Leisure and hospitality jobs increase as economy grows

Employment in Connecticut’s leisure and hospitality market is better than it’s ever been.

In the last two months, the sector added 4,000 jobs statewide, recovering from a seven-month drought. Even as concerns surrounding wage growth persist, an growing national economy is helping lead a resurgence of the industry that consists of food service, hotel, and arts and entertainment.

“What was declining came back, at least for two months, and the larger segment of accommodation and food seems to be growing,” said Andy Condon, director of the Office of Research for the Department of Labor.

The industry started a downward slope in October as jobs steadily faded away leading into the spring. Last month, the industry yielded 2,400 jobs in Connecticut, according to reports from the Department of Labor.

The recent spike in new jobs within leisure and hospitality has pushed the market to new heights with nearly 159,000 people employed in its sub-sectors, following a national trend.

Growing market

Leisure and hospitality count as one of the 10 largest industries in the country, according to experts from Sacred Heart University.

The school recently introduced a new bachelor’s degree in hospitality, resort and tourism management, or HRTM, as a result of the growing success in the trillion-dollar industry.

“Everything we read tells us that travel, tourism and leisure are one of the fastest-growing sectors right now,” said John Chalykoff, dean of the Jack Welch College of Business at SHU.

The future of the sector rides in large part on the state of the economy, Chalykoff said.

“Traditionally, the hospitality industry is cyclical,” he said. “When the economy is good, people spend their money eating out, traveling and doing leisure activities. When money gets tight, these activities are cut from the budget.”

Today, the country is riding a wave of declining unemployment rate, increasing the number of people traveling and enjoying some of the finer things, like dining out.

Corporate conventions

While the state may be slightly behind others nationwide in the tourism trend, officials say more people are visiting Connecticut.

“We’ve got some ways to go, but I think we are beginning to see some of the job numbers come out of that,” said Randy Fiveash, director of the Connecticut Office of Tourism. “There is a great tourism product in Fairfield County, as well, obviously.”

May and June are traditionally when hiring in the hospitality business begins to grow.

Hotel occupancy numbers have seen an increase statewide, Fiveash said, adding that areas like Stamford and Danbury among others are seeing more tourism business with the growth of companies hosting corporate conventions and meetings.

“Those are our steady markets and they’re a little up,” he said. “The state is holding its own and up a little bit and I think that is part of the reason we are seeing some of the job growth.”

Fiveash said companies looking to host their events in the Fairfield County draw in crowds of professionals not only for lodging, but also visiting restaurants and attractions, driving business for several subsectors of leisure and hospitality.

“They want to experience what is going on in Connecticut, whether it be a restaurant, whether it be an attraction, or whether it be a hotel,” Fiveash said.

Restaurants capitalize

While the fall 2017 decline in the industry may have affected arts and entertainment, the state’s food service and restaurant industry went virtually unscathed.

There has been an uptick nationally in the restaurants industry, and Connecticut has been right there with it. Fairfield County especially has seen waves of new restaurants popping up and drawing in new customers, creating jobs in the process.

“I think it’s just opportunities for the industry,” said Scott Dolch, executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association. “People seem to want to go and spend a little bit more money out.”

Connecticut’s stock of eateries has increased to nearly 8,000 restaurants with continued growth slated, according to the CRA, which projects that by 2027 the restaurant industry will grow by roughly 7 percent, adding 11,000 more jobs in the state.

Dolch said a handful of factors including the summer weather could be contributing the boost in workers. In the warmer months restaurants are able to maximize their spaces with outdoor seating and patios, following a harsh winter.

“If you take a restaurant and you have only a 100 seats inside but they have an open patio and they can offer full service, they can double the size of their footprint, and you look at the labor and staff they are going to have to double the size of that or at least get close to that because of that,” Dolch said.

He added that continued growth could also be attributed to the recent legislative session.

“There weren’t any new taxes or mandates that came down the line,” Dolch said. “I would say we had a positive session and we’re hoping to continue that growth to make the economy hopefully start to to take a turn of the positive in our state which I think starts at the root and core with the small-business owners,” he added.