The travel industry is the world’s largest, but it can be difficult to measure exact employment in companies that range from one person to millions of employees across sectors as diverse as tour operators and airlines around the world.

Despite these challenges, a new report Measuring Employment in the Tourism Industries from the United Nations World Tourism Organization underlines the need for better quality and comparison of tourism employment statistics and prescribes guidelines for doing so. It cites the ability to better monitor markets, attract new talent, and effectively use labor as benefits to getting a statistical grasp on the world’s largest industry.

Unfortunately there are innate industry characteristics, which — at their worst — are described as “an inconsistent demand cycle, high turnover rates, and hard working conditions,” that make this a daunting task.

Employment in the tourism industry can be significantly more difficult to measure than employment within other industries due to seasonality, the prevalence of part-time or overtime work, low or unpaid family labor, and informal or illegal labor, the report says. It ranges by types of activities, establishments, employment contracts, and working arrangements.

The latest statistics from World Travel & Tourism Council says a staggering 266 million jobs were supported by the travel and tourism industry in 2013, accounting for one in eleven all jobs around the world.

The travel industry is reliable on a flexible workforce that is heavily based on part-time, fixed term, temporary contract, and agency work. There are ski instructors who only work six months out of the year, students who work only on their breaks, and constant turnover at many restaurants and attractions.

The report; however, outlines other underlying factors that could lead to high turnover rate including poor career prospects, low pay, physical stress, and working hours that limit personal and social time.

Half of all employees working in tourism industries work irregular hours including nights and weekends, according a to a 2001 report from the International Labour Office.

Another factor impacting employment data collection is that companies providing raw materials for tourism-related goods and indirect tourism jobs are often excluded while workers within a tourism-related company, but tasked with non-tourism activities, are included.

“The range of sub-sectors, the size of businesses, their ownership, the markets they serve illustrate the factors which contribute to determining the range of tasks which are undertaken, the numbers employed and the skills required,” the report reads.

For example, cooks and shop owners are as integral to the food and retail industries as they are to tourism.

“It becomes increasingly necessary to take a broad view of the tourism labour market and consider its close links to other labour markets,” it concludes.

The full report Measuring Employment in the Tourism Industries is embedded below:

Download (PDF, 7KB)

Tags: labor, unwto
Photo Credit: A bellhop stands outside a hotel in Tokyo, Japan. OiMax / Flickr