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World Tourism Day

Tourism, poverty reduction and gender equality

On the occasion of World Tourism Day (27 September), ILO Senior Tourism Specialist Wolfgang Weinz and ILO Senior Gender Specialist Susan Maybud talk about the role that tourism can play in achieving poverty reduction and gender equality.

Analysis | 25 September 2013
GENEVA (ILO News) – Over the past decades, tourism has become a major source of growth and employment around the world and a key driver of poverty reduction. These trends are expected to accelerate during the next decade

According to the latest ILO data, published in a working paper titled International Perspectives on Women and Work in Hotels, Catering and Tourism, the HCT sector accounts for more than 260 million jobs worldwide. That’s about one in twelve jobs, which together contribute to about 9% of global GDP.

Tourism also serves as a first entry point to the world of work, especially for women, youth, migrant workers and rural populations in developing and least developed countries (LDCs). In fact, tourism represents 33% of LDC exports and 65% of island LDCs.

Women in tourism

Women make up between 60 to 70% of all workers in the industry. However, their situation is far from ideal as they tend to earn less than men and fewer of them occupy managerial posts.

Facts and Figures
  • In 2012 travel and tourism were estimated to have generated about 9% of global GDP, 5% of total investment and 5% of world exports.
  • Tourism exports represent 30% of world exports of commercial services (6% of total exports for goods and services).
  • International tourist arrivals increased by an annual average of 4.3% between 2005 and 2010.
  • Women represent a majority of the workforce, while half of the HCT workforce is under 25 years of age.
  • Globally the sector is highly fragmented, with around 20% of the workforce located within multinational enterprises compared to 80% in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Women are also disproportionately represented in lower skills and lower paid jobs, notably housekeeping and some customer contact areas. Men are usually employed as bartenders, porters, gardeners and maintenance, and tend to earn more for work of equal value.

Informal work is quite common in this sector, especially for female workers. In addition, many tourism companies are small and family enterprises, so the line separating women´s paid and unpaid work is often unclear. Women may contribute to income-generating activities, but they may not receive appropriate remuneration for their work.

Given the pace of demographic, economic and technological change in many countries and regions, an HCT workforce in which women are represented at all levels should be a major feature over the next decade in most parts of the world.

Social dialogue

Tourism has an inter-sectoral link with other areas of the economy. When tourism begins to take off in certain regions, many other sectors such as utilities and services, construction, agriculture, transport, entertainment and handicrafts also start to grow.

Being a labour intensive service industry, tourism has the potential to contribute to poverty alleviation through local sourcing and by developing value chains and integrated approaches to sustainable tourism development.

Besides generating direct employment, HCT has the capacity to make a significant contribution to poverty reduction through a wide range of micro-enterprises that dominate the sector in many countries.

But in order to turn this into a reality, it is necessary to pursue an agenda promoting Decent Work across the industry to guarantee its future sustainability, competitiveness and productivity.

The ILO is working with its tripartite constituents to improve working conditions in the sector so as to have an impact on its image and service quality, which is highly dependent on the skills level, professionalism, commitment, loyalty and competencies of its workers.

Therefore, it is essential to strengthen social dialogue mechanisms that will favour the respect of labour rights, the improvement of working conditions and the ability of companies to better respond to the needs and demands of the labour market.

The ILO produced a working paper, as well as a Toolkit on Poverty Reduction through Tourism, published in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Indonesian and Vietnamese. The toolkit explains how tourism can contribute to local and regional economic development and regional integration.