Cruise ships
Cruise ships on the bayfront. Photo credit: Courtesy, Port of San Diego

A new study has found that workers in San Diego tourism may make as much as $32 an hour, contrary to the belief that such posts typically command far lower hourly wages.

Direct tourism jobs in the city of San Diego boast an average hourly wage of $28, according to the research, but by expanding the field to consider indirect tourism jobs, workers in the industry can achieve the average $32 rate.

The study, “Elevating Opportunities: San Diego’s Tourism Jobs Create Economic and Social Mobility,” released just ahead of the busy Labor Day holiday weekend, posits that just over half of the local 214,000 total tourism jobs fall within the leisure and hospitality segment.

The remaining positions span an array of sectors including finance, information technology legal services, and more, expanding the opportunity for higher earnings.

The research was sought by the San Diego Tourism Authority in partnership with the San Diego Regional Policy & Innovation Center.

“This report dispels unfair myths about the industry, showing the large number of high-quality tourism jobs,” said Daniel Enemark, PhD, chief economist at the policy center in a news release. “It also reveals worker’s priorities and insights for further improving those jobs and attracting future workers.”

The study includes stories from more than 500 employees with hotels, regional attractions and other ventures, including the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, San Diego County Fair, the Brigantine Company, Access Trax, Hilton San Diego Gaslamp Quarter Hotel and Sesame Place San Diego.

Aside from the wage issue, other key findings in the report regarding local tourism jobs include: 

  • Low barriers to entry and advancement opportunities. More than 70% of tourism occupations do not require a college degree, and approximately three-quarters demand minimal or no on-the-job training. 
  • Flexibility. Tourism jobs offer the rare combination of part-time flexibility and stable wages, researchers contend.
  • Satisfaction with pay. Almost 90% of employees surveyed expressed satisfaction with their earnings.
  • Continuity. The majority of tourism workers surveyed who had previous tourism jobs remained within the industry in their current roles, though overall the field has relatively high turnover.

Tourism Economics estimates there are more than 13,000 job openings in San Diego tourism. The local tourism sector generated a record-breaking $22 billion in economic impact last year.

“Tourism plays a vital role in elevating communities, supporting small and large local businesses, creating rewarding career opportunities and inspiring San Diegans to consider the diverse and abundant options available within the sector,” said Julie Coker, president and CEO of the San Diego Tourism Authority.