Tourism Accounts for Nearly 95% of April Employment Losses

In April, following two months of increases, tourism employment fell by 68,900.

The seasonally adjusted Labour Force Survey (LFS) data shows employment across all industries—not just tourism—dropping by 207,000. The unadjusted data shows a drop of “only” 73,700—a large gap between adjusted and unadjusted data. Usually, employment starts to increase in the spring as businesses begin to prepare for the summer. Because the usual trend at this time of year is an employment increase, seasonal adjustments will amplify any decrease when applied.

In February and March, tourism employment increased by 139,700. April’s employment drop resulted from another round of public health restrictions to stem the emergence of the third wave of COVID-19.

Data is from the week of April 11 to 17, 2021.


  • In April, employment across all industries fell by 73,700. Tourism employment fell by 68,900, a decrease of 4.4% from March. The tourism sector accounted for 93.5% of employment losses.
  • Compared to the same month pre-pandemic, tourism employment is down 25.3%, with 510,200 fewer workers employed compared to April 2019.
  • The travel services industry lost almost a quarter of its workforce in April, down 24.0% compared to March.
  • April’s tourism employment losses were concentrated in British Columbia, Ontario, and Alberta, with smaller employment decreases seen in Quebec and Prince Edward Island.
  • Compared to 2019, provincial tourism employment is well below pre-COVID levels, ranging from -9.1% in New Brunswick to -34.3% in Newfoundland and Labrador.
  • In April 2021, the unemployment rate in the tourism sector was at 11.3%.
  • Unemployment dropped in tourism despite the loss of employment. Two factors caused this. One, conditions for seeking work are difficult. Two, the LFS only associates unemployed workers with their former industry for one year.

Please note: To allow comparisons with tourism sector data, which sees significant employment fluctuations over the year, we use seasonally unadjusted data for both tourism employment and overall employment.

Tourism Employment Rate

In April, employment across all industries fell by 73,700. Tourism employment fell by 68,900, a decrease of 4.4% from March. The tourism sector accounted for 93.5% of employment losses. The large majority of tourism employment losses were in part-time positions, which decreased by 64,300. In contrast, full-time jobs fell by 4,600.

In April 2021, tourism employed 1,506,000 workers, an improvement compared to April 2020—the lowest point of tourism unemployment during the pandemic. But compared to the same month pre-pandemic, tourism employment is down 25.3%, with 510,200 fewer workers employed compared to April 2019.

Employment decreased in every tourism industry group. Travel services was hit particularly hard this month. Employment in that industry group dropped by 24.0%. The smallest percentage decrease occurred in the transportation industry group (-0.2%), which added 1,600 full-time positions, and the recreation and entertainment industry (-0.9%), which added a large number of full-time jobs. However, significant decreases in part-time positions offset those gains. The food and beverage services industry group lost the largest number of jobs, down by 47,400.

Because the industry groups that make up tourism are different sizes, looking at the monthly change in employment as a percentage change relative to the previous month provides a more equitable picture of how each industry is recovering. It also helps illustrate the size of the employment increase or decrease relative to total employment within a given industry group. Following two months of employment gains, tourism employment is now down 22.2% compared to February 2020, the last month before pandemic-related employment losses began.

The travel services industry lost almost a quarter of its workforce in April, down 24.0% compared to March.

Other industry groups saw smaller employment decreases in percentage terms. Employment fell 6.4% in food and beverage services, 3.2% in accommodations, 0.9% in recreation and entertainment, and 0.2% in the transportation industry.

Since the pandemic began, employment levels are down by over a quarter across the entire tourism sector. Employment is down 31.7% in accommodations, 27.7% in food and beverage services, 26.1% in travel services, 23.7% in recreation and entertainment, and 20.0% in transportation.

April 2020 was the lowest point for tourism employment during the pandemic. When comparing 2021 to 2020, employment may have increased on a year-over-year basis while remaining well below pre-COVID levels. In April 2021, this is undoubtedly true. Tourism employment is up 30.7% on a year-over-year basis, and all tourism industries employ more people than they did at this time last year. However, compared to April 2019, tourism employment is down 25.3%. The most significant percentage decrease in employment is in the accommodations industry group.

Provincial Tourism Employment

April’s tourism employment losses were concentrated in British Columbia, Ontario, and Alberta, with smaller employment decreases seen in Quebec and Prince Edward Island. The other provinces saw slight increases in employment. However, since data was collected for April, some of these provinces have introduced additional restrictions. Those are likely to negate April’s employment gains.

In every province except Newfoundland and Labrador, tourism employment was higher this April than it was in April 2020. Compared to 2019, provincial tourism employment is well below pre-COVID levels, ranging from -9.1% in New Brunswick to -34.3% in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Tourism Unemployment Rate

Despite a decrease in employment this April, the unemployment rate in the tourism sector dropped. While this may appear counterintuitive, there are two factors that could contribute to this. One, former tourism workers must actively be seeking a new job to be considered unemployed. Labour market conditions, including stay-at-home orders in Ontario, make it difficult to seek work. Two, the Labour Force Survey determines the industry of a former worker based on the last industry for those currently unemployed who held a job in the previous year[1]. Any former tourism workers who have not found a job since March 2020 may still be unemployed, but they are not counted as part of the tourism sector’s former workforce.

The number of unemployed workers dropped in all provinces and all industry groups, except for accommodations. The number of unemployed tourism workers also remains well above pre-pandemic levels, but has been declining since January. In February and March, this could be attributed to increasing employment. In April, much of the decrease is likely due to former workers declining to seek a new job until public health restrictions are eased. However, some of the decrease in unemployment could be due to former tourism workers moving to other sectors.

In April 2021, the unemployment rate in the tourism sector was at 11.3%, which is 17.7 percentage points lower than the rate reported in April 2020, and lower than the previous month (March 2021), when the unemployment rate stood at 13.0%.

At 11.3%, tourism’s unemployment rate was above Canada’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate of 8.4%.

All tourism industry groups have reported lower unemployment rates than the same month last year.

Unemployment Rate
Tourism Industry Group[2]

April 2020

March 2021

April 2021

Tourism 29.0% 13.0% 11.3%
Accommodations 35.9% 14.0% 16.2%
Food & Beverage Services 34.5% 14.0% 11.6%
Recreation & Entertainment 28.4% 15.3% 13.1%
Transportation 15.0% 7.5% 6.7%
Travel Services 22.6% 8.8% 7.4%

On a provincial basis, tourism unemployment rates ranged from 5.6% in Saskatchewan to 15.1% in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates for tourism in each province, with the exception of Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Saskatchewan, were above the rates reported for the provincial economy.

The Tourism Labour Force

The tourism labour force shrank significantly between March and April. Not only did the number of employed tourism workers decrease, but the number of unemployed tourism workers also fell by 43,400 due to the factors noted above. The tourism labour force is only slightly larger than it was one year ago.

Employment by Sector

As of April, Canada’s tourism sector employed 519,100 fewer people than it did in February 2020. Across all industries, there were 422,800 fewer people employed this April than there were in February 2020. Meanwhile, employment is higher than it was pre-COVID in nine other sectors of the economy.

Hours of Work

The total hours worked in the tourism sector has decreased to a greater degree than employment. The decrease in hours suggests that economic activity has fallen to a greater degree than employment data alone would suggest. Several factors could be behind this gap, but it is partially due to programs like the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy and other supports. In April, employment was down 25.6% compared to February 2020. The total actual hours worked by tourism employees was down 30.8%, from 64.0 billion hours to 38.8 billion hours. Only in the recreation and entertainment industry has employment fallen more than actual hours of work. The travel services industry has the most significant gap in worker activity measures: employment is down 26.1%, but hours worked are down 37.6%.

Demographic Impact

Numerous studies have noticed the negative effect of COVID-19 on employment among women, immigrants, young people, and visible minorities relative to other demographic groups. To a large extent, the industries that have suffered the brunt of COVID-19 have a higher share of workers from these demographic groups than the overall Canadian labour market. Tourism, for example, has a higher percentage of jobs held by women, young people, and immigrants than the workforce as a whole. However, even within the tourism sector, COVID-19’s negative impact on employment has fallen on some demographic groups to a greater degree than others.


In February 2020, women represented 47.8% of all employed workers in Canada. Women made up 48.1% of employed workers in tourism and were the majority of employees in the accommodations, food and beverage services, and travel services industry groups.

In the early months of the pandemic, female tourism workers were impacted to a greater degree. Using February 2020 as the baseline, by April, employment among women had fallen to 54.2%, while tourism employment among men had “only” fallen to 59.4% of February levels. The initial employment recovery was also better for men. But over the summer, employment among women rose higher. The food and beverage services industry’s ability to remain open to a greater degree than other tourism industries is a likely cause. This industry employs the largest number of tourism workers, and the majority of its workers are female. Employment levels for both genders fell during the fall and have settled into rough equivalence in terms of negative impact since February 2021.


Tourism employs a very high share of young workers compared to the broader economy. The 2016 census showed that people aged 15 to 24 held 12.8% of all jobs in Canada. People in the same age category fill over 30% of jobs in tourism. Young people tend to be a particularly prominent part of the tourism workforce over the summer months. In July 2019, 37.0% of employed tourism workers were youth.

The first months of the pandemic impacted young tourism workers to an incredible degree. Setting February 2020 as the employment baseline (100%), youth employment had fallen to 38.6% of its pre-pandemic level by April. Over the summer, youth employment levels came back and were equivalent to employment levels in other age groups. In the fall, youth employment fell once more. Some of that decline would have been students returning to school. This phenomenon does not impact other age groups to the same degree. However, as of April 2021, it is clear that the pandemic has hit young workers in tourism much more than older workers. Although employment is down across all age categories, youth employment is only 64.3% of what it was before COVID-19.

Immigrant Status

In February 2020, landed immigrants held 26.1% of all jobs in the Canadian economy. In the tourism sector, they held 27.9% of jobs. The Labour Force Survey data shows that the impact on employment amongst the two demographic groups has been mixed. As of April, the amount of tourism employment among non-immigrants was 86.2% of February 2020 levels, while employment among landed immigrants was at 77.8%. Last summer, employment levels among non-immigrants exceed that of immigrants. However, come fall and winter, as a group, landed immigrants tended to have higher levels of employment than non-immigrants. The most likely reason for this is that immigrant workers tend to be older than non-immigrant workers, on average. The young workers who pick up summer jobs are much more likely to be non-immigrants.[3]

Regardless, if we look at immigrants by arrival period, those immigrants who came to Canada within the last five years have suffered the greatest loss of employment. Among that group, employment levels are only 53.7% of February 2020 levels as of April.


The geographic impact of COVID-19 has not been evenly distributed. All regions have been negatively affected, but urban cores have lost tourists, and downtowns have also lost many office workers who used to frequent restaurants and recreational facilities during lunch or after work. Overall, tourism employment is down 25.3% in April 2021 compared to April 2019. Looking at tourism employment by geographic location, it becomes clear that urban cores, small towns, and villages have suffered the most in terms of tourism employment losses. The urban fringes (e.g., suburbs and bedroom communities) and rural areas attached to urban centres have seen smaller employment losses. These trends hold for both tourism and for employment across all industries. In fact, overall employment in rural areas outside of urban areas is the one region that had more employed workers this April than two years ago.

Summer Outlook

Tourism’s employment increases in February and March were a response to the lifting of health restrictions in a number of provinces. The emergence of a deadly third wave of the virus undercut these gains.

Modelling from the Public Health Agency of Canada expects that uptake of the first vaccine dose will influence whether it is safe to lift public health measures this summer. The modelling shows that if at least 75% of adults receive the first dose of vaccine (with 20% having received their second dose), it should be safe to lift health measures. This is not meant to indicate that COVID-19 would not continue to spread to some degree, but hospital capacity would not be exceeded as was the case during the third wave.[4]

However, public health restrictions are the responsibility of the provinces and territories. Already, some provinces have indicated that current restrictions will be extended into June.[5] It is difficult to predict the exact time and pace of reopening, as it depends on vaccine uptake and the effectiveness of current measures at reducing new infections. Reopening is likely to occur in stages and at a different pace depending on the province. Saskatchewan has created a reopening roadmap based on milestones related to the percentage of the population that has been vaccinated—with a three-week lag in order for the vaccines’ effectiveness to take hold.[6]

The most likely scenario for the summer is one in which travel and recreation are possible, due to most Canadians receiving their first vaccination. International travel will be muted or non-existent. The signals around domestic tourism are mixed. Research from Destination Canada shows 80% of Canadians plan to travel once it is safe to do so, but survey work by Leger shows 54% of Canadians are somewhat or very unlikely to take a summer vacation in 2021. On the positive side, the 31% who say they are likely to take a vacation will probably be doing so within Canada, which will boost domestic travel.[7]

Bottom line: Local demand is going to be more important than ever for the tourism sector.

For more on the impact of COVID-19 on Canada’s tourism workforce, please visit our Employment Tracker.

[1] Statistics Canada, Guide to the Labour Force Survey 2020.
[2] As defined by the Canadian Tourism Satellite Account. The NAICS industries included in the tourism sector are those that would cease to exist or operate at a significantly reduced level of activity as a direct result of an absence of tourism.
[3] In February 2020, 37.2% of non-immigrant tourism workers were 15-24, whereas 18.9% of immigrant tourism workers were 15-24.
[4] Update on Covid-19 in Canada: Epidemiology and Modelling, Public Health Agency of Canada, April 23rd, 2021
[7] Leger’s North American Tracker, May 14th, 2021, Leger