Is Tourism a Low-Income Industry? Evidence from Three Coastal Regions
Tourism is often promoted as an effective economic development strategy by regional planners and politicians in the United States. Among the potential benefits cited are job creation and tourism’s ability to create a positive public image for a region. Critics argue that tourism is not a panacea, but instead creates jobs that are low paying, offer few benefits, and are only part-time or seasonal work.
A 2011 study in the Journal of Travel Research, “Is Tourism a Low-Income Industry? Evidence from Three Coastal Regions,” analyzed how income generated by tourism is distributed across different income groups. The researchers, based at Clemson and Michigan State University, used survey data of visitors and labor statistics from the tourism-dependent South Carolina areas of Myrtle Beach, Charleston and Beaufort-Hilton Head Island for their analysis.
The study’s findings include:
- Income from employment in the tourist industry was distributed primarily to those in lower-income brackets.
- Comparing the “income distribution from tourism-generated jobs to the overall distribution of income suggests that tourism provided more jobs with low wages than the overall economy of the regions.”
- In Charleston and Myrtle Beach, half of the jobs in the tourism industry provided annual incomes of less than $20,000.
The authors note that the study’s assumption of full-time employment likely causes it to overestimate the earnings of tourism workers. The researchers further cautions against extrapolating results to tourism in developing countries, where employment in the sector “may actually require relatively high levels of education and be high paying.”
Read the issue-related New York Times article titled "Travel Hiring Is on the Rise."
- What key insights from the journal article should reporters be aware of as they cover these issues?
Read the study titled “Is Tourism a Low-Income Industry? Evidence from Three Coastal Regions."
- What are the study's key technical term(s)? Which ones need to be put into language a lay audience can understand?
- Do the study’s authors put the research into context and show how they are advancing the state of knowledge about the subject? If so, what did the previous research indicate?
- What is the study’s research method? If there are statistical results, how did the scholars arrive at them?
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example, are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
- How could the findings be misreported or misinterpreted by a reporter? In other words, what are the difficulties in conveying the data accurately? Give an example of a faulty headline or story lead.
Newswriting and digital reporting assignments
- Write a lead, headline or nut graph based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Compose two Twitter messages of 140 characters or fewer accurately conveying the study’s findings to a general audience. Make sure to use appropriate hashtags.
- Choose several key quotations from the study and show how they would be set up and used in a brief blog post.
- Map out the structure for a 60-second video segment about the study. What combination of study findings and visual aids could be used?
- Find pictures and graphics that might run with a story about the study. If appropriate, also find two related videos to embed in an online posting. Be sure to evaluate the credibility and appropriateness of any materials you would aggregate and repurpose.
Class discussion questions
- What is the study’s most important finding?
- Would members of the public intuitively understand the study’s findings? If not, what would be the most effective way to relate them?
- What kinds of knowledgeable sources you would interview to report the study in context?
- How could the study be “localized” and shown to have community implications?
- How might the study be explained through the stories of representative individuals? What kinds of people might a reporter feature to make such a story about the study come alive?
- What sorts of stories might be generated out of secondary information or ideas discussed in the study?