A new report published by the U.S. Travel Association shows that the travel industry has provided a vital catalyst for job growth in the past 30 years—particularly in the middle-class sector. The report states that 4 million travel-industry workers earn a middle-class income or higher, making up 53 percent of the total travel workforce. This makes the travel industry—and by extension lodging, which makes up 19 percent of the industry’s 7.8 million workers—one of the top ten employers of middle-class wage earners.
The research came from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Since 1979, BLS has tracked more than 5,000 American workers, interviewing them every year between 1979 and 1994 and every two years between 1994 and 2010. The U.S. Travel Association broke down the BLS labor force data to show how travel jobs benefit workers and how careers in the industry progress over time compared to workers who begin in other industries.
“A lot of people usually look at the travel industry and associate that with a wages that aren’t very high,” says David Huether, senior vice president of research and economics at the U.S. Travel Association. “The study was mainly done to bring to life that the travel industry really is a pathway to the middle class.”
One reason the industry creates so many middle-class jobs is because it offers unique opportunities to minority workers and individuals that possess a high-school degree or less. Workers without a college education make up 70 percent of the travel workforce and reach an average pay level of $69,500 per year. Travel workers are also more likely to pursue higher education while working part time, because of the flexibility offered by jobs in the industry. Among workers who began their careers in the travel industry, one-third earned at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to just 28 percent in health care, 19 percent in construction, and 18 percent in manufacturing.
Data also shows that minorities and women who start their career in travel-related industries also see a greater increase in their wages over the course of their careers compared to those in other industries.
“When you look at the size of this industry, it’s a mass employer everywhere in the United States,” says Roger Dow, CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “We wanted to take a look at those jobs and analyze what they mean in the long term.”
Dow explains that the majority of workers who begin their careers in travel move on to pursue opportunities in other industries. But he maintains that working in the travel industry provides a jumping-off point for higher-paying careers down the road. “Travel jobs provide important and transferable skills,” says Dow. “That translates into building long-term careers.”
The report shows that two in every five workers, or 40 percent, who start their careers in the travel industry now earn salaries of over $100,000 per year.
“Employers today are looking for a combination of skills that demonstrate flexibility, resourcefulness, and the ability to provide customer service by listening and anticipating the needs of others,” says Lydia Westbrook, director of international programs at the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel & Restaurant Management, University of Houston. “The multicultural environment of a hospitality operation and the nature of being ‘on stage’ daily when serving guests and customers allows employees to develop the critical skills necessary to be successful in a variety of career fields.”
The U.S. Travel Association says it will continue its efforts to advance policies that create growth within the industry.
“I know firsthand how important travel jobs can be, from the skills they provide to the opportunities they create and the doors they open,” says Dow. “With this report, it is my hope — and U.S. Travel’s goal — that we can continue to work with elected officials to put policies in place to ensure that travel will continue to create jobs and provide opportunities for millions of American workers and their families.”