The Labour Force Survey (LFS), conducted by Statistics Canada, collects standard labour market indicators and is a major source of information on the working-age population in all provinces. Tourism HR Canada reviews the estimates available for tourism industries on both monthly and an annual basis.
Labour Force Survey 2022: A Slow Recovery of the Tourism Workforce
COVID-19 has had a significant negative impact on Canadian employment. At the peak of the pandemic, Statistics Canada estimated that over 5 million Canadians either lost their job or had their working hours reduced by over 50%. COVID-19 hit the tourism sector particularly hard. Before the pandemic, over 2 million Canadians worked in the tourism sector. However, 880,000 individuals had lost that employment by April 2020. And unlike other sectors, tourism has faced ongoing challenges in getting people back to work.
Because tourism inherently has peaks and troughs at different times of the year, it can be difficult to tell if variation is due to seasonal fluctuations, or because of the impact of COVID-19. This is why the Annual Labour Force Survey data is so valuable: it allows 2022 to be compared with previous years, to reveal trends that are unaffected by this annual seasonality.
Key Insights for 2022
While the total labour force across all sectors recovered in 2021 and grew in 2022, the tourism labour force is still struggling towards recovery. The tourism labour force now accounts for a decreasing share of the overall economy. In 2019, tourism occupied 10.9% of the total labour force; that number fell sharply in 2020. It has been growing since, but only reached 9.6% in 2022. Similarly, in 2022, employment across all sectors had recovered, but tourism employment (encompassing all five tourism industries) still lagged behind pre-pandemic levels. This implies that previously unemployed individuals had opted for jobs in other sectors rather than in tourism, making it more difficult for tourism businesses to recruit workers.
While employment across all sectors in 2022 was 2.7% higher than in 2019, tourism employment in 2022 was 10.3% lower than in 2019.
The overall Canadian labour force has grown by 2.2% from 2019 to 2022. However, the tourism labour force has declined by 10.4% since 2019. Compared to 2021, the tourism labour force was elevated by 8.4%.
Annual Average Employment by Industry
Throughout 2022, the negative impact of COVID-19 continued to loom over each of the five tourism industry groups. Although employment of the five tourism industries was higher than in 2021, no tourism industries had recovered to 2019 levels yet.
The travel services industry was the hardest hit, with employment down 29.0% from 2019. This was followed by the accommodations industry, which had seen a decline of 24.4% in its employment from 2019 to 2022.
Employment in the food and beverage services industry and transportation industry dropped by 12.5% and 8.2% since 2019, reaching only 87.5% and 91.8% of their pre-pandemic levels, respectively.
A piece of good news is that employment in the recreation and entertainment industry reached 99.7% of the 2019 levels, showing a positive sign towards recovery.
Annual Average Employment by Province
The 2022 Labour Force Survey data reveals that the COVID-19 pandemic impacted provincial labour markets to varying degrees.
Compared to 2021, employment in all provinces was elevated. Newfoundland and Labrador saw the biggest employment growth (24.3%), while New Brunswick saw the smallest growth (2.1%) over the previous year.
Despite this growth, no provinces had recovered to their 2019 employment levels yet. Nova Scotia had the most significant employment loss (-13.6%), followed by Quebec (-12.9%) and Saskatchewan (-11.0%). The employment loss in British Columbia was the smallest among all provinces (-6.3%).
Annual Average Unemployment by Industry
The unemployment data for the tourism sector paints a rather deceptive picture of the state of the labour market challenges, due to the massive loss of the tourism labour force overall. While this makes the unemployment rates for 2022 similar to 2019 levels, as noted above, the total labour force was dramatically reduced across the tourism industry groups.
The unemployment rate for the overall economy was 0.4 percentage points lower in 2022 than in 2019, at 5.3%. The tourism unemployment rate was 5.0% in 2022, 0.2 percentage points lower than in 2019. Unemployment rates for most tourism industry groups declined compared to 2019, except the accommodations industry, which has seen an increase of 0.2 percentage points from 2019 to 2022. The accommodations industry also had the highest unemployment rate in 2022, while the transportation industry had the lowest, at 2.3%. Note that limited data is available for travel services, so year-on-year comparisons are not possible for this industry group.
Annual Average Unemployment by Province
In 2022, the tourism unemployment rates in Manitoba (4.0%), Saskatchewan (4.9%), Alberta (4.2%), and British Columbia (4.1%) were lower than in Canada overall (5.0%).
Comparing the unemployment rate of the tourism sector with that of the total provincial economy, tourism unemployment rates were higher than the overall unemployment rate in five provinces: Prince Edward Island (9.8% vs. 7.2%), Nova Scotia (8.2% vs. 6.5%), New Brunswick (7.6% vs. 7.3%), Quebec (5.0% vs. 4.3%), and Saskatchewan (4.9% vs. 4.6%).
National Monthly Unemployment Rate (Tourism vs. Total Labour Force)
The national tourism unemployment rate plummeted in February 2022, then continued to decrease in the following months. It was at its lowest in July (3.5%), and then increased overall from July to December.
Merely looking at the unemployment rate, tourism seemed to be doing better than the total economy, as the tourism unemployment rate stayed below the overall economy-wide unemployment rate. Again, it should be kept in mind that one significant reason is that the tourism labour force has declined greatly compared to 2019.
Annual Unemployment Rate (Tourism vs. Total Labour Force) 2006 – 2022
Between 2006 and 2008, the tourism unemployment rate closely mirrored that of the total economy. But starting from 2008, those rates diverged. The financial crisis drove up the unemployment rate in all sectors, but the tourism sector was less affected compared to the overall economy. For a decade after the financial crisis, tourism unemployment was consistently about a percentage point lower than the overall unemployment rate. That trend came to a crashing halt in 2020. Overall, the unemployment rate spiked to 9.5% (higher than at the height of the financial crisis), whereas tourism unemployment soared to 16.5%. In most provinces, the tourism unemployment rates were unprecedented.
As of 2022, the unemployment rate of both the overall economy and tourism had fallen, reaching a point that was generally lower than in the past.
Source: The information presented here is drawn from Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey. It shows rates of unemployment in Canada’s tourism sector by province and by industry group. The data is seasonally unadjusted to allow comparisons between the tourism sector and the overall economy. As such, monthly and annual numbers for Canada’s entire labour force will differ from the seasonally adjusted numbers that are commonly reported.
Statistics Canada has introduced revisions to the historical Labour Force Survey (LFS) data that Tourism HR Canada uses for our labour market information reporting. Consequently, there may be slight variations between what is reported on the Statistics Canada site and our site, but the narrative of significant job losses remains unchanged.
Tourism HR Insider subscribers receive monthly estimates of employment and unemployment for each of tourism’s five industry groups and for each province. To sign up, click here.
You can also access detailed Labour Force Survey data by occupation and region through our Rapid reSearch tool, hosted on emerit.ca. Sign up for an account to gain access to the data.
This project is funded by the Government of Canada’s Sectoral Initiatives Program
The opinions and interpretations in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Government of Canada.