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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

Regulation Catches up with Innovation: The Case of Short-Term Rentals

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The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has published the first systematic overview of how both national governments and local authorities are addressing and managing new business models in the accommodation industry. The so-called “sharing economy” has experienced significant growth over recent years and is poised to outpace the growth of traditional accommodation. Drawing on case studies from around the world, “New Business Models in the Accommodation Industry” analyses existing rules and regulations for the sector.

Drawing on 21 global case studies, the new UNWTO report notes that most of the measures implemented refer to areas of ‘fair competition’ and ‘consumer protection’, specifically measures related to taxation and registration and permits In comparison, measures relating to ‘planning and sustainability’, are less commonplace. At the same time, the report highlights the challenges destinations face in implementing rules and regulations, with a lack of local capacity and a lack of clarity over whose responsibility it is to monitor and regulate short-term tourist accommodation.

Commenting, UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “There are significantly more regulations than we thought and it is encouraging to see destinations taking the initiative. However, many challenges remain, including the practical implementation of rules and regulations relating to the short-term tourist rental market. Good governance and effective cooperation between the public and private sectors are key to successfully meeting these challenges.”

Case studies analysed for the “New Business Models in the Accommodation Industry” include European countries such as the Netherlands, Italy and Spain, which are home to some of the world’s most popular cities for tourists, as well as countries in the Americas such as Mexico and from across Asia as is the case of Japan.

The report was produced with the support of the Secretariat of Tourism of Mexico.

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U.S. Moves Closer to World Tourism Organization with Landmark Meeting

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A high-level delegation from the United States Department of State has met with head of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) as the country moves closer to rejoining the United Nations specialized agency for tourism.

Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs Kevin Moley and Assistant Secretary for Economic and Business Affairs Manisha Singh were welcomed by UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili, following up on the announcement that the USA is exploring rejoining UNWTO, of which it is a founding member. The two parties enjoyed productive discussions as the terms of membership are being finalized.

This is the highest level visit of a US delegation to the UNWTO headquarters registered so far. In June of this year, the United States used the occasion of the UNWTO Executive Council meeting to confirm it is exploring the possibility of rejoining, stating that “the UNWTO offers great potential to fuel economic growth in the U.S. tourism sector, create new jobs for American workers, and highlight American travel destinations”.

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashili underscored that “it is extremely encouraging that the United States has clearly signaled its intention to rejoin UNWTO and support tourism as a key driver of job creation, investments and entrepreneurship and safeguarding natural and cultural heritage the world over”.

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ADB Starts Second Eco-Tourism Project for Mongolia’s National Parks

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Mongolia's Khuvsgul National Park and Onon-Balj National Park are eco-tourism priorities for the government, but as major sources of biodiversity, they need to be carefully managed. Photo: ADB

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Government of Mongolia today wrapped up one successful eco-tourism project and embarked on a second project aimed to help Mongolia benefit from a boom in domestic and overseas tourists while safeguarding the environment.

Mongolia’s Deputy Speaker Mr. Enkh-Amgalan Luvsantseren, the Minister of Environment and Tourism Mr. Tserenbat Namsrai, and the Governor of Khuvsgul Province Mr. Ganbold Lkhagvasuren gave opening speeches at a final workshop for the Integrated Livelihoods Improvement and Sustainable Tourism in Khuvsgul Lake National Park Project. This was followed by an opening ceremony for the Sustainable Tourism Development Project. The workshop and opening ceremony also gathered local government officials, community members, experts, and ADB staff.

“Our projects aim to help develop the tourism sector in Mongolia to help diversify the economy and create jobs. But we want to ensure that is done sustainably so that local livelihoods and the often fragile environments are also protected for the long term,” said Mr. Mark Bezuijen, Senior Environment Specialist for ADB and the team leader of both projects.

The Integrated Livelihoods Improvement and Sustainable Tourism in Khuvsgul Lake National Park Project, funded with a $3 million grant from the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction, helped build local tourism activities, improve livestock and pasture management, and strengthen waste management around Khuvsgul Lake.

The $38 million in loans under the Sustainable Tourism Development Project will be used to build on the activities in Khuvsgul Lake and develop similar initiatives in Onon-Balj National Park, the birthplace of revered Mongolian leader Chinggis Khaan. This project marks the first loan in Mongolia to focus on tourism and protected area management, and will serve as models for economically inclusive development and conservation.

Mongolia’s small tourism sector is growing rapidly. In 2017, tourism generated $1.2 billion in earnings and employed 121,500 people. But by 2028, it is forecast to generate $2.1 billion and provide 149,000 jobs. Khuvsgul National Park and Onon-Balj National Park are eco-tourism priorities for the government, but as major sources of biodiversity, they need to be carefully managed. There will be a ceremony to open the project activities in Khentii province on 10 October.

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