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US travel-related unemployment hits 51% just ahead of Memorial Day

US travel industry devastated by COVID-19 pandemic

US travel-related unemployment hits 51% just ahead of Memorial Day

More than half of the 15.8 million travel-related jobs in the U.S. have disappeared since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic—driving an unemployment number (51%) that is more than twice the 25% rate the country as a whole experienced at the worst of the Great Depression, according to data released Tuesday by the U.S. Travel Association.

Prepared for U.S. Travel by the research firm Tourism Economics, the painful jobs figures arrive just days before the Memorial Day holiday weekend—the unofficial start of the summer travel season, for which many travel businesses would have typically prepared with a round of seasonal hiring.

For this Memorial Day holiday weekend, Tourism Economics projects that travel spending in the U.S. will tally just a third of last year’s levels—$4.2 billion this year versus $12.3 billion in 2019.

“Our national economy is in a recession, but the travel industry is already in a depression,” said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow. “Travel-related businesses have been hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic’s fallout, and unfortunately our workforce is on the front lines of that struggle.

“The travel industry has exhibited the ability to lead a national economic recovery, bouncing back well ahead of expectations after both 9/11 and the financial crisis of the late 2000s,” said Dow. “But to do that this time, travel-reliant businesses need to survive until a recovery can truly begin. Not only are structural changes and expanded eligibility to the PPP critical for the most impacted travel businesses just to keep the lights on, but ultimately stimulative measures will be important.”

U.S. Travel has submitted policy proposals that would help the industry restore jobs and economic activity quickly once travel begins to rebound. One significant challenge is that aid measures provided by Congress so far just aren’t working for the hardest-hit businesses that have been without customers or revenue for as many as 10 or more weeks. The intent from Congress was good, but changes are necessary to bring these jobs back.

Though there is evidence of pent-up demand for travel, Dow said that the public should expect travel to look and feel different for the foreseeable future, as travel businesses embrace practices aimed at promoting the safest possible environment for their customers and employees.

Toward that end, U.S. Travel led an industry-wide effort to create “Travel in the New Normal” health and safety guidance for travel businesses, drawing on input from top medical professionals and representatives of a wide array of travel industry segments.


That guidance has particular relevance as states pursue varying strategies for reopening their economies headed into the summer season.

“Whatever government and health authorities decide about the right timing to reopen, we are giving consumers confidence that the travel ecosystem is embracing the most vigorous and well-informed practices for providing the safest possible environment, and those practices adhere to a uniform high standard throughout every phase of a traveler’s journey,” Dow said. “That is critical as the industry prepares for the return of travel, which will bring jobs back and help rebuild the country’s economic strength.”

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