More Hiring and Busier Hotels Reflect a U.S. Travel Industry on the Mend

By Edleson, Harriet | International Herald Tribune, January 25, 2012 | Go to article overview

More Hiring and Busier Hotels Reflect a U.S. Travel Industry on the Mend


Edleson, Harriet, International Herald Tribune


After shedding jobs as the economy spiraled downward, in the past year or so travel businesses in the United States have begun to hire again, albeit slowly and cautiously.

As the U.S. economy has begun to improve from its darkest days in late 2008 and 2009, hiring in the travel and tourism industry has become one of the bright spots.

The industry -- which includes hotels, rental cars, airlines and entertainment -- shed jobs quickly as the economy spiraled downward. But in the past year or so, travel businesses in the United States have begun to hire again, albeit slowly and cautiously.

"Clearly, the travel and tourism industry suffered pretty heavily during the downturn," said Adrian Cooper, chief executive of Oxford Economics, a London-based economic forecasting consultant with offices in New York. "Now we're seeing an improvement in jobs in travel and tourism. It's one of the healthiest sectors in the United States, and down the supply chain. There is still some ways to go, getting back to the peak in 2007."

But, he added, "we see it outpace other sectors."

One beneficiary has been Maria Sutherland, a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology, who has lost two jobs in the fashion retailing business in the past two years. "I needed something where I was going to be secure," Ms. Sutherland, 23, said.

So in September, after losing her second job when a store closed, she applied for the job of "insider" at the W Hotel in Union Square in New York City to help guests secure hard-to-get restaurant reservations or theater tickets. In early December, she was hired. "I was ecstatic," she said.

In the first half of 2011, the travel industry added 16,000 jobs a month, on average, though that slowed to an average 2,000 new jobs a month from July to November, said David Huether, senior vice president for economics and research for the U.S. Travel Association. Total employment reached a low of 7.3 million jobs in December 2009. Since then, the travel and tourism industry has gained 224,000 jobs.

Two factors drive travel jobs, Mr. Huether said. International travelers to the United States support one of every eight travel jobs, while domestic travel supports the rest.

Even with the early signs of a recovery in the industry "it's been a very tentative recovery marked by a lot of financial and organizational discipline" by employers, said Henry H. Harteveldt, co-founder of Atmosphere Research Group, an airline and travel industry analyst based in San Francisco.

As to the travelers themselves, "travel is very opportunistic," he said. "It's discretionary. 'I am going to keep a very tight grip on my wallet,' is what people are saying."

Bjorn Hanson, divisional dean of the Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University, offered a similar assessment of the hotel industry. …

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