Tourism Labour Trends Dashboard

Indigenous Tourism in Alberta is a rapidly growing industry that serves domestic and international markets. Indigenous tourism increases jobs, businesses and economic growth for Alberta’s Indigenous communities. The tourism sector—and Indigenous tourism in particular—has been hardest hit by COVID-19. The data on this dashboard tracks the current status of Alberta’s tourism sector and Indigenous Tourism Alberta’s members as the sector recovers from the impact of the pandemic. 

Indigenous Tourism in Alberta

Indigenous tourism in Alberta was worth an estimated $166.2 million in GDP pre-COVID-19 while supporting over 3000 jobs and 125 Indigenous tourism businesses. COVID-19 has a dramatic impact on the sector in Alberta. In 2020, it led to a drop in direct GDP of 62% and 65% decrease in jobs. That said, the majority of businesses were able to stay open, and of those that did not, most closed but with hopes of reopening when possible. 

The following charts track the percentage of Indigenous Tourism Alberta members whose businesses are in-development, visitor ready, market ready and export ready (Graph one) by month.

The second graph illustrates the employment levels at member businesses by month. 

Tourism Employment in Alberta 

Tourism employment has declined precipitously since the pandemic. In February 2020, 250,000 people were employed in Alberta’s tourism sector. In the first two months of the pandemic, employment fell by 115,000. Although employment has risen, and is higher in 2021 than in 2020 it remains well below pre-pandemic levels. Graph one shows the total number of workers employed in the sector each month. Graph two shows percentage decline in tourism employment in 2020 and 2020 compared to the same month in 2019.

Alberta’s Tourism Sector – Monthly Employment (Graph 1) and Change in Employment from 2019 (Graph 2)

The following chart displays the same data at the industry group level. The tourism sector is made up of five industry groups, accommodation, food and beverage services, recreation & entertainment and travel services. In the first months of the pandemic all industries lost a large number of employees. Over the summer of 2020, employment in the recreation industry recovered to 2019 levels, but that has not been the case in 2021. On the other hand, employment levels in the food services industry are much higher in 2021 than in 2020.  

Please note that this data should be used with caution as labour force survey data for specific industries can be volatile—particularly for smaller industries that employ fewer workers. 

Monthly Employment (Graph 1) and Change in Employment from 2019 (Graph 2) by industry group

The tourism sector is facing an uneven employment recovery. The loss of business travel and international travel has greatly impacted urban centers and major international attractions, which cater to those tourists. Hyperlocal and domestic travel is expected to return much faster. Businesses and regions that can allow domestic travellers to engage in safe activities with minimal restrictions will recover earlier, and in turn need employees sooner. The following chart shows tourism employment by geographic region.  Data at this level should be used with caution as it can show high volatility in any given month. That said, the trends do indicate that tourism employment in rural regions, particularly ones close to major urban centres, has recovered to a greater degree than tourism employment in urban areas, nearby bedroom communities, and remote rural regions. 

Graph one shows the total number of workers employed in each region by month. Graph two shows percentage decline in tourism employment compared to the same month in 2019.

Monthly Employment (Graph 1) and Change in Employment from 2019 (Graph 2) by geographic area

Another key indicator of the health of the tourism sector is the total number of hours worked by employed tourism workers. Due to supports such as the CEWS, tourism employers were able to retain more workers than they would have without that support. That said, many operators were still operating at a financial loss while continuing to keep staff employed. As tourism historically relies on part-time and seasonal workers, tracking total hours of work can indicate if part-time workers are taking on more hours than usual as customer demand increases. Alternately, if total hours worked remains suppressed compared to employment it indicates the potential to increase the hours of existing workers, rather than hiring new workers in the face of labour shortages. 

Alberta’s Tourism Sector – Total Hours Worked by Employees

Employment in Alberta

Overall employment in Alberta is an important indicator for the health of the tourism sector. In the first months of the pandemic, 332,000 workers lost their jobs of whom 115,200 were tourism workers. Since then, overall employment in the province has almost returned to pre-pandemic levels. Tourism employment remained down 18.8% at the start of summer. Tourism was the hardest hit sector and will be among the last to recover, due to closed borders and public health restrictions. Because of this, former tourism worker will seek work in other sectors, which has implications for the tourism sector’s recovery when restrictions lift and limits on travel ease.  

Graph one, show total employment in Alberta. Graph two, shows the change in employment for each sector. To account for seasonal employment trends, the level of employment in each sector is show as a percent of employment in the same month in 2019.

As of July, employment level in Alberta had not recovered to pre-pandemic levels. Meaning workers are still potentially available. Only a few sectors, such as professional, scientific and technical services; health care and social assistance; finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing; and educational services.

Total Monthly Employment (Graph 1) and Change in Employment by Sector from 2019 (Graph 2)

Unemployment in Alberta also remains elevated. In the fourteen months prior to the pandemic, the number of unemployed Albertans averaged 173,300 individuals per month. Although unemployment has dropped since the early months of the pandemic, as of July there were still close to 218,000 Albertans looking for work.

Total Number of Unemployed Workers in Alberta by Month

Economic Indicators

The pandemic has caused many formerly active tourism businesses to close. This chart indicates the number of active tourism businesses since January 2019. An active tourism business is defined as one that reported having at least one employee in a given month. In February 2020, there were 8,907 active tourism businesses in the province. As of March 2021, there were 8,454 active businesses, a decrease of 5%. The transportation and travel services industry groups have seen the greatest decrease in active businesses. 

Active Tourism Businesses in Alberta by Month

All sources of revenue for tourism businesses—including spending by non-tourists such as local residents attending shows or eating at restaurants—has ben restricted by public health order. However, International travel has all but stopped, significantly affected tourism businesses that cater to this travel segment. In July 2019 almost 200,000 international tourists entered the province. As of May 2021, less than 5,000 international tourists entered the province directly. 

International Tourists Entering Alberta from the United States and Other Countries

Sales at food service establishments remains sluggish, although it has recovered somewhat more than other segments of the tourism sector due to this industries ability to serve locals and pivot to providing take-out and patio dining when indoor dining is restricted. Despite that food service sales were down during the peak summer season in 2020, relative to the year before and as of May 2021 were still down 19.5% from February 2020. 

Food Services Sales in Alberta by Month

Students in Tourism & Hospitality Programs

A long-term indicator of the supply of workers to the tourism sector is the number of students enrolling in, and graduating from tourism and hospitality related programs. From 2010 to 2018, on average 217 students graduated from college or university level hospitality administration/management programs in Alberta each year. On average, almost 400 students graduated from culinary arts programs in Alberta.