U.S. leisure and hospitality job hiring has surged in recent months with 55,000 such jobs added in April.

U.S. leisure and hospitality jobs grew 155 percent in April 2017, compared with the year-ago period, making it the fastest growing category for the month.

With 15.8 million employees, leisure and hospitality was the top sector for U.S. jobs growth in April with some 7,500 accommodations or hotels jobs added and 26,200 food and beverage jobs gained, for example, according to data from the latest jobs report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for April.

U.S. leisure and hospitality jobs grew 2 percent to 15.8 million jobs in April compared with the same period last year.

Compared with the 55,000 leisure and hospitality jobs added in April, education and healthcare ranked second with 41,000 new jobs and professional and business services” was third with 39,000 new jobs.

The April jobs report is significant as it was released less than a week after President Trump’s 100-day mark in office. Combining all leisure, hospitality, travel agent and air transportation (the three travel job categories tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics) the travel industry has added more than 128,800 jobs since January 1 with about 100,000 jobs added after the president was inaugurated on January 20.

Although the U.S. travel industry added nearly 20 percent fewer jobs during the past four months than the 158,700 hires made from January 2016 to April 2016, much of the weaker growth is from travel agencies and restaurants. The latter is included in leisure and hospitality jobs data although much of the restaurant business doesn’t come from tourism.

U.S. travel agent and reservation services companies have lost 2,900 employees since January. This likely includes brick and mortar travel agencies but leaves out employees at travel booking sites such as Expedia. Travel agencies also hired 2,200 between January and April for an overall loss of 700 jobs during the past four months.

U.S. hotel hiring grew nearly 24 percent year-over-year for January to April with more than 1.9 million employees as of April 30. Some 4,200 hotel jobs were lost between December 2016 and January 2017 but hoteliers hired 11,500 employees between February and April.

Compared to last year, U.S. the aviation sector hiring saw rapid growth for the first four months of the year (105.2 percent year-over-year). Only 500 aviation jobs were added in April, however, which include airport staff, mechanics, baggage handlers, air traffic control, flight attendants and pilots.

Stronger Economy Has Helped Hospitality And Tourism Jobs

Job losses at travel agencies and restaurants aside, it appears much of the U.S. travel industry has been more bullish on hiring during the first quarter and the president’s first 100 days compared to the beginning of 2016 when Barack Obama occupied the Oval Office.

With the overall U.S. unemployment rate (4.4 percent) at a 10-year low, the U.S. economy is healthier and more people — in theory — can afford to travel, said Kristin Lamoureux, senior tourism research scholar at George Washington University.

A stronger dollar is also helping, she said. “I think it’s a chicken and the egg,” said Lamoureux. “At four percent unemployment, the U.S. is sitting well right now from an economic perspective. Obviously, there are lots of caveats to that but unemployment is low.”

California reported tourism growth for a seventh straight year for 2016 and New York City has reported increases in both visitor numbers and spending, said Lynn Minnaert, interim academic chair and a clinical associate professor at New York University’s Jonathan M. Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism. “In NYC, the large majority of visitors is domestic — this means that its tourism appeal is less likely to be affected by geopolitical factors.”

The experience economy — a trend that involves consumers spending more on experiences like travel and eating out, rather than on goods — has also played a role in travel employment growth, said Minnaert.

The growth of hospitality and tourism programs at U.S. colleges, universities, community colleges and vocational schools also deserves credit for more jobs, said Lamoureux. “When kids realize that as an opportunity early on they can potentially move into that industry that helps,” she said. “I think that hospitality and tourism jobs are attractive and accessible.”

Many hospitality and tourism jobs also pay better than they did a year ago. U.S. leisure and hospitality workers earned an average of $401.94 per week in April compared to $385.24 in April 2016.

The hospitality sector has seen one of the largest wage increases in the U.S. economy during the past year which is likely linked to state-level minimum wage increases, said Minnaert.

Uncertain Outlook For U.S. Travel Jobs

As of April, at least 16.5 million Americans — including hotel staff, museum staff, travel agents and flight attendants — were employed by the travel industry.

But travel jobs are dependent on demand which is in constant flux and faces risks from many fronts during the next year.

As U.S. travel agent jobs, for example, have gradually declined in recent years, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, many hoteliers and travel executives in other sectors have defended the need for humans in hospitality and tourism businesses as technology threatens to replace jobs at cheaper costs.

Still, Lamoureux said a shift towards the service and experience economies positions U.S. hospitality and tourism jobs for long-term growth.

There’s also a variety of economic factors that have influenced jobs growth, such as hotel pipelines and cycles, besides the new Trump Administration. Many economic policies that have helped jobs growth this year were likely implemented during the Obama Administration.

The new White House administration, however, has already made policies that are projected to impact international travel demand to the U.S., including a travel ban from six Muslim countries and a laptop ban from 10 Middle East and African airports that could be extended to Europe, and the coming months will reveal how demand and jobs might suffer.

Many tourism boards are beginning to report 2016 visitor totals and last year’s economic impact from tourism. Los Angeles, for example, has 510,500 employed in tourism related jobs and added 21,400 travel jobs (4.4 percent growth) in 2016 while Washington, D.C. has nearly 75,000 people employed in the travel industry.

Some states, such as Florida, face tourism marketing budget cuts this year that could impact visitation and in turn travel industry employment in some regions.

The number of trips to and within the U.S. grew by 0.8 percent year-over-year in February — slower than January. International visitor spending grew in January and February, albeit at a moderate pace compared to last year, according to the U.S. Travel Association.

The overall state of the economy and how many travelers make trips this summer are both bellwether signs for longer term travel jobs growth.

Photo Credit: U.S. travel industry jobs have had a great four months. Pictured are staff at the Southern Hotel in Covington, Louisiana. Peter Clark / Flickr