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The hospitality industry includes the hotel and motel, or lodging, trade. As defined by the International Council on Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Education, it also includes food services, recreation services, and tourism. The hospitality industry provides accommodations, meals, and personal services for both the traveling public and permanent residents.

Establishments in the hospitality industry are divided into five categories. Transient, or commercial, hotels make up three-fourths of the hotel business in the United States and cater to commercial travelers, businesspeople, salespeople, and tourists. Motels, or motor inns, are generally located near highways and airports and in small cities; residential hotels provide permanent or semi-permanent housing on a weekly, monthly, or sometimes yearly basis; resorts are hotels that offer recreational or social activities in addition to lodging; and convention hotels and centers are used as meeting places for large groups or businesses, or for major exhibitions. As well as providing lodgings for the conventioneers, convention hotels and centers must have state-of-the-art audiovisual and technical equipment among other services to stay competitive and attract business.

Regardless of an establishment's category, all require staff to fill similar positions. The range of employment opportunities in the hospitality industry is vast. All positions, from bellhops to executive managers, share the same goal: serving the public. The primary responsibilities for those who work in the hotel and lodging sector include making sure that guests’ needs are attended to, their accommodations are comfortable, and that general hotel operations are running smoothly. Front office, service, marketing and sales, and accounting workers fill front-of-the-house positions, or those jobs most visible to the public. Less visible, back-of-the-house jobs include those in food and beverage, such as bartenders, chefs, and waitstaff, as well as housekeeping, and engineering and maintenance. Most establishments in the hospitality industry also operate on a three-shift system, providing 24-hour service for their guests.

The U.S. travel industry supported more than 15 million American workers in 2022, according to a report by the U.S. Travel Association. Other findings in the report: travel comprised $1.2 trillion in direct spending, and generated $160 billion in total tax revenue in 2022.

The U.S. hotel industry employed more than 2.2 million people as of early 2023, according to an American Hotel & Lodging Association report. The United States is home to more than 166,272 properties, ranging from small boutique hotels to internationally renowned resorts, and includes nearly 5.3 million guestrooms. Although over the long term, growth in the hotel industry looks positive, it should be remembered that the hospitality industry is tied directly to the amount of money people can spend on leisure and business activities. When the economy is slow or there is a recession, people tighten their budgets and spend less money on travel, entertainment, and leisure activities. The hospitality industry is also rebounding from restrictions that had been imposed on travel, indoor dining, and other activities during the pandemic, which have since been lifted.