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The future of America’s travel workforce

Staff shortages continue to disrupt hotels, restaurants, airports and more, but this could be an opportunity to rebuild a more diverse and vibrant travel industry.

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EEditor’s note: This article is part of a series of opinion pieces for AFAR written by Roger Dow, President and CEO of the US Travel Association, the Washington, DC-based organization which represents all segments of travel in America. US Travel’s mission is to increase travel to and within the United States.

It’s a big week for the travel industry in the United States: it’s National Travel and Tourism Week (NTTW, May 1-7, 2022), a kind of annual travel meeting professionals across the United States to reflect on the past year – celebrate what the industry has accomplished – and plan for the future.

There is cause for celebration: while international and business travel are still down, domestic leisure travel has almost completely recovered to pre-pandemic levels.

Although we continue to work towards recovery, we know that we cannot return to the current situation. Achieving real change depends in large part on our industry’s ability to rebuild and retain a diverse and vibrant workforce.

Thanks to a new vision emerging from the pandemic years, the American travel industry is preparing for a future that will be more sustainable, innovative and safe.

A time to rebuild

The employment statistics are sobering: there have been more job losses in travel and hospitality than in any other sector. The leisure and hospitality (L&H) sector alone accounted for 11% of pre-pandemic U.S. employment, but accounted for a staggering 93 percent of all jobs lost from March 2022.

While this is clearly a setback, it also presents an opportunity to rebuild to become more competitive with other industries. The travel industry generates good, well-paying jobs that provide stability and upward mobility for families in every pocket of America. Our industry can offer extremely competitive salaries, which is crucial in replenishing the travel workforce. In fact, the average hourly wage of L&H employees was 20% above 2019 levels in Marchhigher than the 14% increase for the entire private sector.

A path to upward mobility

It’s also an industry where workers can really climb the ladder and learn valuable skills along the way. Travel creates a strong talent pipeline through apprenticeship, mentorship and hospitality management training programs. These efforts equip hospitality managers with next-generation skills that instill a sense of purpose and mission.

I know this because I have directly experienced the enormous upward mobility created by this industry. I took my first job as a pool manager at a Marriott hotel in 1966, then progressed into housekeeping and sales. From there, I managed sales and marketing positions at hotels in 12 different cities before joining Marriott’s corporate headquarters in 1983 as Marketing Manager. Ten years later, an opportunity presented itself to lead Marriott’s 10,000 strong global sales team. That first job I had at Marriott led me to a decades-long career built on invaluable and highly transferable skills.

So how can we ensure that others can similarly benefit from a career in travel?

Show workers the opportunities in travel jobs

The US travel industry needs to do more to introduce this phenomenal industry to job seekers. In November 2021, the labor force participation rate was nearly 62%, which equates to 2.4 million fewer Americans in the workforce than the same time in 2019.

While this is troubling news, it presents a unique opportunity. The travel industry is a bridge of support for Americans looking to re-enter the workforce in a vibrant economy. When we recruit new talent, we must make it clear to job seekers that the travel professions are very accessible and flexible. Many entry-level workers can find work while traveling, as reception staff, cleaners, lifeguards, etc. These jobs provide much-needed training to cultivate essential soft skills, such as communication, dedication, confidence, leadership, flexibility, customer service, and problem solving.

The US Travel Association recently entered into a partnership with Diversity in tourism matters to help attract a more diverse workforce and foster these skills. Tourism Diversity Matters was founded in 2021 to address ethnic disparity gaps within the tourism and events industry to engage, recruit and retain a diverse workforce. Specifically, Tourism Diversity Matters runs a learning program which engages underrepresented students by providing hands-on experience in tourism and hospitality. Training workers to be more productive and successful in the workplace not only serves individuals, it will also benefit employers and the communities they serve.

To look forward

This National Travel & Tourism Week, I am proud to join my colleagues across the country in imagining a bright future and limitless possibilities for the next generation of travellers. Travelers and the American travel industry have endured so much during the pandemic, but this is a chance to reinvent the industry to be more vibrant, resilient and forward-looking than before the public health crisis. . It all starts with building a diverse and talented workforce.

>>Next: The future of hospitality is . . .

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