Creating a future for women and youth in the global tourism industry


  • Malaysia
  • Wednesday, 16 Oct 2019

As travel becomes more accessible, the global tourism industry keeps expanding further each year. (Right) Tourism is a major source of employment for many countries around the world. — Photos: Filepics

World Tourism Day is commemorated each year on Sept 27, with celebrations led by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO). In line with UNWTO’s overarching focus on skills, education and jobs, World Tourism Day 2019 focused on the topic “Tourism And Jobs: A Better Future For All”.

Tourism’s role in job creation is often undervalued. This is despite the fact that tourism generates 10% of jobs globally and is included in the Sustainable Development Goal 8 for its potential to create decent work.

New policies are needed to maximise tourism’s potential to create more and better jobs, especially for women and youth. New policies are also needed to reflect and incorporate ongoing advances in technology.

Policies and actions should be geared towards addressing the current mismatch between tourism skills that are taught and those that tourism employers need.

Creating and ensuring equitable employment is essential to increasing social inclusion, peace and security. The potential of every economic sector to provide decent jobs should be utilised to its fullest.

The emergence of new technologies has led to the development of new forms of work that are rapidly changing production processes worldwide. This provides opportunities for – and puts pressure – on existing employment, welfare and education agendas.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), global unemployment remains high, reaching more than 190 million in 2018. Therefore, all sectors and countries need to create conditions for more and better jobs. Embracing new technology can play a key role in achieving this goal.

Making the new wave of technological breakthroughs as inclusive as possible requires considerable investment in training and skills for life and work. Everyone should have a chance to develop their full potential, so as to benefit from the new technological era.

To do this, we need to examine the impact of technological change on socio-economic growth, jobs and inequality. We also need to provide tools and skills to those who are looking for jobs, as well as to those whose jobs are at risk of automation.

Tourism is a major source of employment because of its labour-intensive nature and the significant multiplier effect on employment in related sectors. It is estimated that one job in the core tourism sector creates about one-and-a-half additional or indirect jobs in the tourism-related economy.

Overall tourism accounts for 1 in 10 jobs worldwide. The ILO estimates that “accommodation and restaurants”, together with ‘private sector services’, will create jobs at the fastest rate among all sectors in the economy over the next five years.

Big goals, bigger future

Tourism has proven to be a resilient economic activity. In each of the seven years following the global economic crisis of 2010, the number of worldwide international tourist arrivals grew at 4% or above.

Tourism is a contributor to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a target in Goals 8, 12 and 14. The sector’s contribution to job creation is specifically recognised in Goal 8, target 8.9, which states: “By 2030, devise and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism that create jobs and promote local culture and products”.

However, despite representing 10% of the world’s jobs, tourism’s role in employment generation and entrepreneurship is often underestimated and undervalued in policy formulation and implementation.

A mismatch between available qualifications and workplace reality is one of the major factors impacting tourism employment and talent development. The gap between education and skills/knowledge needs, and the resulting shortages of labour with “future-proof” skills, continues to dent economies and harm job creation prospects.

Moreover, tourism suffers from important challenges related to attracting and retaining talent and the improvement of working conditions. Globalisation, technological progress and demographic change are trends that, together, have redefined the tourism sector and how it functions.

At the heart of our now hyper-connected, hyper-informed world is a digital-led revolution in markets, as well as in the demand for skills and the characteristics of tourism jobs. Recent years have seen the emergence of digital breakthroughs, including new platform tourism services, big data and geo-localisation.

Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) are now the major job creators in tourism. OECD/ILO research shows that around half of tourism employees work in enterprises of fewer than 10 people, while around three-quarters work in enterprises of fewer than 50 people.

Tourism MSMEs are also an important source of innovation and economic diversification, helping to shape socioeconomic development in destination countries worldwide. However, access to finance, prohibiting business regulations and inadequate skills are major constraints faced by all MSMEs including those operating in the tourism sector.

The main challenge related to MSMEs is to create an enabling environment that at once improves their economic prospects, overcomes barriers to decent jobs, and ensures that MSMEs’ economic activities are environmentally sustainable.

The Unseen Tours by Yellow House are conducted by former street people as tour guides, leading tourists to places of worship, murals and other interesting spots in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Women and youth

The tourism sector employs more women and young people than most other sectors. Just under half (47%) of people working in tourism in European OECD countries are between 15 and 34 years of age, compared to a third (32%) of workers in the economy as a whole.

In OECD countries, women account for 60% of employment in the said sector. This is higher than the share of women employed in the services sector (47%) and in the economy as a whole (43%).

Women play a leading role in tourism entrepreneurship. Additionally, it creates jobs in rural and remote areas, not only directly but also indirectly through the preservation and restoration of traditional activities. Often it is one of the few viable economic sectors in these areas.

The explicit mention of tourism in Goal 8, target 8.9 of the SDGs recognises its transformational potential on livelihoods and prosperity in rural communities, through providing access to decent employment and through reviving traditional local industries.

By providing opportunities for women, youth and rural communities in a variety of roles, the industry contributes to several SDG target areas surrounding empowerment of vulnerable groups, as well as more equal and inclusive societies.

More inclusion strengthens tourism’s power to unite people across cultures in a celebration of diversity, increasing overall social resilience. But despite these benefits, it must also address serious challenges surrounding employment for all of these groups.

One is a large gender pay gap. In tourism, women are on average paid 20-25% less than male workers for comparable skills. Women are often over-represented in non-standard forms of employment. Women also suffer segregation in terms of access to education and training.

New policies are needed to maximise the potential of the sector to create more and better jobs, while reducing the risk associated with an increasing skills mismatch.

The major ongoing changes and challenges around tourism employment require a new approach to skills development and education, policies for innovation and job creation. – Vientiane Times/Asia News Network for illustration

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