While we celebrate World Tourism Day on 27 September this year, one cannot help but be concerned about the millions of jobs lost in this sector over the last two years.  This important industry employs some of the most vulnerable in our communities worldwide.  We should not underestimate the long term impact the pandemic will have on our economies, specifically related to jobs in tourism and countries that relied on this industry as a large part of their GDP.  It will without a doubt widen the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. 

Before covid, as much as 10% of world GDP was dependent on tourism. This translated into more than 320 million jobs, many of which are now lost. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), 100 million jobs are at risk, many in micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises that employ a high share of women, who represent 54 percent of the tourism workforce. The UNWTO has therefore designated World Tourism Day 2021 as a day to focus on “Tourism for Inclusive Growth.”

The Financial Times recently reported, noting numbers from summer 2021, tourism in southern Europe is on the path to recovery, however the trend has been for EU citizens to stay inside EU borders plus “the upper end of the market has recovered more strongly than budget or family destinations”.  Where does this leave countries in previously popular tourist regions for the more adventurous such as Africa, South America, etc. heavily relying on wealthy tourists from other continents? With vaccination rollouts lagging behind those of our first world compatriots, not to mention lack of infrastructure to supply electronic vaccine passports, ‘anti-vaxxer’ movements, lack of medical support, etc. things are not looking bright for the tourism industry in these areas. We are fast approaching what should be our first open summer in the southern hemisphere since covid, yet the challenges are legion.

One could argue that first world countries hoarding vaccines for themselves and examples like the UK refusing to open tourism to and from South Africa as reported recently in this article might not be the best examples of inclusivity. To explain the impact this has, the same article reports that: “The WTTC’s annual Economic Impact Report (EIR) report shows that in 2019, South Africa was among the most popular destinations for UK travellers, accounting for 7% of international visitor spending, representing R9.4 billion.”  Since their decision, many arguments have been made (notably mostly by South Africans) that this can hardly be seen as an inclusive notion. SA is an ex British colony and has strong ties; financial, ancestral and otherwise with the UK and while one would not expect preferential treatment during a pandemic, it is argued that other countries were taken off the red list at the same time with lower vaccination numbers and lesser medical infrastructure…

We have often discussed the importance of qualities such as being unbiased and inclusive in the workplace as related to leadership and teamwork in the AIMS International community. It is important that we see positive examples from governments, world powers and those who are in a position of privilege.  If not, too many of the jobs in tourism in poorer countries will be lost forever.