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The 15 US cities most reliant on tourism
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The 15 US cities most reliant on tourism

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Photo Credit: Alamy Photo Stock

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 8.4 percent during the month of August. This represents a sizable decrease from the record high rate of 14.7 percent notched in April during the middle of the economic shutdown, but still millions of Americans remain unemployed.


The hospitality industry has been particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. As of last year, over 14 million people (or 9.4 percent of all workers) were employed in accommodation and food services, which includes hotels, casinos, restaurants, and bars. However, the industry accounted for almost one-third of all job losses due to the pandemic. BLS data shows that the industry has gained back over 3.7 million jobs since April, but unemployment remains high, at 20.8 percent.


The share of workers in restaurants and hospitality varies considerably on a geographic basis. Popular destinations among tourists like Nevada and Hawaii have the largest shares of workers in the sector. Over 22 percent of non-farm workers in Nevada are employed in the accommodation and food services industry, while Hawaii has over 17 percent. Nebraska and Connecticut have the lowest shares of workers in accommodation and food services, both at 7.6 percent.


To find the metropolitan areas that are most reliant on tourism, researchers at seoClarity analyzed the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The researchers ranked metro areas according to share of non-farm employment in the accommodation and food services industry. Researchers also calculated the total number of accommodation and food services workers, total (non-farm) workers across all industries, the overall unemployment rate in April, and the cost of living.


To improve relevance, only metropolitan areas with at least 100,000 people were included in the analysis. Additionally, metro areas were grouped into the following cohorts based on population size:

  • Small metros: 100,000–349,999
  • Midsize metros: 350,000–999,999
  • Large metros: 1,000,000 or more

Here are the metropolitan areas that are most reliant on tourism.



Large Metros Most Reliant on Tourism

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

15. Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO

  • Share of employment in Accommodation and Food Services: 9.4%
  • Total Accommodation and Food Services workers: 144,800
  • Total workers across all industries: 1,536,000
  • Overall unemployment rate (April 2020): 12.3%
  • Cost of living: 4.9% above average

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

14. Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX

  • Share of employment in Accommodation and Food Services: 9.4%
  • Total Accommodation and Food Services workers: 295,700
  • Total workers across all industries: 3,156,200
  • Overall unemployment rate (April 2020): 14.3%
  • Cost of living: 1.8% above average

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

13. Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL

  • Share of employment in Accommodation and Food Services: 9.9%
  • Total Accommodation and Food Services workers: 136,600
  • Total workers across all industries: 1,384,700
  • Overall unemployment rate (April 2020): 13.2%
  • Cost of living: 1% below average

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

12. Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC

  • Share of employment in Accommodation and Food Services: 10.0%
  • Total Accommodation and Food Services workers: 79,700
  • Total workers across all industries: 795,300
  • Overall unemployment rate (April 2020): 12.1%
  • Cost of living: 3% below average

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

11. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA

  • Share of employment in Accommodation and Food Services: 10.0%
  • Total Accommodation and Food Services workers: 621,400
  • Total workers across all industries: 6,239,500
  • Overall unemployment rate (April 2020): 18.8%
  • Cost of living: 17.1% above average

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

10. Tucson, AZ

  • Share of employment in Accommodation and Food Services: 10.1%
  • Total Accommodation and Food Services workers: 39,500
  • Total workers across all industries: 389,600
  • Overall unemployment rate (April 2020): 12.8%
  • Cost of living: 6.1% below average

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

9. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA

  • Share of employment in Accommodation and Food Services: 10.1%
  • Total Accommodation and Food Services workers: 155,200
  • Total workers across all industries: 1,541,800
  • Overall unemployment rate (April 2020): 14.7%
  • Cost of living: 7% above average

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

8. Jacksonville, FL

  • Share of employment in Accommodation and Food Services: 10.2%
  • Total Accommodation and Food Services workers: 74,200
  • Total workers across all industries: 724,400
  • Overall unemployment rate (April 2020): 11.2%
  • Cost of living: 4.5% below average

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

7. Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL

  • Share of employment in Accommodation and Food Services: 10.4%
  • Total Accommodation and Food Services workers: 283,700
  • Total workers across all industries: 2,718,100
  • Overall unemployment rate (April 2020): 13.4%
  • Cost of living: 9.9% above average

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

6. Austin-Round Rock-Georgetown, TX

  • Share of employment in Accommodation and Food Services: 10.8%
  • Total Accommodation and Food Services workers: 120,500
  • Total workers across all industries: 1,116,000
  • Overall unemployment rate (April 2020): 12.2%
  • Cost of living: 0.2% above average

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

5. San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX

  • Share of employment in Accommodation and Food Services: 11.2%
  • Total Accommodation and Food Services workers: 121,300
  • Total workers across all industries: 1,078,700
  • Overall unemployment rate (April 2020): 13.3%
  • Cost of living: 6.1% below average

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

4. San Diego-Chula Vista-Carlsbad, CA

  • Share of employment in Accommodation and Food Services: 11.4%
  • Total Accommodation and Food Services workers: 171,700
  • Total workers across all industries: 1,503,900
  • Overall unemployment rate (April 2020): 15.0%
  • Cost of living: 16.4% above average

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

3. New Orleans-Metairie, LA

  • Share of employment in Accommodation and Food Services: 13.5%
  • Total Accommodation and Food Services workers: 78,900
  • Total workers across all industries: 583,400
  • Overall unemployment rate (April 2020): 19.0%
  • Cost of living: 5.9% below average

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

2. Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL

  • Share of employment in Accommodation and Food Services: 14.0%
  • Total Accommodation and Food Services workers: 185,700
  • Total workers across all industries: 1,327,100
  • Overall unemployment rate (April 2020): 16.8%
  • Cost of living: 1.3% below average

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

1. Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV

  • Share of employment in Accommodation and Food Services: 26.2%
  • Total Accommodation and Food Services workers: 270,600
  • Total workers across all industries: 1,034,100
  • Overall unemployment rate (April 2020): 34.0%
  • Cost of living: 3.2% below average

Detailed Findings & Methodology

The cities that are most reliant on tourism have been hit especially hard by the pandemic. These cities have a disproportionate number of hospitality workers and have experienced high levels of unemployment. The Las Vegas metro boasts the largest share of workers in accommodation and food services, with over one-quarter of all workers employed in this industry. Las Vegas’s unemployment rate soared to 34 percent in April.

The Atlantic City and Kahului, Hawaii metros both have over 29 percent of their workforces employed in accommodation and food services. Both of these metros experienced huge spikes in their unemployment rates in April, when over one-third of their workers filed for unemployment. Metros less reliant on tourism were mostly spared the drastic spikes in unemployment in the spring, although some Midwestern metros saw their unemployment rates skyrocket as well.



To determine the metros most reliant on tourism, researchers at seoClarity analyzed the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). The researchers used data from the BLS’s Current Employment Statistics to rank metro areas according to the share of non-farm employment in the accommodation and food services industry. In the event of a tie, the metro with the larger number of accommodation and food services workers was ranked higher. Researchers also calculated the total number of (non-farm) workers across all industries. The overall unemployment rate from April also comes from the BLS, while cost of living was sourced from the BEA’s Regional Price Parity data.

Only metropolitan areas with at least 100,000 people were included in the analysis. Additionally, metro areas were grouped into the following cohorts based on population size:

  • Small metros: 100,000–349,999
  • Midsize metros: 350,000–999,999
  • Large metros: 1,000,000 or more

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