (21%), travel services (10%), and transportation (8%). What is more interesting is the near absence of this occupation group in food and beverage services, which suggests that the mapping of occupations to industries is more clear-cut in this industry group. This NOC code collects various supervisory roles that are not easily classified under another code, an indication that those supervisory responsibilities are already accounted for by another occupational code in food and beverage services.
  • Tour and travel guides (64320) and outdoor sport and recreation guides (64322) are likewise distributed relatively evenly across the five industry groups. Tour and travel guides are most strongly present in travel services (47%) and then in recreation and entertainment (33%), while outdoor sport and recreation guides are most strongly represented in recreation and entertainment (59%) and then in accommodations (31%). These patterns likely reflect the different set of responsibilities encapsulated in these two NOC codes, as well as the diversity of services and products offered within the different industries.
  • Light duty cleaners (65310) and janitors, caretakers and heavy-duty cleaners (65312) are also employed across all the industry groups, with both having the lowest share in travel services. Light duty cleaners are mainly employed in accommodations (75%) while janitors, caretakers and heavy-duty cleaners are principally employed in recreation and entertainment (45%), although both NOC codes are present in each of the other industry groups as well. Executive housekeepers (62021) represent another cleaning occupation, this one concentrated almost entirely in accommodations.

Why This Matters

As tourism operators learn to work with smaller and nimbler teams, there are two strategies that will become increasingly important for business resilience. Knowing how skills and experience are distributed across the tourism ecosystem is important to both.

  1. Getting familiar with the gig economy. Gig workers are those who value maximum flexibility, who do not want to commit to even a short-term contract, and who pick up shifts across multiple employers. It is a mistake to think of gig workers as low-skilled or unreliable: they are often highly skilled in particular occupations, and have an impressive breadth of experience. Employers who develop relationships of mutual trust with such workers can tap into a network of local talent that will allow them to respond on short notice to surges in demand. There are any number of digital platforms through which the gig workforce can be accessed, but it also pays to talk to other employers in your area. If you’re looking for on-call cleaning staff, for instance, experienced workers can be found across the entirety of the tourism sector—and they may be looking to pick up some extra work.
  2. Exploring formal co-employment. This is when two (or more) businesses jointly employ one person across their respective businesses. This is an administratively more complicated arrangement than tapping into networks of gig workers, but it can provide reliable, full-time, year-round work for people who might otherwise struggle for financial stability, while ensuring workforce stability for the businesses in question by making it easier for people to stay and thrive in their own communities. It also supports small operators in areas with a shrinking labour pool, who can’t necessarily offer full-time employment opportunities on their own. Having a better sense of where workers with specific skills are already working can help businesses develop the networks necessary to support co-employment opportunities.

Recognizing the lateral transferability of skills and experience in tourism work can also help employees further their own career goals. Just because someone has worked solely in accommodations doesn’t mean they couldn’t be a perfect fit for a job in another tourism industry. Part of creating a healthy workplace culture is supporting your employees, even when you know they have ambitions beyond what you can offer them. If their energies and ambitions can be redirected within tourism, rather than losing their talent to another sector entirely, then tourism as a whole benefits from the retention of talent—and the businesses that support their workers gain a reputation as a great employer, which is invaluable in a tight labour market.

[1] The NOC system is organized around skills, training, and duties, with the end result that any particular NOC code will cover a number of closely related jobs. Some of this difference is down to business style preferences (whether a restaurant has waiters, servers, or table attendants, for instance), but it can also come down to the way that jobs are pooled together for statistical reporting purposes: 54100 Program leaders and instructors in recreation, sport and fitness encompasses instructors, lifeguards, camp counsellors, ski patrollers, and personal trainers, to name but a few from a very long list.

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