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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

UNWTO and NEOM Launch ‘Tourism Experiences of the Future’ Challenge

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The ‘Tourism Experiences of the Future’ challenge will source innovative ideas and disruptive business models related to the tourism needs of the future, in line with growing demand for new experiences. All proposals must be aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals and should include the introduction or adaptation of digital and technological elements, as well as being focused at least one of the following areas:

  • Optimizing and maximizing the potential of experiential tourism
  • Harnessing the positive impact of new technology
  • Alternative business models
  • Innovative experiences

The competition is the first national initiative dedicated to identifying new companies that will lead the tourism sector’s transformation in Saudi Arabia. As well as established businesses, the competition also welcomes applications from Saudi Arabian start-ups and innovators with ideas capable of revolutionizing and inspiring tourists by presenting new ways and reasons to travel.

Applications are open until 2 November, with great interest expected, and participants must be Saudi citizens with legal capacity to enter into a contract. Successful projects will be selected based on various criteria, such as the degree of innovation, their viability and sustainability.

An Affiliate Member of UNWTO since 2019, NEOM is an accelerator of human progress and a vision of what a new future might look like. Located in northwest Saudi Arabia along the Red Sea, NEOM is ideally situated at the crossroads of the world, comprising a total area of 26,500 km². A special authority has been established to oversee NEOM, chaired by His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 

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Time to rethink, transform, and safely restart tourism

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Tourism “touches almost every part of our economies and societies”, enabling the historically marginalized, and “those at risk of being left behind, to benefit from development”, declared UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Monday, marking World Tourism Day.  

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on tourism could result in a more than $4 trillion loss to the global economy, according to a recent report from the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). 

Emergency for developing countries 

Highlighting the fact that in the first months of this year, “international tourist arrivals decreased by a staggering 95 per cent in parts of the world”, Mr. Guterres said that tourism continues to suffer enormously due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“This is a major shock for developed economies, but for developing countries, it is an emergency”, he added.  

“Climate change is also severely affecting many major tourist destinations, particularly Small Island Developing States”, his message added. There, tourism accounts for nearly 30 per cent of all economic activity.  

Tourism for inclusive growth 

Acknowledging that many millions of livelihoods are in jeopardy, Mr. Guterres said that now it is “time to rethink, transform, and safely restart tourism”. 

“With the right safeguards in place, the tourism sector can provide decent jobs, helping to build resilient, sustainable, gender-equal, inclusive economies and societies that work for everyone”, he added. 

According to the United Nations specialized agency for responsible and sustainable tourism (UNWTO), tourism is a recognized pillar of most the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs), particularly Goals 1 (poverty-elimination), 5 (gender equality), 8 (decent work and economic growth) and 10 (to reduce inequalities). 

In his message, Mr. Guterres went on to call for targeted action and investment, towards green and sustainable tourism, “with high emitting sectors, including air and sea transport and hospitality, moving towards carbon neutrality”.  

Adding that everybody should have a say in how tourism shapes the future of our societies, the UN chief concluded that “only through inclusive decision-making can we ensure inclusive, sustainable growth, deliver on the promise of the SDGs, and transform tourism to fulfil its potential”. 

The sector could then become “an engine for prosperity, a vehicle for integration, a means to protect our planet and biodiversity, and an agent of cultural understanding between peoples”, said Mr. Guterres. 

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Africa’s Tourism Leaders Identify Investments as Key to Sustainable Recovery

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The African Members of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) have met in Cabo Verde to strengthen their cooperation and advance plans for recovery and sustainable growth.

The 64th meeting of the UNWTO Regional Commission for Africa (CAF) saw 23 countries represented on the island of Sal, with 21 Ministers of Tourism joining five Ambassadors for the high-level event. Opening the Commission meeting, the President of Cabo Verde Jorge Carlos Fonseca offered a warm welcome to UNWTO’s leadership and to all delegates. The President was joined by Cabo Verde’s Minister of Tourism and Transport, Carlos Jorge Duarte Santos, and Prime Minister Dr. Ulisses Correia e Silva in reaffirming support of the highest political level for tourism and recognition of the sector as a driver of recovery and sustainable development.

Chaired by Christine Kaseba Sata, Ambassador of Zambia to Spain and Permanent Representative to UNWTO, delegates addressed the biggest challenges standing in the way of the sector’s safe restart across the continent. Special emphasis was placed on the importance of speeding up vaccine rollouts across the continent, as well as addressing security issues that continue to have an impact on how global travellers perceive Africa as a safe tourism destination. Also on the agenda was the current level of connectivity between destinations, with improved air links the harmonization of travel protocols identified as an effective means for boosting regional tourism.

Tourism’s restart ‘essential’

Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili welcomed delegates to the Commission meeting, providing an overview of UNWTO’s work during the ongoing crisis and how this is driven by the stated priorities of its African Member States. He said. “The continent is united in its determination to use the power of tourism to drive development and opportunity for all. And with coordination and targeted investments, African tourism can finally fulfil its unique potential.”

Rebuilding trust in travel

In Cabo Verde, UNWTO Members were brought up-to-date on the development of the International Code for the Protection of Tourists, a landmark code aimed at helping restore confidence in travel. Members were also presented with an overview of the UNWTO General Programme of Work & Budget for the Period 2022-2023. Additionally, signalling a shared determination to keep moving forward even in challenging times, Members also held elections for key positions within UNWTO decision-making bodies ahead of the 24th General Assembly.

Building capacity

Running in parallel with the Commission meeting, UNWTO hosted capacity building workshops on innovation, digital marketing and investment These workshops were held ahead of the second edition of the UNWTO Global Tourism Investment Forum, opened by Prime Minister Dr. Ulisses Correia e Silva and featuring the participation of investors from Spain, Germany, Switzerland and the USA as well as public and private sector leaders from across Africa. Backing up the workshop on marketing, UNWTO also launched its new Brand Africa publication. Produced with key African Tourism Partners, the publication aims at helping destinations use effective branding to diversify and attract visitors.

Also in Cabo Verde, tourism leader celebrated the signing and approval of the UNWTO Declaration on the Future of Mobility and Sustainable Transportation, a commitment aimed at the better understanding of how investments can help make the sector greener while also encouraging greater cooperation between tourism authorities and transport providers. Concluding the Regional Commission meeting, UNWTO signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Government of Cabo Verde. The aim of the MoU is to enhance cooperation between UNWTO and the Ministry of Tourism to strengthen the country’s branding, boost tourism education initiatives, and support research into the socio-economic impact of the sustainable development of tourism across Cabo Verde.

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