Tourism is a major industry in the United States, and Idaho is no exception. According to the Idaho Department of Commerce from the U.S. Travel Association, Idaho’s tourism industry is a $3.4 billion job-creating engine.
A report produced by the Idaho Department of Commerce found tourist spending totaled $1.77 billion in 2010 statewide. But gross sales receipts indicate that tourism-related spending is not spread evenly throughout the state. Seven counties claimed 74 percent of that spending. Ada County alone takes in 33 percent.
In recent years, Commerce’s Tourism Division, along with local economic development organizations and tourism councils, has been encouraging more people to visit the Gem state. Employment data indicates a measure of success.
Tourism employment touches many different industries. Leisure and hospitality includes arts, amusement and recreation facilities and lodging such as private campgrounds and restaurants, bars and other food services. Leisure and hospitality employment in Idaho fell sharply during the recession, as fewer tourists came to visit. Those who did spent less per visit and Idahoans cut back their spending on recreation and restaurants. Like the U.S., the state’s leisure and hospitality sector recovered to its pre-recession level in 2013, and now is rising to new highs. Performing arts and spectator sports saw jobs jump from 850 in 2004 to 1,130 in 2014, an increase of 33 percent. Likewise, museums and historical sites had job growth of over the same period from 80 to more than 260.
Following the same trend, amusements, gambling and recreation posted a 12 percent gain, moving from 6,570 to 7,380 jobs. Employment in accommodation rose 3 percent to more than 8,100. Likewise, food services and drinking places rose from 39,900 jobs in 2004 to 46,200 in 2014, an increase of 16 percent.
Nationwide job growth in tourism was not as strong. Performing arts and spectator sports grew 17 percent between 2004 and 2014. Likewise, museums and historical sites experienced job growth of 23 percent, barely half the Idaho growth. Amusements, gambling and recreation along with accommodation and food service all saw employment gains nationwide. But only food service and drinking places and accommodation slightly outpaced Idaho’s percentage of job growth.
Low wages, seasonality and limited work hours are often associated with tourism-related jobs. The average U.S. leisure and hospitality worker logged 26.2 hours a week in November 2014. The average pay (included reported tips) for someone who worked year-round in Idaho’s leisure and hospitality sector in 2013 was $14,779, compared to $36,829 in all sectors. Despite that, tourism can be a powerful economic tool. A few examples follow.
- Tourism can result in a greater mix of stores, restaurants and amusement and recreation opportunities, which also helps draw more potential residents. It can lead to larger airports and better roads, which benefits other businesses that rely on transportation.
- It brings in dollars from outside the immediate area, making it an export industry. Export industries are the industries that drive the local economy.
- Leisure and hospitality businesses that tourism helps support provide many job opportunities for unskilled workers, who otherwise find job opportunities limited. Many workers get their first jobs at restaurants, hotels and amusement and recreation facilities.
Tourism is a bright spot in Idaho’s economy, having demonstrated resilience even in dark economic times, but there are still challenges. One is to spread tourism dollars more evenly around the state. With seven counties capturing almost three-quarters of the receipts, many Idaho counties may be missing an opportunity.
regional economist (208) 236-6710 ext. 3713
Kathryn.Tacke@labor.idaho.gov, regional economist
(208) 799-5000 ext. 3984