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Supporting Women in Tourism to Gain More Digital Skills Makes Business Sense

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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.

APEC Tourism Working Group

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Tourism

Giorgio Armani and Gino Sorbillo Named New Special Ambassadors for Tourism

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The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has appointed two new Special Ambassadors as it leads the restart of the sector across Europe. On the occasion of a visit of the Secretary-General to Italy, the first official delegation to travel since the closure of borders in response to COVID-19, UNWTO has named renowned fashion designer Giorgio Armani and celebrated chef Gino Sorbillo its latest Special Ambassadors for Tourism.

In their new roles, both Special Ambassadors will draw on their status and influence promote the work of the United Nations specialized agency for responsible and sustainable tourism. As leaders in gastronomy and fashion, they represent two of Italy’s biggest economic sectors and two of the industries that contribute to making the country a global tourism leader. Since launching his own company in 1975, Giorgio Armani has become synonymous with Italian style. As a chef, Gino Sorbillo celebrates traditional Nepalese pizza and has opened award-winning restaurants around the world. 

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “Italy is one of the world’s most famous tourist destinations. Each year, millions of people visit to enjoy its culture, its fashion and its gastronomy. In return, tourism supports livelihoods and local and regional economies and helps preserve this Italian culture. As UNWTO Special Ambassador for Tourism, Giorgio Armani can help amplify UNWTO’s key messages of the power of tourism to create opportunities and drive growth. As UNWTO Special Ambassador for Gastronomy Tourism, Gino Sorbillo will showcase the unique ability of gastronomy to preserve and promote heritage and give tourists a unique taste of the destinations they visit.”

Upon receiving the plaque, Mr Armani said: ‘I am genuinely pleased to have been honoured in this way by an organisation that believes that people should be encouraged to see the beauty of the globe in a respectful and responsible manner. It has been a sense of responsibility for our community that has helped my country through this terrible pandemic, and this too is what has driven me to play my small part in helping those engaged in the fight against the virus, and the fight against the economic challenges it has posed. A belief in community – the global community – and an appreciation of the humanity we all share are what will help us build a better future for ourselves and the generations to come, through being mindful of the important things in life, like the preciousness of the environment and our duty to protect it. It is therefore an honour to take up the role of Special Ambassador for Tourism.’

The appointments also strengthen UNWTO’s strong relationship with Italy, the first Member State to receive a visit from the organization’s leadership since destinations around the world introduced restrictions on travel in response to the pandemic. The UNWTO delegation led by the Secretary-General will visit Rome, Italy, Milan and Venice and work with both the national and city authorities to support tourism’s restart and ensure this goes hand-in-hand with wider economic and social recovery.

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Small Island Destinations in Critical Need of Urgent Support as Tourism Plunges

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Without strong support, the sudden and unexpected fall in tourism could devastate the economies of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has warned. Since tourism is a strong socio-economic pillar of many SIDS, the impact that COVID-19 is having on the sector places millions of jobs and businesses at risk, with women and informal workers the most vulnerable.

In the second of its Briefing Note series on Tourism and COVID-19, UNWTO has highlighted the severe impact the pandemic could have on livelihoods in these destinations. According to the latest data from the United Nations specialized agency, tourism accounts for more than 30% of total exports in the majority of the 38 SIDS. In some countries, this proportion is as high as 90%, making them especially vulnerable to falling tourist numbers.

Such a major shock translates into a massive loss of jobs and a sharp decline in foreign exchange and tax revenues, which curbs public spending capacity and the ability to deploy necessary measures to support livelihoods through the crisis, UNWTO further warns.

International Tourists dropped 47% in the first four months  

In 2019, SIDS welcomed some 44 million international tourist arrivals and the sector earned US$55 billion in export revenues. International tourist arrivals were down 47% in the first four months of this year. 

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an unprecedented disruption. International tourist arrivals have fallen dramatically, and destinations that rely on the sector for jobs and economic wellbeing such as small islands will be hit the hardest. As such, measures to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on these states and to stimulate the recovery of tourism are now more critical than ever.”

Informal workers and women at greatest risk

The United Nations estimates that SIDS economies could shrink by 4.7% in 2020 as compared to 3% for the world economy.

The UNWTO Briefing Note also highlights the risk posed to those working in the informal economy by the sudden fall in tourist arrivals in SIDS. As a sector, tourism is a leading global employer and, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), more than half of all workers in the accommodation and food services sector in most SIDS reporting data are women. In many, this proportion is even higher, including in Haiti and Trinidad and Tobago (70%+).

At the same time, workers in the informal economy are at risk of falling into poverty as the impact of COVID-19 is felt in SIDS and other low- and middle-income countries worldwide, UNWTO also warns.

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UNWTO Adapts Agenda for Africa to Accelerate Tourism Recovery

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Member States from across Africa have shared their priorities for tourism against the backdrop of COVID-19. As with every other global region, African destinations have been hit hard by the restrictions on travel introduced in response to the pandemic. The sudden and unexpected drop in tourist arrivals has placed many millions of jobs at risk and threatened to roll back the progress made in sustainable development.

Now, as UNWTO leads the restart of tourism, African Member States have set out their vision for the sector. This builds on the UNWTO Agenda for Africa – Tourism for Inclusive Growth, the roadmap for African tourism that was adopted at the UNWTO General Assembly in 2019, and is based on the responses to a survey sent out by the Regional Department for Africa.

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “This feedback from our African Member States will help us guide tourism through the challenging months ahead. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on tourism across the continent. However, UNWTO is committed to helping Africa grow back stronger and better and for tourism to emerge from this crisis as an important pillar of economies, jobs and sustainability.”

Investment and innovation key priorities at continental level

At the continental level, the survey revealed that the five key areas of the UNWTO Agenda for Africa that Member States would like to see prioritized in order to better support them as they recover from the impact of COVID-19 are:

  • Unlocking growth through investment promotion and public-private partnerships
  • Promoting innovation and technology,
  • Promoting travel facilitation, including enhanced connectivity and tourism visa policies 
  • Fostering resilience, including through promoting safety and security and crisis communications
  • Advocating for “Brand Africa”

At the same time, the survey answers showed that Member States would like to see the part of the Agenda for Africa focusing on Fostering Resilience to be realigned to reflect the current situation. This will allow for a more effective response to the impact of COVID-19 on tourism and to accelerate recovery. Alongside this, Member States across Africa also expressed a wish for UNWTO to focus future capacity building and training sessions on the topics of crisis management and communications, marketing, developing domestic tourism and promoting innovation and entrepreneurship.

Sub-regional priorities outlined

The survey also revealed the different priorities of Member States from different parts of Africa. In North Africa, the number one priority is expanding capacity building, including through the provision of more training; in both Western and Eastern Africa, Members named promoting better travel facilitation and unlocking tourism growth through investments and public-private partnerships as their priorities.

Meanwhile, advocating for “Brand Africa” emerged as the number one priority for Member States in Southern Africa, and in Central Africa, the focus is on strengthening tourism statistics systems. Furthermore, the survey also found that Member States from across the continent would like to see UNWTO add a new section to the Agenda for Africa focusing on the promotion of regional and domestic tourism. 

Last but not least, Member States also suggested UNWTO undertake a range of actions both at the political and technical level, including strengthening collaboration between governments, facilitate the creation of investment funds to support tourism and provide practical support to SMEs. These actions would be particularly beneficial to countries whose GDP heavily depends on the tourism sector including the Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

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