The Roller-Coaster Economies of Vacation Towns

Ocean Grove, New Jersey s one of many beach towns on the Jersey Shore. Ocean Grove, New Jersey s one of many beach towns on the Jersey Shore. Flickr user gary718

Labor Day, the unofficial end of summer, is right around the corner. As we head back to school or back to work, stuffing bathing suits in hard-to-reach drawers, it's a good time to ask: what does the end of tourist season mean for cities and metros that rely on tourism dollars?

Using Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data on monthly employment (not adjusted for seasonality) from 2004 to 2013, my colleague Todd Gabe, an economist at the University of Maine, crunched the numbers to identify the places that see the biggest drops in leisure and hospitality employment.

Martin Prosperity Institute

The map above charts the change in leisure and hospitality employment from August to September. Nationally, leisure and hospitality employment drops by roughly 3 percent between those months. But for some metros, it’s quite a bit worse than that. The hardest hit places, not surprisingly, are summer vacation spots in the Northeast. Two places – Ocean City, on the New Jersey shore (-24.8 percent) and Glens Falls, New York (-24.5 percent) – lose roughly one in four of their jobs during the off-season.  And two others – Barnstable Town, Massachusetts, in Cape Cod (-19.5 percent); and Rapid City, South Dakota (-20.9 percent), just half an hour from Mount Rushmore and the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally – lose one in five.  

But there are also places that gain leisure and hospitality jobs between August and September. Those big gainers are all college towns with football programs gearing up for a new season. They include: State College, Pennsylvania (6.7 percent), home to the Nittany Lions (and Penn State); Bloomington, Indiana (6.3 percent), the Hoosiers (and Indiana University); Gainesville, Florida (6.2 percent), the Gators (and the University of Florida); Tallahassee, Florida (6.1 percent), the Seminoles and the Rattlers (Florida State and Florida A&M); and Champaign-Urbana, Illinois (4.2 percent), the Fighting Illini (and the University of Illinois). As students and their parents flock to these metropolitan areas, the local tourism industry gets a boost.

Martin Prosperity Institute

The second map charts the change in leisure and hospitality employment for September to October. Nationally, leisure and hospitality employment drops another 1.7 percent between those months, on top of the 3 percent decline between August and September. But some resort towns take an even bigger hit in these early fall months. Ocean City, New Jersey, sees an even larger decline in leisure and hospitality employment between September and October, a whopping -37.6 percent. Glens Falls, New York (-15.6 percent) and Barnstable, on Cape Cod (15.3 percent), also see comparable declines during that period.  

Martin Prosperity Institute

The third map shows the pattern for October-November. This map is substantially different from the first two. The big drops in Northern vacation spots have settled down and college towns have done most of their seasonal hiring.  But now, leisure and hospitality jobs are increasing in winter vacations spots of the South and West. There's an especially notable jump in hospitality and leisure employment in Florida, where Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island sees a spike in employment those months (8.0 percent), as does Sebastian-Vero Beach (7.8 percent), Cape Coral-Fort Meyers (5.5 percent) and Port St. Lucie (5.3 percent).

Interestingly, the biggest drop in leisure and hospitality employment is not the summertime dip we see as Labor Day arrives. Instead, it’s in December and January, at the end of the holiday season, when tourism-related jobs fall by four percent, a full percentage point more than at the end of summer. 

(Image via gary718/


Get daily news from Route Fifty

Top stories on how innovation is driving smarter government across the country.

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.