Perceptions of Tourism as a Place of Employment in Canada

In spite of recent fluctuations due to the pandemic, tourism in Canada remains a multi-billion-dollar sector that employs over 1.9 million people across five industry groups, and operates in communities all across the country. Ongoing volatility in the tourism job market and external economic pressures have undoubtedly made some Canadians wary of starting (or continuing) a career in tourism, and have likely impacted the “attractiveness” of tourism as a place of employment and as a career path.

Ongoing research is needed to really understand where Canadians “are at” now in terms their attitudes and beliefs about working in tourism, and then to track those changes over time as the industry pivots and rebuilds itself in Canada and around the world.

Tourism HR Canada has worked with market research and analytics firm Leger to undertake this research. They conducted a web survey looking at the perceptions of tourism as a place of employment. In total, 2,502 Canadian residents participated in the survey in September 2023.

A full report analyzing the results of this survey is now available as a free download, and highlights are provided below. 

Previous and Current Tourism Experience

Half of those surveyed have at some point worked in tourism, while 10% currently work in the sector. The largest proportion have experience in the food and beverage services industry. People currently working in the tourism sector are more likely to be young (under 30), to be students, and to have lived in Canada for less than 10 years.

Satisfaction with working in the tourism sector depends on in which industry people have worked. Recreation and entertainment has the highest net satisfaction rating (70%), while food and beverage services has the lowest (51%)—although it’s worth noting that this is still over 50%. Half of Canadians would recommend a career in recreation and entertainment, regardless of whether they have worked in those industries themselves: of those who have experience, the recommendation rate rises to 59%.

People worked in tourism for a number of reasons, chief amongst them that it offered temporary and summer employment while in school, and (to a lesser extent) while looking for other employment opportunities. Other common reasons given were flexibility in work hours and shifts, and the sector being well-suited to people’s personality, skills, and interests.

The main reason given for leaving a job in tourism was that it was only intended to be a temporary job while studying, while others left to pursue other career opportunities in another sector. Concerns about non-competitive wages and benefits in tourism, as well as not enough opportunity for career progression, were also commonly stated.

Skills and Experience Working in Tourism

More than four out of five Canadians who have worked in tourism at some point received some form of training. On-the-job training was the most common type reported, followed by job shadowing and mentoring. Access to online and classroom instructional material has increased across industry groups in the past year, except in food and beverage services. Most Canadians agree that the skills they have developed through tourism—particularly around social employability skills (so-called “soft” skills)—will help them to be successful in their careers. Communication, interpersonal skills, leadership, and critical thinking skills are among the most commonly noted skills that are fostered in the sector.

Promotion opportunities, however, are generally not seen as satisfactory across most industries, although accommodations and transportation scored higher on promotion opportunities (38%) than the sector average (31%). The gap between those wanting to move to a managerial or supervisory role and those being offered such a promotion shrank from last year (from 9% to 5%). Nevertheless, tourism is not seen as a widely appealing long-term career option: 65% of people who left the sector did so because they felt career advancement opportunities were lacking, particularly around issues such as wage, work hours and seasonality, and a lack of alignment with skills and interests.

Perceptions of the Tourism Sector

Tourism is widely recognized as being important to the economic well-being of Canada (90%) and the provinces (88%), and visitors—whether international or domestic—are seen as having a positive impact on local, provincial, and national levels.

From the perspective of employment, while tourism jobs are seen as providing important skills and experiences, the sector remains negatively impacted by seasonality, concerns about long-term stability, and stress levels in tourism jobs. Negative impacts on family life are also flagged as points of concern. Those who have worked in tourism tend to have more polarized views of employment in the sector: they are more likely to agree that tourism jobs provide excellent work experience and that there are many interesting jobs, but they are also more likely to feel that the jobs are stressful, that the long-term career potential is limited, and that family life is negatively impacted.

Compensation likewise remains a point of contention. More people agree that pay is too low for most tourism jobs in 2023 compared to 2022, and that pay is insufficient to lead a satisfactory life. This is no doubt partly due to general inflationary pressures across the economy as a whole, but tourism—due to its general perception as poorly paid work—may be feeling the effect more than other sectors. Most of the people who left tourism because of non-competitive wages believe that businesses could afford higher wages or more benefits—and higher wages and extra incentives would make Canadians more willing to work in their preferred off-seasons. Just over half of Canadians would consider annual earnings of $55-64K to meet their current financial needs.

Strategic Insights

The tourism sector continues to face labour issues, and the perception of the sector as a desired place of employment is a big part of those challenges. Creative efforts to change the narrative of working in tourism are ongoing, and may be nudging perceptions in the right direction: several key indicators in the 2023 survey are trending in the desired direction relative to 2022.

There are some important demographic differences in some of the responses to the survey questions. When looking at inducements to work in preferred off-seasons, for instance, there is a three-way age split: younger workers (25-29) would be more persuaded by offers of year-round work and employee housing (suggesting basic stability needs are currently being unmet), mid-range workers (45-54) would be more persuaded if wages were higher or there were extra incentives (suggesting a focus on longer-term financial goals), while older workers (55+) would simply prefer to be off during those seasons. In a similar vein, younger people are more broadly attracted to tourism as temporary employment while studying, and enjoy the flexibility in both work hours and shifts; conversely, older people are more likely to report that tourism is well-suited to their skills, interests, and personality.

On the whole, tourism employs a lot of younger people, a lot of people born outside of Canada (whether settled long term or having only recently arrived), and a lot of people who identify as Indigenous or as a visible minority. The diversity of the tourism workforce is certainly one of the sector’s strengths, but it also points to a need for more careful and targeted recruitment and retention campaigns to meet current and anticipated labour shortfalls.

There is a compelling need for the sector—and the employers who comprise their respective industries—to recognize that different workers are attracted by different work conditions and incentives, and will respond to different types of employment offers and compensation packages. People of different ages, of different genders and cultural identities, and at different stages of their lives are fundamentally motivated by different factors when it comes to choosing employment.

The tourism sector is well-positioned in this moment to reframe itself as a sector that offers flexibility around personal needs and ambitions. Businesses have been forced over the past three years to change their practices in the face of new operational realities, and in some cases to revisit their business models in their entirety. At the same time, the general population is increasingly oriented more positively towards the sector, as both an important economic driver and as a place of employment. Various marketing efforts are in the field that target job-seekers by re-casting the nature of tourism work, and there are renewed efforts on the horizon to increase tourism’s footprint across different educational domains. Sustaining this new narrative through a combination of (a) competitive total compensation packages and (b) corporate values that align with those of job-seekers, will help employers meet their short-term staffing needs while also investing in a more sustainable and resilient workforce for the future.

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