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From Beaches to Mountains: A Look at NC’s Tourism Industry Employment Growth since 2013

Employment in Leisure and Hospitality has grown nearly 25% since January 2013 to nearly 530,000 jobs in NC. This growth was severely disrupted by COVID but jobs were recovered by January 2023 and are now surpassing Pre-COVID levels.

Author: Jamie Vaughn

Tourism is important to North Carolina’s economy. It is a significant economic driver with travelers spending more than $33.3 billion on trips to and within the state in 2022.  In recognition of Travel and Tourism week, we analyzed how employment has grown in Tourism over the last 10 years using Current Employment Statistics data. 

As of March 2023, statewide employment in Leisure and Hospitality was 529,600 (seasonally adjusted) and was the fifth largest industry in terms of employment behind Trade, Transportation & Utilities; Professional and Business Services; and Education & Health Services.  This ranking has improved by one spot since March 2013 where it was also behind Manufacturing.  

Since January 2013, Leisure and Hospitality has added more than 105,000 jobs (an increase of nearly 25%). Prior to the COVID pandemic, Leisure and Hospitality Employment grew steadily, adding more than 98,500 jobs between January 2013 and February 2020.

Leisure and Hospitality Employment, January 2013 to March 2023

LEAD Generated image using Current Employment Statistics (CES) Data, January 2013 to March 2023, Seasonally Adjusted

Growth was severely impacted by the COVID pandemic. The dotted line in the graph shows where Leisure and Hospitality Employment would be if the growth between January 2013 and February 2020 had continued.  The difference between March 2023 projected employment and actual March employment is a little more than 40,000 jobs.

The sold blue line shows actual employment.  From March to April 2020, Leisure and Hospitality industry experienced the greatest employment losses due to the COVID pandemic.  Employment in NC dropped by more than 232,000 jobs (45%).  The employment losses experienced during the COVID pandemic were not fully recovered until January 2023. Since January 2023, Leisure and Hospitality employment has added 3,700 jobs.

For the purposes of this analysis, we used Current Employment Statistics (CES) data for Leisure and Hospitality (Industry Code 70000000) to represent the Tourism industry.  The Leisure and Hospitality Industry is comprised of employment in Arts, Entertainment and Recreation as well as Accommodations and Food Services. 


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