Stuck in Neutral: The U.S. Travel Industry’s Diversity Problem
Rafat Ali, Skift
- Nov 20, 2013 8:30 am
Demography is destiny, and the U.S. travel industry needs to start a bigger conversation and indeed efforts around diversity if it wants to remain relevant for the multi-ethnic future.
— Rafat Ali
For the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural world that we live in, diversity is an issue that the travel industry rarely talks about, not in the travel media and not at the various industry conferences. You do see occasional campaigns by some large U.S. airlines and hotel companies, especially in lobbying-heavy Washington, D.C., talking about their diversity hiring credentials and efforts.
But beyond that, the travel industry at large remains unrepresentative of the larger demographic changes happening in America. If this is Obama’s America, we don’t see it in the travel industry.
That much is clear if you dig into the numbers over the years, as we have, taking demographic employment data from Bureau of Labor Statistics, the main U.S. government labor statistics and analysis organization. And it is true across all sectors of travel, from tourism, travel agents, airlines industry, hospitality, and transport.
Even if you buy into the argument that this may be true for a lot of other industry sectors as well, data over a six-year period for various travel sectors we’ve tracked below doesn’t inspire much confidence that the industry is moving in the right direction towards creating a more diverse and representative workforce.
What’s clear is that Hispanics are making a dent on the lower end of the employment sectors in travel, purely because of their increasing numbers across the country. But African-Americans are stuck, and in some cases their employment numbers are actually regressing, as the tables below show.
Among the various sub-sectors in travel, airlines industry, meetings & conventions industry, and travel agents have a particularly acute lack-of-diversity problem.
That’s not to say that all the factors influencing diversity and the efforts to change it can be captured in a few data tables. As BLS itself says in its annual 2012 labor force race and ethnicity report, “these differences reflect a variety of factors, not all of which are measurable. These factors include variations across the groups in educational attainment; the occupations and industries in which the groups work; the geographic areas of the country in which the groups are concentrated, including whether they tend to reside in urban or rural settings; and the degree of discrimination encountered in the workplace.”
But shining a light on it through diversity data across various sectors of travel certainly helps industry realize the extent of the problem. In a future story coming soon, we are going to look into the gender diversity in employment in the travel industry and suffice to say the numbers there don’t look too rosy either.
The full data of 13-different occupation sectors in travel, first for full year 2012, and then occupation wise breakdown over 6 years, from 2007 to 2012, below.
Travel Industry Sector-Wide Employment
By Occupation, Race, And Hispanic or Latino Ethnicity, 2012 Annual Averages (Numbers in Thousands)
Total employed (in thousands), 2012
Black or African American %
Hispanic or Latino ethnicity %
Total, 16 years and over
Meeting, convention, and event planners
Hotel, motel, and resort desk clerks
Maids and housekeeping cleaners
Aircraft pilots and flight engineers
Aircraft mechanics and service technicians
Tour and travel guides
Reservation and transportation ticket agents and travel clerks