Tourism industries - employment
Data extracted in December 2018.
Planned article update: January 2022.
Persons employed in total tourism industries as share of those employed in total non-financial business economy, 2016 (%)
This article presents recent statistics on employment in the tourism industries in the European Union (EU). Tourism statistics focus on either the accommodation sector (data collected from hotels, campsites, etc.) or on tourism demand (data collected from households), and relate mainly to physical flows (arrivals or nights spent in tourist accommodation or trips made by a country’s residents). However, this analysis of employment in tourism is based on data from other areas of official statistics, in particular structural business statistics (SBS), the labour force survey (LFS), the structure of earnings survey (SES) and the labour cost survey (LCS).
The creation of jobs and growth is a key priority of the Commission. This article analyses the tourism sector with a focus on its contribution to the labour market in the EU and its potential to create jobs for economically less advantaged socio-demographic groups or regions.
The tourism industries employ over 13 million people in the EU
Economic activities related to tourism (but not necessarily relying only on tourism — see the section "Data sources" for further details) employ over 13 million people in the European Union (see Table 1). Nearly 8 million of these people work in the food and beverage industry, while 2 million are employed in transport. The accommodation sector (not including real estate) accounts for 2.7 million jobs in the EU; travel agencies and tour operators account for just over half a million. The three industries that rely almost entirely on tourism (accommodation, travel agencies/tour operators, air transport) employ 3.6 million people in the EU. These three industries will from now on be referred to as the "selected tourism industries".
The tourism industries account for 21 % of people employed in the services sector. When looking at the total non-financial business economy, the tourism industries account for 9 % of people employed. Among the Member States, Greece recorded the highest share (23.9 % or nearly one in four people employed) followed by Cyprus and Malta with respectively one in five and nearly one in six people employed working in the tourism sector (see Figure 1).
In absolute terms, Germany had the highest employment in the tourism industries (2.5 million people), followed by the United Kingdom (2.3 million), Italy (1.5 million), Spain (1.4 million) and France (1.1 million). These five Member States account for 66 % of employment in the tourism industries across the EU.
In the selected tourism industries, 23 % of people work in micro-enterprises that employ fewer than 10 people, which is significantly lower than the 29 % observed for the total non-financial business economy (see Figure 2). Looking at the three selected tourism industries separately, over one-third of employment in travel agencies and tour operators is in micro-enterprises (34 %); for the accommodation sector this figure is 24 %. Not surprisingly, small and medium-sized enterprises (< 250 staff) are of minor importance in air transport, with 89 % of people employed in the sector working in companies employing 250 people or more.
The economic crisis led to a fall in total employment which started recovering in 2014 and reached the before crisis levels in 2016 (see Figure 3). However, this was not the case for the services sector, including the selected core tourism industries, which has had an average annual growth rate of +1.5 % since 2008. More specifically, the tourist accommodation sector registered an average annual growth of +1.9 % since 2008, resulting to a total increase of +18 % in 2017 compared with 2008. This shows the tourism industry’s potential as a growth sector, even in times of economic turmoil that significantly affect other sectors of the economy.
Characteristics of jobs in tourism industries
Tourism creates jobs for women
The tourism industry is a major employer of women (see Table 2, Figure 4 and Table 2A in the excel file). Compared with the total non-financial business economy, where 36 % of people employed are female, the labour force of the tourism industries includes more female workers (59 %) than male workers. The highest proportions are seen in accommodation (61 %), and in travel agencies and tour operators (64 %). Even though nearly one in three women working in the tourism industries works part-time (compared with one in seven men), women working full-time still represent the biggest share of employment (41 %, see Figure 4). Female employment accounts for less than 50 % of tourism industry employment in only two Member States (Luxembourg and Malta); for the accommodation sector this is the case only in Malta. In Slovenia, Estonia, Austria, Poland and Lithuania, more than two out of three people employed in tourism are women. In Slovenia, the proportion of female employment in the tourism industries is nearly twice as high as in the economy as a whole (70 % versus 37 %).
Part-time employment significantly higher in the tourism industries
The proportion of part-time employment in the tourism industries (24 %) is significantly higher than in the total non-financial business economy (17 %) and is comparable to the figure for the services sector as a whole (22 %) (see Table 2, Figures 4 and 5, and Table 2B in the excel file). Within the three selected tourism industries, the proportion of part-time employment is highest in the accommodation sector (26 %), followed by travel agencies and tour operators (22 %). In air transport, 18 % of staff work on a part-time basis. In most Member States for which data is available, the tourism industries have a higher proportion of part-time employment than the rest of the economy. This is not the case for the popular tourism destinations of Cyprus, Greece, Portugal and Spain where the proportion of part-time work is lower in the tourism industries than in the rest of the economy. In Czechia as well as in Iceland, the proportion of part-time workers in tourism is at least twice as high as it is in the economy as a whole.
Tourism attracts a young labour force
Figure 6 shows that, with 13 % of workers aged 15 to 24 compared with 9% for services or for the non-financial business economy, the tourism industries have a particularly young labour force, as these industries can make it easy to enter the job market. In Ireland, the Netherlands, Denmark and the United Kingdom, the proportion of employed people aged 15 to 24 exceeds 20 % (see Table 2 and Table 2C in the excel file) and in all four countries is significantly above the proportion seen in the economy as a whole. In the accommodation sector, the proportion of young workers stands at 15 % in the EU, while in the four above mentioned countries, more than one out of four persons employed in this sector is aged 15 to 24.
The tourist accommodation sector gives more opportunities to lower educated workers
The previous sections showed that tourism employs more female workers and young workers. People with a lower educational level (those who have not finished upper secondary schooling) are equally represented on the labour market as a whole and in the tourism sector (around 20 % for both) — see Table 2, Figure 7 and Table 2D in the excel file. However, in the subsector of accommodation, one in four people employed has a lower educational level. In Malta, Spain and Portugal more than two out of five people employed in tourist accommodation belong to this group. However in these three countries lower educated people are more represented in the whole labour force compared with the rest of EU countries.
Nearly one in six people employed in tourism are foreign citizens
Many foreign citizens work in tourism-related industries (see Table 2, Figure 8 and and Table 2E in the excel file). On average, they account for 16 % of the labour force in tourism industries (of which 9 % are from other EU Member States and 7 % are from non-EU countries). In the services sector as a whole, the proportion of foreign citizens employed is 11 %, and in the total non-financial business economy it is 9 %. Looking at this in more detail, we see that foreign workers make up 8 % of the workforce in air transport and 10 % in travel agencies or tour operators, but 18% of the workforce in accommodation (i.e. more than one in six people employed in this sub-sector is a foreign citizen).
In four EU Member States, more than one in four people employed in the selected tourism industries are foreign citizens: Cyprus (26 %), Ireland (29 %), Austria (29 %) and Luxembourg (61 %).
Jobs are less stable in tourism than in the rest of the economy
Since tourism tends to attract a young labour force, often at the start of their professional life (see above, Table 2 and Figure 6), certain key characteristics of employment in this sector are slightly less advantageous than in other sectors of the economy.
The likelihood of occupying a temporary job is significantly higher in tourism than in the total non-financial business economy (23% versus 14 % of people employed) – see Table 2, Figure 9 and Table 2F in the excel file. There are big differences across the European Union (ranging from 5 % of temporary contracts in tourism in Malta to 45 % in Greece). In all countries for which data is available except Malta and Finland, fewer people have a permanent job in tourism than in the economy on average. In some countries, the proportion of temporary workers is three to four times higher in tourism than in the non-financial business economy as a whole (in particular in Cyprus, Greece and Bulgaria). In the accommodation sector, more than one in four people employed do not have a permanent contract.
Similarly, the likelihood of an employee holding their current job for less than one year (see Table 2, Figure 10 and Table 2G in the excel file) is also significantly higher in tourism than in the non-financial business economy as a whole (23 % versus 15 %). In the economy on average, three out of four employees (75 %) have worked with the same employer for two years or more, while in tourism this is the case for less than two out of three people employed (65 %). Air transport tends to offer more stable jobs, with only 12 % of employees having job seniority of less than one year, compared with 26 % in accommodation and 14 % for people employed by travel agencies or tour operators. More than half of the workforce in the accommodation sector has held their job for less than one year in Cyprus and for less than two years in Denmark and Sweden.
Seasonality and regional issues in tourism activities
High seasonality in tourism activities is only partly reflected in tourism employment
Tourism demand varies strongly in the course of the year (see article on ‘Seasonality in tourism demand’). Tourist accommodation has the highest occupancy rate in the summer months (see article on ‘Seasonality in the tourist accommodation sector’).
Table 3 shows that, in the EU on average, the number of nights spent in tourist accommodation is three times higher in the third quarter of the year (the peak quarter) than in the first quarter (the lowest quarter). The peak quarter records more than double the number of nights than the lowest quarter in all but six Member States (Finland, Slovakia, Malta, Estonia, Czechia and Austria). In Croatia, nearly 38 times more nights are spent in tourist accommodation between July and September than in the first three months of the year.
These seasonal fluctuations in tourist accommodation, are only partly translated into seasonal fluctuations in employment. Employment in tourism in the peak quarter is only 1.1 times higher than in the lowest quarter (see Table 3 and Figure 11). The accommodation sector is the most affected by seasonality (peak quarter employment is 19.8 % higher than the annual average), then air transport (3.5 % higher) and travel agencies and tour operators (2.2 % higher).
Figure 12 shows the different seasonal patterns for full-time and part-time jobs. The lowest season (the first quarter of the year) seems to have a similar impact on both types of employment, while throughout the rest of the year the impact of seasonality is more important for full-time jobs.
Regions with high tourist activity tend to have lower unemployment rates
Tourist activity can have a negative impact on the quality of life of the local population in popular tourist areas. However, the influx of tourists can also boost the local economy and labour market.
Comparing regional data on tourism intensity (e.g. the annual number of nights spent by tourists per capita of local population) with regional unemployment rates or their deviation from the national average unemployment rate, we see that 21 of the 30 regions with the highest tourism intensity have an unemployment rate below the national average.
Table 4 lists the regions with a tourism intensity over 20 (tourism nights per local inhabitant). In all but three of these 18 regions, the unemployment rate lies below the national average. Two of the three regions where this does not hold true, the Canary Islands and Madeira, are island regions relatively remote from the mainland (and the mainland’s economy).
Earnings and labour costs in the tourism industries
Hourly earnings and labour costs in the accommodation sub-sector are below the average for the economy as a whole
Besides employment rates, another important feature of labour market analysis concerns labour costs for employers and earnings for employees. This section takes a look at hourly labour costs and hourly gross earnings, both in the economy as a whole and in the selected tourism industries.
In the EU-28 as a whole, labour costs and earnings tend to be significantly lower in the tourism industries than they are in the total economy. In the economy, the average hourly labour cost was €26.0 in 2016 and average hourly earnings were €15.2 in 2014. In the three selected tourism industries (air transport, accommodation, travel agencies & tour operators) the average hourly labour cost was €23.6 in 2016 and the average gross hourly earnings amounted to €13.0 in 2014 (see Table 5 and Figure 13).
Given the characteristics of tourism jobs outlined above, this observation does not come as a surprise: a relatively young labour force (see Figure 6) with a higher proportion of temporary contracts (see Figure 9) and lower job seniority (see Figure 10) has a comparative disadvantage on the labour market, which leads to lower labour costs and earnings. For the accommodation sector — which employs more people with a lower educational level and more part-timers — the differences are even higher. In 2014, for people employed in the accommodation sub-sector, gross hourly earnings were €10.2. For air transport, they were €25.9 (well above the average for the economy as a whole), and for travel agencies and tour operators they were €15.1.
Gross hourly earnings in tourism are highest in Denmark, Luxembourg, Norway and Switzerland, but these countries are also among the top five countries with highest average hourly earnings in the total economy (see Table 5 and Figure 14).
In 2016 only seven EU Member States had higher hourly labour costs in tourism than the total economy: Portugal, Estonia, Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria (see Table 5 and Figure 15); for gross hourly earnings, this was the case for three out of the 28 EU countries. Comparing the accommodation subsector with the economy as a whole, both hourly average labour costs and earnings were lower for those employed in accommodation, and this was true across the EU (see Figure 16).
Source data for tables and graphs
This article includes data from four different sources:
- Structural business statistics (SBS).
- EU labour force survey (EU-LFS).
- Labour cost survey (LCS).
- Structure of earnings survey (SES).
This data is available at a detailed level of economic activity, which makes it possible to identify and select industries that are part of the tourism sector.
For Eurostat, tourism industries (total) include the following NACE Rev.2 classes:
- H4910 — Passenger rail transport, interurban
- H4932 — Taxi operation
- H4939 — Other passenger land transport n.e.c
- H5010 — Sea and coastal passenger water transport
- H5030 — Inland passenger water transport
- H5110 — Passenger air transport
- I5510 — Hotels and similar accommodation
- I5520 — Holiday and other short-stay accommodation
- I5530 — Camping grounds, recreational vehicle parks and trailer parks
- I5610 — Restaurants and mobile food service activities
- I5630 — Beverage serving activities
- N7710 — Renting and leasing of motor vehicles
- N7721 — Renting and leasing of recreational and sports goods
- NACE division N79 — Travel agency, tour operator reservation service and related activities.
However, many of these activities provide services to both tourists and non-tourists – typical examples include restaurants catering to tourists but also to locals and rail transport being used by tourists as well as by commuters. For this reason, this publication focuses on the following selected tourism industries which rely almost entirely on tourism:
- H51 — Air transport (including H512 ‘Freight air transport’ which accounts for 6.0 % of employment in H51).
- I55 — Accommodation (including I559 ‘Other accommodation’ which accounts for 1.7 % of employment in I55).
- N79 — Travel agency, tour operator reservation service and related activities (including N799 ‘Other reservation service and related activities’ which accounts for 12.9 % of employment in N79).
According to a United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) publication titled "Tourism highlights", the EU is a major tourist destination, with five of its Member States among the world’s top 10 destinations in 2017. Tourism has the potential to contribute towards employment and economic growth, as well as to development in rural, peripheral or less-developed areas. These characteristics drive the demand for reliable and harmonised statistics within this field, as well as within the wider context of regional policy and sustainable development policy areas.
Tourism can play a significant role in the development of European regions. Infrastructure created for tourism purposes contributes to local development, while jobs that are created or maintained can help counteract industrial or rural decline. Sustainable tourism involves the preservation and enhancement of cultural and natural heritage, ranging from the arts to local gastronomy or the preservation of biodiversity.
In 2006, the European Commission adopted a Communication titled "A renewed EU tourism policy: towards a stronger partnership for European tourism" (COM(2006) 134 final). It addressed a range of challenges that will shape tourism in the coming years, including Europe’s ageing population, growing external competition, consumer demand for more specialised tourism, and the need to develop more sustainable and environmentally-friendly tourism practices. It argued that more competitive tourism supply and sustainable destinations would help raise tourist satisfaction and secure Europe’s position as the world’s leading tourist destination. It was followed in October 2007 by another Communication, titled "Agenda for a sustainable and competitive European tourism" (COM(2007) 621 final), which proposed actions in relation to the sustainable management of destinations, the integration of sustainability concerns by businesses, and the awareness of sustainability issues among tourists.
The Lisbon Treaty acknowledged the importance of tourism — outlining a specific competence for the EU in this field and allowing for decisions to be taken by a qualified majority. An article within the Treaty specifies that the EU "shall complement the action of the Member States in the tourism sector, in particular by promoting the competitiveness of Union undertakings in that sector". "Europe, the world’s No 1 tourist destination — a new political framework for tourism in Europe" (COM(2010) 352 final) was adopted by the European Commission in June 2010. This Communication seeks to encourage a coordinated approach for initiatives linked to tourism and defined a new framework for actions to increase the competitiveness of tourism and its capacity for sustainable growth. It proposed a number of European or multinational initiatives — including a consolidation of the socioeconomic knowledge base for tourism — aimed at achieving these objectives.
- LFS series – Detailed annual survey results (t_lfsa)
- LFS series – Detailed annual survey results (lfsa)
- LFS series – Detailed quarterly survey results (from 1998) (lfsq)
- Annual enterprise statistics for special aggregates of activities (NACE Rev. 2) (sbs_na_sca_r2)
- Annual detailed enterprise statistics for services (NACE Rev. 2 H-N and S95) (sbs_na_1a_se_r2)
- Employment and unemployment (Labour Force Survey) (ESMS metadata file — employ_esms)
- LFS series - Detailed annual survey results (ESMS metadata file — lfsa_esms)
- LFS series - Detailed quarterly survey results (from 1998) (ESMS metadata file — lfsq_esms)
- Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 1051/2011 of 20 October 2011 implementing Regulation (EU) No 692/2011 concerning European statistics on tourism, as regards the structure of the quality reports and the transmission of the data.
- Regulation (EU) No 692/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 6 July 2011 concerning European statistics on tourism and repealing Council Directive 95/57/EC.
- Summaries of EU Legislation: Tourism statistics
- Regional Statistics Illustrated - select statistical domain Tourism, Labour market.