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Migrant workers are essential to hotel industry

A recent ILO study on "Migrant workers in the international hotel industry" shows how migrant workers and the hotel industry depend on each other. It also looks at the general working conditions these workers face. The ILO’s hotel, catering and tourism expert Wolfgang Weinz discusses the main findings of the report.

Analysis | 25 July 2012

What do we know about the number of migrant workers employed in the hotel industry worldwide?

It is impossible to say how many migrant workers are among the 235 million people employed in the sector, as the situation keeps changing and varies widely from one country to another. Also, informal employment in hotels does exist in some countries. What we know for sure is that the ageing population in many developed economies means that more and more migrant workers will be hired in hotels, especially women and youth.

Why does the hotel industry rely so much on migrants?

Hotels are among the largest and most rapidly expanding industries worldwide. They require a lot of staff. However, they also need flexibility based on seasonal work. As a result, workers are usually hired on temporary contracts. Salaries tend to be low since positions do not necessarily require high skills. Working conditions are often difficult, including night-shifts and working during weekends. This is why jobs in hotels are not very attractive for the local population, especially in developed countries.

Can you tell us a bit more about their working conditions?

Working conditions vary widely from one country to another. However, it is clear that migrant workers are particularly vulnerable in terms of health and safety. They are also more likely, women especially, to remain in low-skill and lower-paid positions. Also, migrant workers do not always benefit from supportive trade union representation. There is a “north-south” divide in the roles and responsibilities of migrant employees. Those from poorer countries tend to work at the lower end of the workforce spectrum, while those from developed countries take senior managerial and technical positions.

What does the hotel industry offer to migrants in return?

Many migrant workers do not see the hotel industry in terms of a long-term career commitment and try to move to other sectors of the host economy or to return home as a medium-to long-term goal. However, their job often provides them with the opportunity to send money home and care for the needs of their family. Sometimes they use their stay abroad to acquire new language skills that can be useful later on in their careers. In the best case scenario, they can go back home and start their own hotel business based on the skills they have acquired.

What impact did the crisis have on migrant workers in the hotel industry?

Even though the study entitled "Migrant workers in the international hotel industry" does not focus specifically on the impact of the economic crisis, it is to be expected that people in the most affected countries will now tend to accept more low-paid hotel jobs than before the crisis. This affects international, as well as internal migrants. In Egypt, for example, the lack of job opportunities in rural areas has forced many people to look for jobs in hotels in tourist areas.