The March employment report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) measured a slight decline in national unemployment, but despite modest improvements, the U.S. Leisure & Hospitality sector continues to lag.

Despite the fact that 280,000 Leisure & Hospitality jobs were added in March, the sector’s unemployment rate sits at 13.0%—more than twice the national rate of 6.0%.

As illustrated in a report prepared for U.S. Travel Association by Tourism Economics, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the loss of nearly one-fifth of Leisure & Hospitality jobs from February 2020 to March 2021—seven percentage points more than the next hardest-hit industry. While Leisure & Hospitality experienced upticks in employment in February and March, those subsectors that are more heavily reliant on travel (Accommodation and Arts, Entertainment & Recreation) have suffered the most, with a very long recovery ahead.

While the slight gains in Leisure & Hospitality point to recovery for the travel industry, it registers as the worst-performing sector since the onset of the pandemic, given the drastic scale-backs the industry endured. The Biden administration's efforts to fast-track COVID-19 vaccinations and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recent announcement loosening restrictions on vaccinated travelers could help accelerate recovery, but more must be done to restart professional meetings and events, reopen international borders and spur travel demand.

We encourage Congress and the Biden administration to put the recovery of travel jobs at the forefront of the White House's priorities. Leisure & Hospitality accounted for nearly 40% of all jobs lost in 2020, and the United States’ economy cannot make a complete comeback without them.

Leisure and Hospitality, as defined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), includes spending by both local residents and travelers and is often used to describe trends in travel employment categories each month. Total travel industry employment—a category not used by BLS but defined independently by U.S. Travel for decades—encompasses the commerce conducted exclusively by visitors and includes retail and transportation spending, which are not included in BLS data. Total travel-supported employment (both direct and indirect/induced) in 2020 was 11 million, a decline of 34% from 2019 levels.