Supporting Women in Tourism to Gain More Digital Skills Makes Business Sense
In cities and towns across Malaysia, blink and you may miss one of the country’s most promising sources of income.
Among the most successful hosts for accommodation provider Airbnb in Malaysia are women, who in 2018 earned USD 39 million from welcoming visitors to stay with their families.
New Opportunities for Women
These women-run businesses may reflect the future of tourism. Digital technology can enhance opportunities in this rapidly expanding sector whose labor force is more than 50 per cent female. With more digital skills, women entrepreneurs can tap larger markets and boost their incomes.
There is a catch, though. Digital skills can be elusive for many women.
“Women have less access to technology,” said Jane Stacey, Head of Tourism at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD, at an APEC conference of tourism experts. For example, over 300 million fewer women have access to mobile internet, she explained.
Alcinda Trawen, Chair of APEC’s Tourism Working Group, confirms tourism’s digital gap. “One of the biggest challenges that the tourism industry faces and one that everyone else faces across APEC is the digital divide,” said Trawen.
Currently, the APEC Tourism Working Group looks at policies that can help the sector achieve better results, such as targeting more women for digital skills training. Narrowing the digital gap aligns with two of the priorities set by APEC 2019 host economy Chile: boosting women’s economic empowerment as well as the digital economy.
Tourism Continues to Grow
Women traditionally dominate the tourism industry, where they have more opportunities to advance. According to a report by the World Travel and Tourism Council, economies who enjoy strong growth of tourism, such as APEC economies Indonesia and Mexico, also see more jobs and higher incomes for women.
The expansion of global tourism looks set to continue. Air travel is expected to double in twenty years. Tourism already created 1 out of 5 new jobs in the last five years. The so-called ‘experience economy’, favored by younger generations for its ‘authentic’ offerings, may enjoy particularly high growth.
‘Experience economy’ experts say that women can catch up on digital skills. According to Nayana RenuKumar, Public Policy Lead for Airbnb Experiences in the Americas and Asia Pacific region, women account for more than half of Airbnb hosts. Supporting women entrepreneurs makes business sense.
“If we are not helping women and SMEs, we are losing out on 50 per cent of the population. It is our loss,” said RenuKumar.
Comprehensive Support for Digital World Success
Bringing women into the digital economy can be a long process. In the early days of training women hosts in rural areas, Airbnb realized that many newly trained hosts struggled to come online. The reason? A lack of bank accounts.
Indeed, the preliminary findings of APEC’s upcoming Women and the Economy Dashboard show that while 58.6 per cent of women across the region are economically active, only 33.8 per cent of women have savings at financial institutions.
The experience presented a key lesson about economic empowerment. If you are on the margins of the economy, you need comprehensive support to succeed in the digital world. The US-based firm has responded by offering their partners access to targeted promotional support, professional photography, and a broader network of institutions.
Policymakers can help too. Digital literacy programs that work closely with industry, colleges, and training institutes can help small businesses keep up with evolving technology. Any skills-training initiative must have more women in the mix, advised OECD’s Stacey.
“Both governments and industry have a role to play in helping women and small businesses have access to digital tools and infrastructure,” said Stacey.
Efforts are underway. The APEC Policy Partnership for Women and the Economy, for example, is preparing a roadmap on how to strengthen women’s economic empowerment in the region.
Already an important driver of tourism growth, with more tools and support women entrepreneurs can bring even more prosperity to APEC economies.
Tourism: sustainability is the trend of 2023
Sustainability is a more topical issue than ever and people are increasingly adopting habits and lifestyles aimed at limiting their impact on the environment. The tourism industry also fits into this context: in fact, an increasingly growing number of travellers choose to spend their holidays according to principles of sustainability and respect for the territories.
This trend is reflected in the numbers: according to the latest data of the Swg observatory released in March of this year, four Italians out of five would be willing to experience sustainable tourism, thus preferring to stay in a certified environmentally-friendly structure at the same cost. As far as the environmental protection initiatives are concerned, almost 70% of the sample respondents are in favour of limited access and traffic restrictions and 73% would be ready to do without their cars and to use public transport or ecological vehicles.
The trend is also confirmed by the results of the study on the impact of sustainability on the Italian tourism supply chain conducted by Deloitte in partnership with AICEO. According to the data gathered from this research, 64% of respondents stated that the effects of climate change have led them to consider travelling in a more sustainable way: a percentage which reaches 71% among those under 25 years of age. The will to shift towards sustainable tourism is especially driven by the desire to protect the territory (60%) and reduce environmental impact through ecological means of transport (52%). The growing attention towards sustainability is also reflected in the strong recovery of train travel, which recorded over 1 million passengers a day in 2022. As clearly emerged at the BIT 2023, the International Tourism Exchange, Italy is a particularly popular destination for foreign tourists, whose purchases of Trenitalia products have increased by 25% in 2022 compared to the pre-Covid period.
The possibility to move quickly from one major city to another thanks to High-Speed transport and the vast offer of regional and Intercity trains precisely responds to the demand for a more sustainable tourism that is attentive to the environment, territories and communities.
Such attention is also shared by True Italian Experience, a digital hub whose goal is to promote, diffuse and develop the Italian tourism market: a tourism consisting of unique experiences built around the passions and interests of travellers, always in full respect of sustainability and social responsibility principles. Maurizio Rota, CEO of True Italian Experience, confirms such commitment:
“More and more tourists are attentive to the sustainability issue. As a result, True Italian Experience offers travel packages designed to interconnect the various Italian locations using the railway system. True Italian Experience provides packages aimed at discovering the territory and which can be combined with sectors such as cycle tourism and electric mobility to ensure intermodal solutions in line with the principles of sustainability and social respect.
In fact, True Italian Experience believes sustainability concerns both the environment and social responsibility. As a result, our travel packages favour the young start-ups scattered over small towns nationwide and which foster and develop tourism from a digital perspective that would not otherwise have a preferential access to the market. In particular, we value the tourism businesses, cooperatives and start-ups present throughout remote areas of our Country and which thus focus on the development of a sustainable and gentle type of tourism.”
UN Unanimously Approves Jamaica’s Resolution for Global Tourism Resilience Day
After months of advocacy, high level discussions and partnerships, Jamaica has been successful in receiving the necessary support to have 17th February officially declared Global Tourism Resilience Day. The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted the resolution today with the support of over ninety countries.
This is the first ever Global Tourism Resilience Day which will now be recognised every year on 17th February.
Following a presentation at the UNGA’s 58th Plenary meeting in New York today, Minister Bartlett highlighted the importance of the declaration: “Today’s announcement will in fact signal to the world to put aside one day, 17th February, every year to not just observe but to create a greater level of consciousness around resilience. The pandemic has shown us that global disruptions will continue, so there will be more epidemics, pandemics and earthquakes like the one in Turkey today. The importance of this day is therefore to encourage capacity building for the world to be better able to respond to these global disruptions and recovery quickly.”
Tourism is one of the world’s major economic sectors and in 2019 accounted for 7% of global trade and one in ten jobs. However, tourism also remains one of the most vulnerable industries and this has been evident over the years with the negative impact of climatic events like hurricanes and earthquakes, pandemics and economic recessions.
“If we are to future proof the sustainability of tourism, now is the time to give greater consideration for building resilience and it is especially more critical for tourism dependent countries like Jamaica, whose economic livelihood rests on the survival of this industry. This is indeed a huge step in coalescing global support every year on this important matter and I thank all our stakeholders and partners who worked to make this happen,” added Minister Bartlett.
The Global Tourism Resilience Centre (GTRCMC), headquartered in Kingston, has been a major driver in calls for capacity building in tourism resilience. Born out of the Montego Bay Declaration, the GTRCMC was established to address these inevitable disruptions through preparedness, management and recovery strategies.
“The GTRCMC has been the unwavering global voice for tourism resilience and to have achieved a day focused on bolstering our efforts, will encourage more partnerships among countries to build capacity through research and the coming together of the best minds” said Professor Lloyd Waller, Executive Director of the GTRCMC.
This is the second designation attributed to the efforts of Jamaica, since the designation of the International Year of Human Rights in 1968. The designation also comes ahead of the upcoming Global Tourism Resilience Conference which will be held at the University of the West Indies’ Regional Headquarters in Kingston from 15-17th February 2023.
Indonesian women entrepreneurs adapt to a changing world
Sustainable tourism is proving to be a viable career option for women in the picturesque North Sulawesi region of Indonesia, where they are making the most of skills training provided by the UN.As the sun sets over the Celebes sea, and its orange glow turns the horizon gold, a couple of dozen tourists are on the pier at Budo, a village of 2400 perched on the ocean, 25 kilometres northeast of the regional capital Manado.
They snap photos and marvel at the view; a woman visiting from a nearby town exclaims that, even for the locals, the sun setting on the volcanoes is an extraordinary sight.
However, until a few years ago, the pier – about 300 meters long, crossing a mangrove forest to connect the village to the open sea – was dilapidated and used only by fishers heading out to sea.
But those were different times, explains Hani Lorens Singa, President of the Village Enterprise Association (BUMDES): back then there were far more fish, and no tourists.
Budo, like many coastal villages in North Sulawesi, in far northeastern Indonesia, has traditionally been dependent on small scale fishing, but fish stocks have shrunk, prompting a new focus on tourism as a way of creating livelihoods.
A programme set up by the International Labour Organization (ILO, a UN agency), is helping the rural community of Budo, and four other villages, to diversify into sustainable tourism, providing skills to local entrepreneurs, mostly women.
The pier has been renovated and painted, with support from the government, and benches and wooden huts have been added for the convenience of tourists, who pay an entrance fee of 10,000 Rupiahs ($0.65), to walk along it and enjoy the view.
Visitors can buy local delicacies and drinks at the ticket counter, and the orders are prepared and delivered to the pier by available members of the village association. “We share the work, we share the income – this is tourism at a human scale”, says Mr. Lorens Singa.
Since the renovation, a fifth of the visitors spend more, ordering local delicacies and drinks at the ticket counter with the occasional visitor also staying the night.
Thanks to support from ILO and its partners, Budo has increased its income from tourism fivefold and now appears on the tourist trail: the village was the winner of the digital marketing category at the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy’s Top 50 Village Tourism Award this year.
Despite the improvements, a lot still remains to be done, and Mr. Lorens Singa is not complacent. “We need to offer more reasons for people to stay for a meal or overnight,” he insists.
Homestays, hashtags, and home cooking
About an hour’s drive east of Budo, the inhabitants of Marinsow have taken a crash course in the bed and breakfast business, a steep learning curve for many of them.
“Many of the entrepreneurs we work with have never been tourists themselves, so without training, it is not obvious for them to know what tourists expect,” says Mary Kent, the ILO Chief Technical Adviser for the project.
Marinsow is in a mining region, several kilometres away from Indonesia’s pristine beaches, so tourists previously had no reason to stop by. But, since Marinsow was designated as a “priority tours destination” by the Government, the village has received a significant financial boost, aimed at diversifying the economy.
More than 50 villagers received small wooden bungalows on their plots to start bed and breakfast businesses, or homestays, as they are known in Indonesia. ILO, with local partners Klabat University and the Manado State Polytechnic, is helping to teach local people the skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur, such as bookkeeping, cost calculation and marketing, hospitality, and tourism.
“I was very surprised to learn that tourists prefer their sheet white and a diversity of meals,” says Yeni Alelo. Ms. Alelo and the other participants have also learned the importance of using hashtags in social media marketing posts, so that tourists looking for a place to stay in the area find them more easily.
“The women’s small businesses are financed through microfinance credits, and they have been able to make all the payments on time,” says Gabriel Tamasengge, the village’s mayor. “We are very proud of our women, of the business acumen we never knew they had.”
The investment in skills for marketing and quality control in these communities is paying off, with about half of the few hundred tourists spending the night in Marinsow last year coming from outside the province, including an increasing number from abroad.
Back in Budo, there is interest in building more homestays, and increasing overnight stays, perhaps by creating a marketing campaign to convince foreign tourists from nearby world-class diving destinations within the Bunaken Marine Park to hop over for an evening meal and make a visit to a typical village, rather than sticking to the usual mass tourism destinations. The Village Enterprise Association also plans to offer cooking and handicraft classes, as well as fishing trips.
“Our task now is to make sure that when the funding from ILO and the government stops, we will have a fully formed business that allows us to stand completely on our own feet,” says Mr. Lorens Singa. “We had the vision, and we have the commitment – I am confident we will succeed.”
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