David HuetherEarlier this month, the U.S. Travel Association released data showing that the U.S. travel industry is outpacing the nation's economy in terms of job recovery. The latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers showed that U.S. nonfarm payroll employment rose by 163,000 in July -- and 9,200 of those jobs came from the travel sector, or 6% of the country's job growth, according to U.S. Travel. David Huether, senior vice president of economics and research at U.S. Travel, spoke with Senior Editor Michelle Baran about how travel employment compares with other industries and how the numbers are helping to bolster the case for encouraging travel to and within the U.S. at the federal level.

Q: How does the job growth in the travel sector this year compare with previous years?

Growth through the first seven months is a bit slower than the average pace of the first seven months of last year. I think part of that is having international travel slow down. We have seen travel exports moderate a little bit.

One positive note is that the travel industry has made up more than half of the jobs lost during the recession. It has made up about 60% [of the jobs lost during the recession]. Overall, since the employment recovery has begun, the pace of employment growth has been outpacing the economy.

Q: The travel industry accounted for 6% of total nonfarm jobs added this year. How does that percentage compare with previous years?

Well, it was higher a while back. At the beginning of 2000, it had a little bit of a higher share. Then it started gaining share in 2009 to 2010. It maintained its share during the recession. When the recession started, we were at 5.7%. In 2000, we were at about 5.9%, then 5.6% in 2005 and 5.7% now. We're kind of on our way to where we were in 2000.

Q: How does that compare with other industries? Where does that place the travel sector?

Overall [the travel industry is] the sixth-largest employer in the economy. The industries that are larger employers than travel are health care, retail trade (excluding travel-related retail), manufacturing, professional services (accounting, legal) and administrative support services (temp work).

Q: What do you believe is driving job growth in the travel industry?

Well, the travel industry is fueled primarily by domestic travel, even though about 14% of it is driven by international activity.

Q: What needs to happen in order for the travel industry to maintain this momentum?

Increases in the labor market, which will then depress the unemployment rate, which would then improve wages. A lot of domestic travel is leisure travel. One of the fundamental drivers is personal income growth. Looking at the labor market is going to be key. At the same time, going forward, we've seen the State Department make some significant improvement in lowering visa times, and that's going to be a source of growth for the travel industry -- to help with those Latin America economies.

Q: How are you hoping the administration will respond to these positive numbers? Are they increasingly paying attention to the positive growth in the industry?

I think that they are. Earlier this year you saw the president announce the first coordinated national policy to enhance travel and tourism policy to the United States.

Follow Michelle Baran on Twitter @mbtravelweekly. 


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