Rebuilding tourism is a priority but the sector must become more sustainable and resilient, with workers and quality jobs at the heart of recovery.
Tourism is one of the world’s most important industries. It employs one in every ten on earth and provides livelihoods for hundreds of millions more. As the world’s leading tourism destination, Europe is no exception: the sector gives work to over 13 million people.
The Covid-19 pandemic has however plunged tourism into paralysis, inflicting tremendous hardships on the European tourism workforce. Virtually no one is working as usual. Workers on temporary or zero-hours contracts and the bogus self-employed in the ‘gig’ economy have been among the worst hit, as many government income-support measures have not provided them with adequate cover. Thousands of companies are struggling to survive and more than six million workers in Europe are estimated to have lost their jobs or gone into job-retention schemes.
The crisis has also had a dramatic knock-on effect on jobs in the food-supply chain, which is intrinsic to the functioning of hospitality. The International Labour Organization estimates that every job in hospitality supports 1.5 elsewhere.
Many skilled workers are leaving the industry, which risks emerging from the shutdown only to face the challenge of inadequate staffing. In France alone, nearly 100,000 employees are expected to be missing when business reopens. In the United Kingdom, one in ten hospitality workers are believed to have left in the last year. In countries, such as Spain, which rely extensively on tourism, temporary employment schemes have helped avert massive job destruction.
Not only is the economic capacity of tourism shaky. With a high proportion of its workforce young (13 per cent), foreign (15.6 per cent) and/or female (59 per cent), the social role tourism plays in accompanying young people into the labour market, integrating migrant workers and enhancing gender equality has also been put on hold.
Opportunity to reconsider
This moment provides an opportunity to reconsider the European tourism policy we want. On the basis of a radical and ambitious stimulus plan for the European economy, policy-makers—in concert with sector stakeholders—must drive investment into sustainable growth channels for tourism, marking out Europe as a safe, resilient destination which benefits communities, visitors and tourism workers.
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The European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions values highly the capacity of many actors in the supply chain to come together and speak with one voice—on short-term measures to get out of the crisis and on long-term visions to build a resilient sector. Through social dialogue, EFFAT has teamed up with social partners and committed stakeholders, to call for measures to stabilise the sector and put it on a path towards sustainable recovery.
We have sought to retain as many jobs as possible. From that stems our demand to extend all emergency measures, such as short-time work and wage-compensation schemes, as long as needed, ensuring fair allowances for all workers—including seasonal and temporary workers and others in non-standard employment, whether part-time, zero-hours or in a subcontracting chain.
EFFAT has asked EU member states to place hospitality tourism at the heart of their National Recovery and Resilience Programmes—to secure maximum jobs, support the sector and strive for swift, co-ordinated and safe travel. We call on the European Commission to assess these plans not just with an administrative mindset but with a strategic, 360-degree view, which recognises the recovery of tourism as functional to the revival of other sectors (including agriculture, food and beverages) and the economy at large.
Strong and responsible
Looking to the future, EFFAT is very clear about its vision for the relaunch of tourism—a renewed, strong and responsible model, which has learnt from the weaknesses brought to light by Covid-19 and which places workers at its core.
While for a long time travel and tourism have pursued indefinite growth—globally as well as in Europe—they have mainly relied on an economic model based on short-term financial interests and profit maximisation. Hence a focus on minimum costs, with little investment in the workforce and increasingly precarious employment.
In many places, unsustainable tourism has resulted in destruction of natural habitats. Tourism is a significant contributor to global CO2 emissions and consequently to global heating. And marketing accommodation via platforms—often unregulated—has made competition increasingly unfair, exacerbated housing shortages in urban centres and contributed to ‘overtourism’.
This is a lethal cocktail which has undermined a quick recovery of European tourism from the pandemic. Its relaunch cannot be based on the paradigms of the past. The goal should be a threefold sustainability: economic, environmental and social—including greater attention to the stability and quality of employment.
We must strive for a new model based on decent and secure employment, investment in human resources and reinvestment of profits, to ensure sustainable growth, visitor loyalty, diversification of the offer and a reduction of seasonality. We should promote proximity-based and domestic tourism—especially in countries, regions and cities where the sector upholds many jobs and businesses, offering a principal avenue for recovery, allied to lower environmental impact and support for communities and workers.
Companies should be assisted but on conditional and reciprocal terms, where workers are valued. Any financial support—state aid, loans or tax exemptions—should only be granted to businesses which play by the rules, pay their fair share to society and respect labour standards.
And tourism should be socially sustainable. All classification and certifications, such as stars and eco-labels, must take the quality of employment into account. Social labelling campaigns, such as Fair Hotels and Restaurants, should be developed and promoted in all EU member states, ensuring customers can choose establishments by reference to such criteria as decent working conditions and respect for workers’ rights.
With vaccination programmes rolling forward, the proposed EU Digital Green Certificate will hopefully pave the way towards a smooth and safe reopening of European travel and tourism in the summer. But all sectoral actors should reflect on the domino effect of this devastating crisis and glimpse ways to build resilience.
As EFFAT underlined before the Social Summit in Porto, tourism needs a co-ordinated EU relaunch. Given its importance to the European economy and potential social and environmental contributions, the sector should become a shared competence of the EU. The aim should be to ensure a resilient and sustainable European tourism which values, protects and retains its most precious resource—its workers.