By: Jennifer Leaver
In the early 1990s, I spent three summers living and working in Moab, Utah. At the time, Moab was transitioning from a uranium boomtown/ranching community to a thriving tourism economy. Located between two national parks (Arches and Canyonlands) and bordered by the Colorado River, Moab offers limitless outdoor recreation opportunities to adventure-seekers from around the world. While living there, I worked in a variety of coffee shops, restaurants, and retail shops. I had friends that worked as river guides, EMTs, bus drivers, photographers, and recreational outfitters. The perks of working in a tourist town—stunning scenery, ample recreation opportunities, and meeting people from all over the world—kept us coming back each summer.
According to the U.S. Travel Association, in the U.S. and Utah, travel and tourism supports 1 in 10 jobs. In 2016, visitors spent a total of $8.54 billion, supporting 146,500 jobs in Utah. Travel and tourism directly provides jobs in foodservice, accommodations, arts, amusement, recreation, transportation, and retail. These jobs support additional employment in areas like real estate, wholesale trade, marketing, and healthcare. It is a common perception, however, that travel and tourism jobs are low-paying, part-time, or seasonal. While true of some travel-oriented jobs, this is not true of all travel-oriented jobs. Many jobs directly or indirectly supported by the travel industry are full-time, non-seasonal, and pay above-average wages.
According to the most recent employment data available, wages for travel and tourism jobs vary widely. When total wages for each tourism sector are divided by total jobs, average annual wages range between $12,000 per year in the foodservice-related sector to over $100,000 per year in the airlines industry. The table below shows the top ten highest paying travel and tourism sectors in Utah. For perspective, the average annual wage for all private Utah jobs is $45,000.
Note: full- and part-time; does not include proprietors; private sector unless indicated otherwise.
Source: Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics program data
More specifically, there are several full-time, permanent, tourism-related positions that pay upwards of $30,000 per year. For instance, head chefs and hotel and restaurant managers make between $30,000 and $70,000 per year. Small business owners average $50,000 a year, while federal park rangers earn an average of $60,000. Airline industry jobs pay the highest wages, with flight attendants and aircraft mechanics earning more than $50,000 per year and commercial pilots and air traffic controllers averaging over $120,000.
Aside from the higher-paying, full-time jobs listed above, entry-level travel and tourism jobs offer a platform from which employees can launch into more permanent, better-paying jobs. In fact, tourism sector jobs are often attractive to teens and college students with little work experience and limited availability. Others may enjoy the flexibility of seasonal work, the option of living in a desirable tourism community, and the chance to interact with visitors from all over the world. In addition, travel and tourism creates entrepreneurial opportunities. Developing a product or opening a business that caters to visitors can be a lucrative endeavor. As travel and tourism grows, so does the need for a wide range of jobs and wages, including entry-level service positions, managers and business owners, public service and medical staff, and transportation sector jobs.
Jennifer Leaver is a research analyst at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.