Travel and Leisure

Travel and Leisure

Industry Outlook

Travel and leisure represent one of the largest service industries in the United States. Total 2019 expenditures for domestic and international travelers in the United States were more than $1.1 trillion, according to the U.S. Travel Association, including food services, lodging, transportation, recreation and amusement, and retail sales. International visitors spent about $255 billion in the U.S. in 2019, which was a slight increase over the $246 billion they spent in the United States in 2015. U.S. residents traveling abroad spent $196 billion in 2019.

According to the International Trade Administration, the top five foreign countries from which visitors came to the United States by 2019 arrivals were: Canada (20.7 million), Mexico (18.1 million), United Kingdom (4.8 million), Japan (3.8 million), and China (2.8 million).

The recession that began in 2008 had a serious impact on the travel and tourism industry, and 2009 was its most difficult year since the 2001 attacks, according to the U.S. Office of Travel and Tourism Industries. In 2009, 3 million fewer international visitors came to the United States than in the previous year, and 329,000 industry jobs were lost. The economy had strengthened in the years since, and the travel and tourism industry was rebounding, both in the United States and in other countries as well, up until early 2020. The market research group IBISWorld reports that the U.S. tourism industry grew modestly, by nearly 2 percent annually, from 2015 to 2020, however, industry revenue was projected to plummet 38.7 percent in 2020 alone due to the coronavirus outbreak. The pandemic, which started in late 2019, has had a major impact on every sector of the travel and tourism industry, due to the worldwide lockdowns and travel restrictions that have been imposed in many countries, including the U.S. Many hotels, resorts, restaurants, entertainment venues, airlines, travel and tourism companies, and other related businesses are either operating at minimum capacity with new protocols, are temporarily closed and have laid off employees, or have permanently stopped operations.

The travel and tourism industry is expected to continue growing slowly through 2025, as the pandemic comes to an end, the economy rebounds, and public health and confidence is restored. The accelerated distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine in 2021 will strengthen the economy, with businesses reopening and employment increasing. Disposable income is projected to increase in the coming years, with growth anticipated in domestic and international travel. As of late 2020, the U.S. tourism industry was valued at $591 billion, with 396,690 businesses and total employment of more than 4.8 million people.

Air travel remains one of the most popular modes of transportation. Employment in the air transportation industry will be competitive. The U.S. Department of Labor projects most jobs in this industry, such as airline pilots, copilots, flight engineers, and others, will increase by about 6 percent through 2028, or about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Employment growth in hotels and other lodging establishments varies by specialty. The U.S. Department of Labor predicts little or no job growth for lodging managers through 2028. A decline in employment growth is projected for hotel, motel, and resort desk clerks and secretaries. On the other hand, waiters and waitresses are expected to have 6 percent job growth, about as fast as the average, through 2028. Bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks will have a decline in employment in the coming years.

In 2020, the restaurant industry comprised more than 1 million locations, employed 14.4 million workers, and had about $899 billion in sales, according to the National Restaurant Association. For 2020 into 2021, little if any employment growth was expected in the restaurant industry due to the COVID pandemic. As more of the population receives the vaccine and consumer confidence grows, indoor dining with larger capacity and employment growth will pick up for most restaurant workers. Overall, jobs in the restaurant industry are expected to grow at an average rate through 2028, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Food service managers and food and beverage service workers will have much faster than average employment growth for all occupations when the pandemic comes to an end. There should be jobs available for chefs, cooks, and other kitchen workers. Competition for positions at high-end restaurants will be keen as turnover is usually low at such establishments.

Job opportunities for workers in the recreation industry are expected to grow by 8 percent through 2028, which is faster than the average. Several factors contribute to the health of the industry, including double-income families, and growth at facilities catering to the middle-aged and elderly population, including golf courses, cruise lines, and other facilities that target the 50- to 75-year-old age group. The pandemic has slowed growth for recreation workers in the U.S. as many gyms and fitness centers, health spas, and related facilities closed to protect public health. Casinos and other recreation venues were also closed in many states. As these businesses reopen, attendance and memberships will increase and demand for recreation workers will grow. Overall, sports facilities, health spas, and fitness centers are popular outlets for the health-conscious public and younger adults with steadily rising incomes. Casinos will also continue to provide jobs for the industry in the years to come, as many more states pass legislation in favor of land-based casinos. Many cities and nearby suburbs house satellite betting parlors that collectively employ thousands of workers. Theme parks and amusement parks are constantly expanding and modernizing their attractions to appeal to the public. In the very near future, when the pandemic ends and it's once again safe for people to collectively enjoy these parks, there will be an increase in job opportunities.