Travel executives love to say that their employees are at the heart of their brands and they are on the front lines of the guest and visitor experience. Employees will toast to that notion, but hope they won't have to tussle with a robot or virtual assistant to prove their worth.
Many travel industry executives are optimistic that new technologies such as artificial intelligence can make their businesses smarter and more efficient while plenty of travel industry employees wonder if they’ll eventually be replaced by robots and self-driving cars.
Well, these are indeed early days, but emerging technologies do not appear to be slowing travel industry job growth — not yet.
Gloria Guevara, president and CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council, said travel jobs globally grew last year even as new technologies and platforms made their debuts, albeit relatively modestly compared with what may be in the offing.
One in five jobs that were created globally in 2017 were in the travel industry, according to WTTC’s data. Some 119 million jobs worldwide last year were directly attributed to tourism, and the industry created two million new jobs.
“A lot of people are wondering what AI, for example, will do to jobs, like hotel front desk employees, but we continue to see jobs growth across the travel industry,” Guevara said.
It’s worth noting that many travel companies haven’t even considered adopting technologies like artificial intelligence yet, or if they have, they’re still in the early stages of experimentation in figuring out how travelers respond to dealing with a chatbots versus a human. The full impact of technology’s impact on travel employment likely won’t become clear for several years.
About 135,000 new tourism jobs were added in the United States last year, WTTC data show.
Tourism directly supported about 14 million jobs in the United States last year and was one of the country’s top job-producing industries, according to WTTC, although that number is higher when other sectors such as food and beverage are taken into account.
Hospitality and Airline Employment Grew
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show employment in sectors such as hospitality, airlines, and food and beverage grew in 2017. More than 1.94 million employees worked in accommodations such as hotels as of December, a 1.5 percent jump, compared with the year-earlier period. And more than 15.8 million worked in the overall leisure and hospitality industry as of December, a 2.6 percent increase.
It’s unclear whether tech-related jobs in hospitality have increased while more analog jobs such as the front desk are shrinking, but overall jobs still increased last year.
Travel arrangement and reservation services was one of the only travel job categories tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that saw a decrease last year, although it’s unclear if employees from online travel agencies are included in the data. Some 213,000 people were employed in that category as of December, and that was a decline of less than 1 percent.
The travel industry has an ongoing talent gap that’s projected to negatively impact tourism unless employers focus more on education. Despite the gap, Guevara said there are still fewer barriers to entry for working in travel compared to other industries.
“Travel is one of the only industries that you can enter that you don’t necessarily need an education,” said Guevara. “You wouldn’t see that happen in an industry like like healthcare or finance. And you can also move up the ladder in travel. This is something we’re working on.”
WTTC’s data show the United States had the world’s largest tourism industry in 2017, generating $1.5 trillion in gross domestic product to the country’s economy, a 2.3 percent increase year-over-year. That’s lower compared with the growth rates in China (9.8 percent), the United Kingdom (6.2 percent), and Spain (7 percent).
“The data suggests that the United States is not getting its fair share, as other countries are increasing their tourism at a faster rate,” said Guevara. “If the government wants to grow the economy it needs to focus on growing tourism to do that.”
International arrivals in the United States were down 3.8 percent as of September, and the Trump administration hasn’t done much to demonstrate it understands the value of tourism.
Photo credit: Tourism jobs continued to grow worldwide last year. Pictured is a tour group at the Louvre in Paris. Wee Viraporn / Flickr