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The U.S. travel industry’s diversity dilemma, uneven as it is among various job types, persisted in 2015 but each sector also increased its percentage of non-white employees.

Data from the the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics show airline pilots still claimed the most white faces of any occupation in the travel industry last year (91 percent). The percentages of African American, Asian and Hispanic or Latino airline pilots, however, increased 3.7 percentage points last year and 9.4 percent of pilots were women. The bureau included women, African American, Asian and Hispanic or Latino in its racial and gender demographic breakdowns in 2015.

Increases in percentages of non-white hires outnumbered decreases 13 to eight but some of the decreases were significant. U.S. hotels, for example, saw their percentage of Hispanic or Latino front desk employees fall from 25.1 percent in 2014 to 18.7 percent in 2015. Tour operators’ percentage of Hispanic of Latino employees fell by six percent and tour operators and travel agencies’ percentage of African American employees decreased more than two percentage points.

Hotel front desk staff, reservation and ticket agents and flight attendants had the highest percentage of African American employees in 2015 at 18, 16.4 and 12 percent, respectively, and those percentages are increases over 2014. Hotels and tour operators employed the highest percentage of Asian employees and reservation and ticket agencies employed the highest percentage of Hispanic or Latino employees (see charts below).

Asian employees had five instances across various sectors of percentage point increases compared to African American and Hispanic or Latino employees each having four instances of increases in percent employed.

Importance of Diversity

U.S. flight attendants and airline pilots saw their percentages increase for all three races the bureau has available data for. Airline pilots, flight attendants, hotel front desk staff, tour operators and travel agents all saw their percentage of non-white co-workers increase by more than three percentage points.

Hotels increased their percentage of African American front desk employees by 5.6 percentage points year-over-year, the most of any travel sector. And while hotels also had the lowest percentage of white employees (52.6%) of any travel sector last year it took a long road to get to that point.

Sondra Thiederman, who studies workplace diversity, bias reduction and cross-cultural business and has worked with clients such as Boeing and Marriott International, told Skift that hotels seemed concerned with race in the past but not in the right way, “One issue that used to come up a lot is hotels’ concerns that they only have attractive, and usually white, females at front desks. And was that discrimination or just branding? Were they trying to depict their branding at the front desk?”

Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald spoke to Skift last year about how diverse employees lead to diverse thinking, “If you want diversity of thinking, having diverse workers and diverse leadership and diverse management doesn’t guarantee diversity of thinking, but you have a far greater probability of it if you have diversity in your ranks than if you don’t.”

“It is a business imperative. What anybody needs to do if they want diversity is they have to proactively intervene to create that diversity because human beings naturally cluster. It’s our nature.”

Some Sectors’ Employment Numbers Grew as Others Shrunk

Some sectors were able to make notable increases in their non-white employee numbers as they hired tens of thousands of new workers in 2015.

U.S. hotels hired about 36,000 new employees last year, the most of any travel sector, and increased their percentage of non-white front desk employees by seven percentage points.

U.S. airlines hired some 7,000 new pilots and 13,000 new aircraft mechanics and flight engineers as the number of flight attendants dropped from 92,000 in 2014 to 86,000 last year. A 2015 U.S. Department of Transportation report projected U.S. airlines will hire more than 317,000 new employees overall by 2022.

Demographic Breakdowns of U.S. Travel Industry Employment in 2015

OccupationTotal Employed% Women% African American% Asian% Hispanic or Latino% WhiteYOY Percentage Point Increase of Non-White Employees
Aircraft Pilots and Flight Engineers140,000**9.40%2.6%*0.7%*5.7%*91%3.70%
Air Traffic Controllers30,000N/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/A
Aircraft Mechanics and Service Technicians140,000**5.20%8.30%3.10%13.6%*75%1.10%
Flight Attendants86,00074.90%12%*4.50%*9.80%*73.70%5.7%
Hotel, Motel and Resort Desk Clerks156,000**59.50%18%*10.7%*18.70%52.60%7%
Tour and Travel Guides54,00054.30%3.40%10.1%*5.30%81.20%4.30%
Travel Agents89,000**75.90%3.30%17.7%*8.70%70.30%4.50%
Reservation and Transportation Ticket Agents and Travel Clerks111,000**61.30%16.4%*6.40%18.6%*58.60%0.50%

*Indicates increase over 2014

**Indicates increase in overall employment numbers over 2014

Demographic Breakdowns of U.S. Travel Industry Employment in 2014

OccupationTotal Employed% Women% African American% Asian% Hispanic or Latino% White
Aircraft Pilots and Flight Engineers133,000N/A1.90%0.50%2.70%94.90%
Air Traffic Controllers31,000N/AN/AN/AN/AN/A
Aircraft Mechanics and Service Technicians127,000N/A9.00%6.90%12.50%71.60%
Flight Attendants92,000N/A10.20%2.50%7.90%79.40%
Hotel, Motel and Resort Desk Clerks120,000N/A12.40%9.30%25.10%53.20%
Tour and Travel Guides54,000N/A5.90%5.80%11.30%77%
Travel Agents82,000N/A7.90%13.20%9.90%69%
Reservation and Transportation Ticket Agents and Travel Clerks94,000N/A16%9.90%18.50%55.60%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Photo Credit: An American Airlines pilot demonstrates an electronic flight bag on an iPad. More than 90 percent of U.S. airline pilots were white men in 2015. American Airlines