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Tourism at a crossroads: skills and jobs demand in the coronavirus era

As EU Member States struggle to revive their tourism sectors in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, skills are emerging as the deciding factor for successful economic recovery.

Tourism is a key employer of the EU economy. Employing some 13 million people, it contributes to substantial spill-over employment effects in other sectors, especially in construction, retail and healthcare. From 2000 to 2017, more than 1.8 million new jobs were created in the sector.

People working in tourism are vulnerable to coronavirus-related challenges and skills development implications. Almost one quarter of them are seasonal and temporary workers. The sector also attracts young workers, acting as a first entry point to the labour market for recent graduates, as well as a response to youth unemployment. It also offers easy employment access to vulnerable groups, such as women (almost two thirds of the workers in the sector), and migrants.

Employment structure and change in tourism, 2000-17

Source: Eurostat National Accounts and Structural business statistics. Own calculations.

Skills in the service of economic recovery

Cedefop analysis highlights that tourism, especially in southern EU countries, is at highest risk of economic disruption and potential job losses. Tourism establishments are now hoping for recovery during the 2020 summer, as the pandemic abates in Europe and coronavirus countermeasures are being gradually lifted – a recovery crucial for the economic revival of several countries. Skilled human capital will be key in re-establishing Member States as competitive and sustainable touristic destinations.

Covid-19 disruption and automation risk by occupation, 2020

Source: Automation risk in the EU labour market and EU jobs at highest risk of Covid-19 social distancing. Own calculations. Note: Size of bubbles indicates employment levels.

Research reveals that EU employers – particularly SMEs – in the tourism sector face challenges in recruiting workers, specifically graduates. Corroborating the findings of Cedefop’s research on online job advertisements, transversal skills play a significant role: skill gaps and shortages reported by employers mostly regard such skills, as well as foreign languages, interpersonal and ICT skills, rather than job/tourism-specific skills.

The sector also suffers from negative perceptions regarding working conditions and career prospects. Offering targeted and high-quality training opportunities could be a way to attract more and better-prepared candidates. Reskilling and upskilling of existing employees is necessary to respond to the emerging and persisting new trends in the sector, such as provision of services to targeted groups of visitors (for example, elderly or with disabilities).

Understanding the business and societal challenges and opportunities that affect employment levels, occupation tasks and, consequently, skill profiles in tourism is paramount for designing and offering relevant high-quality vocational education and training.

Read the full Skills developments and trends in the tourism sector analysis for in-depth information.