Pandemic's 2020 travel toll: $500B in spend, 5.6 million jobs

Covid relief bill stimulus [Credit: Rohane Hamilton/]
New data from Tourism Economics and the U.S. Travel Association shows spending on domestic travel was down 36% in 2020. Photo Credit: Rohane Hamilton/

New year-end data shows travel spending dropped nearly $500 billion, or 42%, during the pandemic, costing the U.S. economy $1.1 trillion in economic output.

The new numbers, compiled by Tourism Economics for the U.S. Travel Association, show spending on domestic travel was down 36%, from $993.5 billion in 2019, to $638.1 billion in 2020.

Spending on international travel fell 72%, from $179.1 billion to $42.2 billion, Tourism Economics said. 

Related: U.S. Travel says new Commerce secretary Gina Raimondo is key to tourism recovery

The impact was similarly devastating for travel jobs, which the firm said fell by 5.6 million in 2020 -- from 16.7 million to 11.1 million -- accounting for 65% of all American jobs lost to the economic fallout of the pandemic. Travel and tourism had supported 11% of the U.S. workforce prior to the onset of Covid, the data showed.

U.S. Travel executives and industry leaders presented the numbers to policymakers in Washington on Wednesday during a virtual version of the group's annual meeting with members of Congress. Executives used the event to continue their push for legislation to promote the industry's recovery.

"The latest round of relief was helpful to our industry, but there are a number of important steps that still must be taken, especially extending the deadline for the Paycheck Protection Program and passing the key package of tax incentives in the Hospitality and Commerce Job Recovery Act," Tori Emerson Barnes, U.S. Travel's executive vice president of public affairs and policy said in a statement. "The PPP is set to expire in just two weeks, yet the economic effects of the pandemic will continue to harm the industry far beyond that point."


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