Forecasted L.A. County tourism surge to create mostly low-wage jobs

L.A. County expected to welcome 50 million tourists a year by 2020, up 16% from 43 million in 2014, study says

Los Angeles County's tourism industry is projected to welcome 50 million visitors a year by 2020, but most of the jobs created by the surge in visitors will be low-paying gigs such as maids, hotel clerks, waiters and amusement park attendants.

The analysis of one of the county's largest industries came in a report from the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., which estimated that the tourism and hospitality industries support 426,300 jobs. About 75% of those jobs involve serving and preparing food and drinks, the report said.

And the pay for such work is not great. Employees in the tourism and hospitality industries earned an average of $23,181 in 2013, less than half of the average county salary of $54,958, according to the study released Wednesday.

"The jobs tend to be on the low end of the scale, but they are also jobs for people who may not want to work full time, may be working while attending school or are working on plans to move up to another position," said Christine Cooper, vice president of the LAEDC and author of the report.

Carl Winston, director of San Diego State University's hospitality and tourism school, said he would like to see Los Angeles County work to spur the development of higher-paying manufacturing jobs. But for now, he said, the creation of more tourism jobs is good news for workers without a college degree or specific skills.

"Thank goodness someone is creating jobs for people who don't have other skills," he said. "It's good for people who are ambitious and want to climb the career ladder."

The report will be presented Wednesday at an annual economic forecast in downtown Los Angeles, an event that will be attended by local business leaders and tourism officials.

The tourism industry in Los Angeles County has been on the rebound since the recession, in part because of an increase in high-spending visitors from China, Japan, Brazil, Australia and France, as well as the growth in domestic visitors.

Theme parks and other tourist attractions in the region have reported record 2014 visitation numbers, with hotels also enjoying record-high occupancy and overnight rates last year.

"Many hotel development projects have found funding, come back on line and have broken ground, and new hotel projects are also in the development pipeline," according to the report prepared by the LAEDC's Institute of Applied Economics.

One of the county's most popular theme parks, Universal Studios Hollywood, on Tuesday unveiled a multimillion-dollar expansion and upgrade to its popular Studio Tour attraction to keep visitation numbers rising.

If the visitation trend continues, Los Angeles County can expect to welcome 50 million visitors a year by 2020, up from 43 million visitors in 2014, according to the LAEDC report. That's an increase of about 16%.

In the next five years, the report said, an estimated 119,500 jobs would open up in the tourism and hospitality sector, about half because of employees who retire or leave the workforce for other reasons.

The jobs that will be in greatest demand in the next five years will be positions that require no high school diplomas or previous work experience, including housekeepers, hotel clerks, waiters, amusement park attendants, maintenance workers and cooks, the report said.

Among the few categories of higher-paying jobs created in the county's tourism and hospitality industries over the next five years will be meeting planners, food service managers, sales representatives and operations managers, the report said.

The growth of the tourism and hospitality industry also will spur jobs in related industries, such as accounting, construction, real estate and business management, Cooper said.

"This is an economy that provides jobs across a wide skills and wage spectrum," she said.

And unlike manufacturing jobs, tourism work can't be outsourced to other countries, Cooper added.

"The region has a great potential for bringing in tourists," she said. "That is an area that is the gateway" to Asia.

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