Hotel, catering and tourism employment expanding worldwide, but globalization leaves many small and medium sized enterprises behind

GENEVA (ILO News) - Although the hotel, catering and tourism (HCT) sectors produce an estimated 3-4 per cent of GDP in most of the world economy and employ approximately 3 per cent of the world's total labour force, its workers earn "on average at least 20 per cent less than workers in other economic sectors," according to an ILO report prepared for a tripartite meeting of industry experts, which gets underway in Geneva today.

Press release | 02 April 2001

GENEVA (ILO News) - Although the hotel, catering and tourism (HCT) sectors produce an estimated 3-4 per cent of GDP in most of the world economy and employ approximately 3 per cent of the world's total labour force, its workers earn "on average at least 20 per cent less than workers in other economic sectors," according to an ILO report * prepared for a tripartite meeting of industry experts, which gets underway in Geneva today.

And while technology, deregulation and globalization are fuelling growth prospects in some up-market segments of the tourist trade, the prospects for smaller and medium-sized enterprises (which produce most of the employment benefits) are increasingly unclear.

The wage differential is due to the "higher proportion of unskilled workers" employed in the HCT sector, where working conditions are often characterized by part-time or low-paid jobs. "Up to half the workers in the industry are under 25 years old and up to 70 per cent are women," the ILO report notes.

Migrant workers are another vulnerable group which tends to be overly-proportionately employed in the sector, with migrants concentrated in lower paid and less stable segments of the job market due to such factors as language or unfamiliarity with the host culture.

Often very young children work in the tourism sector, particularly in small, family-based enterprises, but often on their own as vendors or helpers: "The worst form of child labour in tourism is seen in the sex trade," the report notes. Though the problem is widespread, the report notes the increasing indignation of the international community at this exploitation and highlights "the increasing participation of international employers and workers' organizations and the World Tourism Organization in combatting child prostitution in tourism".

Other labour problems affecting the industry are high staff turnover, irregular working hours, low levels of unionization (less than 10 per cent) and intense pressure on human and environmental resources as tourism becomes increasingly competitive and reaches into far flung destinations where institutional resources are weak or inadequate.

The true scope of the economic and employment importance of tourism becomes even larger when one considers that each job in the sector, generates an estimated one-and-a-half additional (indirect) jobs in tourism related sectors and in some regions tourism provides direct employment to as much as10 per cent of the workforce.

If both direct and indirect employment is taken into account, "the total tourism related economy has been estimated to produce as much as 11 per cent of GDP and to employ 8 per cent of the labour force worldwide," according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.

The ILO report portrays a rapidly growing industry "about 3 per cent annually," with strong regional differences. In recent years, the highest annual growth rates have been registered in South Asia (9 per cent), the Caribbean (7 per cent) and Eastern Europe (5 per cent). In contrast, Europe is growing at around 2 per cent and Asia Pacific by only 1.4 per cent in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis.

Cross-border tourism has grown faster than tourism overall, according to the ILO report, and is expected to increase by 4.5 per cent over the next 20 years. "During the year 2000," the report notes, "almost 700 million tourists crossed a border and spent over US$500 billion while abroad". The deregulation of air transport and resulting fall in air fares is a major contributing factor to the globalization of tourism: "In developing countries no less than 80 per cent of international tourists arrive by air."

The quality of tourism services is also changing rapidly, with travel becoming a regular part of the lifestyle of populations in wealthier nations and the better-off in developing countries, the ILO report finds.

Trips are becoming shorter but more frequent, with new market niches, such as nature tourism, eco-tourism and adventure tourism flourishing in response to consumer demand and often yielding substantial benefits to populations in remote rural areas where agricultural incomes tend to be declining. According to the ILO report "the spread of information technologies enables tourism providers to cater more efficiently for a more diversified clientele". However, these benefits are not evenly spread.

The report cites concerns about "the relatively low participation of developing countries in electronic distribution and reservation systems run by large air carriers, which do not sufficiently take into account the needs of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)".

While large hotel chains are constantly increasing the scope and efficiency of their operations through mergers, franchising arrangements and increased linkages between air carriers, hotels, travel agencies and retail distributors, "independent enterprises tend to be left behind," according to the ILO report. This is troublesome because it is precisely the SMEs that "employ at least half the sector's workforce and represent a majority of its enterprises".

One of the major points of discussion of the ILO tripartite meeting is expected to be the huge and increasing training requirements of the industry, which are seen as increasingly vital to its successful development. While the report recognizes that "the hotel and restaurant industry is very conscious that human resources are becoming more valuable to the sector ... additional efforts are needed to make working conditions more attractive to a range of age groups, not just young workers, to increase worker responsibility and to make employment in the sector a prestigious lifetime engagement".

Among the more positive developments, the report cites "a trend toward greater investment in staff training, with up to one per cent of revenue being earmarked for this purpose, increased management and secondary education and tourism-related degree programmes which have proliferated all over the world and are on their way to recognition as an academic discipline".

In some cases, the training requirements are especially complex, as, for example, in the exploitation of delicate cultural environments in natural parks, which require "the proper involvement of local populations to guarantee their preservation". Tourism in agricultural areas is another area that requires "regulation in order to reduce or prevent unfair competition with professional lodging", recognizing at the same time its contribution to sustainable livelihoods.

According to the report, training and new technologies need to be more "accessible to small and medium sized enterprises" and "social dialogue in the HCT sector still needs to be developed further". The report cites trade union concerns with "the anti-union attitudes shown by some multinational companies in countries where trade unions are traditionally strong and with the adverse impact on workers' representation arising from subcontracting, franchising and management contracts which split large enterprises into small units that are too weak to be effective partners in social dialogue".

* Human resources development, employment and globalization in the hotel, catering and tourism sector . Report for discussion at the Tripartite meeting on human resources development, employment and globalization in the hotel, catering and tourism sector. International Labour Office, Geneva, 2001. ISBN 92-2-112353-7. Price: 22.50 Swiss francs.