Working conditions – the dark side of tourism

Austria is renowned for its beautiful landscapes and high-quality tourist infrastructure. However, this is very much in contrast with the quality of work and employment in the tourism industry, which can be seen as the dark side of that favourable image. The sector suffers from low income levels, low wage satisfaction, unfavourable working times, very limited career opportunities, a high level of career breaks and significant use of over-qualified workers.


Tourism is an important sector for Austria, not only for the country’s reputation but also for its economy. The sector, which includes hotels, restaurants and catering, is a major employer providing 5.4% of the country’s jobs and generating added value amounting to 4.4% of the gross domestic product (GDP).

But even though employees in the tourism industry often represent the official face of Austria to visitors and tourists from abroad, their working conditions often remain invisible. A recent study, Tourism in Austria 2011 (in German, 1.74Mb PDF), commissioned by the Austrian trade union vida and the Vienna Chamber of Labour, sheds light on various aspects of the quality of work and employment in the sector.

Data sources for study

Analysing a broad range of quantitative data, the study draws a comprehensive picture of the tourism sector and the working conditions under which specific services are delivered. The study is based on the secondary analysis of various statistical datasets including social security data, data from the Austrian Court of Audit, the Labour Force Survey (LFS) and the Work Climate Index. The database of the Work Climate Index consists of two cumulative samples of different survey waves to ensure representativeness for the sector. The first sample covers 506 respondents (from different waves, 1998–2001) and the second 798 respondents (2007–2010).

Characteristics of the sector’s workforce

A brief overview of the employment structures of the sector provides a first glimpse of how the tourism sector is structured. The sector is characterised by high proportions of female, migrant and low-skilled workers.

Different data sets confirm that about 60% of the sector’s jobs are done by women. There is also a concentration of migrant workers in the sector; social security data show that 36% of the workforce (compared with 13.8% in the overall economy) have foreign citizenship.

Low-skilled workers make up an important part of the workforce. Data from the Work Climate Index shows that their 25% share of jobs in the sector is well above the 13% across Austria’s total workforce. This is backed up by a 2009 analysis of notified vacancies, which shows that almost half of the jobs advertised in tourism (48.5%) did not require specific professional skills.

Low income levels

Tourism is one of the sectors in Austria with the lowest wage levels. In 2008, the median monthly income (gross salary) in tourism of €1,463 was about a third (32%) below the overall median monthly income of €2,154. This is the third lowest position of all sectors, with only private households and agriculture offering even lower wages. This could also be interpreted as a reflection of the high concentration of disadvantaged employee groups (female, migrant and low-skilled workers) in the sector. Within the sector, female workers achieve only 87% of the level of male workers’ wages. Although the gender pay gap is smaller than average, it is significant for the women concerned given the overall low wage level in the sector.

It is therefore not surprising that data from the Work Climate Index show very low wage satisfaction among employees in the tourism sector. Whereas an average 63% of employees in other sectors reported being ‘very satisfied’ or ‘relatively satisfied’ with their pay, this is true for only 50% of tourism workers (see figure). Moreover, 46% stated that their wage is just enough to make ends meet, and this was not even true for 15%. In addition, a quarter of respondents suspected that their wages would not be enough to earn them a pension on which they would be able to live.

Wage satisfaction of employees in and outside tourism


Wage satisfaction of employees in and outside tourism

Source: Work Climate Index 2007–2010

Unfavourable working times

Work in hotels and restaurants is characterised by large deviations from standard working times. According to LFS data for 2009, 76% of workers work (at least sometimes) on Saturdays, 61% work on Sundays, 53% work in the evenings and 33% work during the night. A third of the workforce is affected by shift work.

Beyond these widespread unusual working time arrangements, another aspect of tourism has a major impact on working conditions in the sector. This is the practice of non-compliance with working time regulations (labour law). The study found that the proportion of violations of working time regulations detected by the labour inspectorate in tourism is much higher than the sector’s 5% share of the overall workforce, accounting for 51% of all violations in the field of ‘youth employment’ (primarily working time) and 22% of violations of general working time limits.

According to data from the Work Climate Index, the tourism sector features a very high proportion of part-time work (40%), which is not surprising as it is dominated by female workers (83%). Another specific feature is the high percentage of marginal employment contracts (‘mini jobs’), which amount to 18% of contracts compared with 8% in the overall economy, and they are predominantly given to female workers (69%).

Because wage levels are low in tourism, wages for part-time work in the sector are not enough to live on and, as the study points out, the prevalence of such work also reduces access to skilled jobs and management positions.

Very limited career opportunities

The study pays particular attention to the possibilities of occupational development and career opportunities. Seasonal variations in demand for employees create a major structural problem in the lack of continuous employment in large parts of the sector. In 2009, only 54% of tourism workers were employed throughout the whole year. A further 16% were employed for most of the year (75–94%), and 18% for a considerable part of the year (34–74%) (see table).

Employment ‘careers’ in tourism, 2009

Employment level

Continuously employed (95–100%)


Employed for the most part of the year (75–94%)


Employed for a considerable part of the year (34–75%)


Marginally employed for the most part of the year (75–94%)


Continuously unemployed (95–100%)


Unemployed for the most part of the year (75–94%)


Unemployed for a considerable part of the year (34–75%)


Predominantly out of labour force (34–100%)




Source: Tourism in Austria 2009

This situation is amplified by the high percentage of career breaks in the sector, with 71% of the workforce having spent extended periods out of the sector – female workers to a greater extent (75%) than their male colleagues (63%). The average duration of such breaks amounts to 41 months, which is relatively high, with a significant gender difference (women 50 months, men 23 months) for childcare reasons.

The high percentage of low-skilled workers in the sector (61% of female and 42% of male workers) is another indicator of limited career opportunities. However, a special feature of work in tourism is also the high utilisation of people in jobs for which they are over-qualified. This is especially true for female workers; whereas about 75% of female employees in tourism have completed occupational training, only 39% are deployed in skilled positions. The same is true for migrant workers; 17% of migrant tourism workers who have passed the higher-secondary school leaving examination (Matura) work in unskilled jobs compared with only 2% of Austrian workers.

These structural aspects (including the fact that two-thirds of the workforce work for companies with fewer than 20 employees) offer unfavourable conditions for career development. The study also looked at the subjective satisfaction of tourism workers with career development and job prospects, which is significantly below that of workers outside the sector. Only 43% are ‘very satisfied’ or ‘relatively satisfied’ (compared with 56% in other sectors) and 24% are ‘not satisfied’ (16% in other sectors).The same is true with regard to possibilities for vocational training; 45% ‘very satisfied’ or ‘relatively satisfied’ in tourism compared with 61% in other sectors.

Based on data from the Work Climate Index, the study reveals that this situation leads to a greater tendency among workers in tourism to seek exit strategies. Asked about their future work perspectives, about a third of the workforce reported wanting to change company or sector, compared with only 16% in other sectors.


Based on quantitative data on different aspects of the work environment, the study highlights the poor quality of work and employment in tourism, especially with regard to low wage levels, unfavourable working times and very limited career opportunities. This leads to a high turnover of labour and to many instances of using skilled workers to fill low-skilled jobs, a problem which is partly solved by using seasonal migrant workers who are more willing to accept these conditions.

To improve the situation, the study mentions the development of continuous employment models (Ganzjahresbeschäftigungsmodelle), regional employer pools (to improve access to vocational training even for workers in small companies) and childcare facilities with adequate opening hours.

Manfred Krenn, FORBA

Useful? Interesting? Tell us what you think. Hide comments

Eurofound welcomes feedback and updates on this regulation

Add new comment