Covid-19 pandemic and future of tourism
After a period of sustained growth in recent years, tourism now faces significant challenges as the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted both leisure and business travels. The impact of the pandemic may bring profound changes in people’s habits and business operations with which tourism businesses may struggle to cope with for a possibly long time.
Cedefop’s recent analysis, based on online job ads, explored the social distancing risk to which different occupations are exposed to in the workplace. Using a skills-based approach, it has measured occupations’ social distancing risk based on balance of skills that require personal social interaction and those that can be done remotely.
Employing a high share of people exposed to high social distancing risk increases the chances that key business or organisational activities may be severely disrupted. For example, while an accounting clerk in a restaurant has a very low exposure risk as compared to a waiter, disruption of the main activity of the restaurant represents a danger for both employees, who may experience reduced pay or even be laid off if the establishment shuts down.
With a high employment share of people whose jobs depend on personal proximity (waiters, receptionists, travel guides) and at the same time low share of people whose jobs can be done remotely (such as ICT professionals), the tourism sector, especially its main part of accommodation and food service, is exposed to very high risk of disruption (see Figure 7).
Figure 7: Covid-19 potential risk of disruption by sectors, 2020
Source: “Covid-19 and jobs: Which skills make a difference?” Available at: https://bit.ly/2M1kVBj
The respective implications for employment in the sector could differ among Member States. To assess where tourism jobs face the highest risks, Cedefop’s analysis identified two relevant factors of vulnerability, namely: (i) importance of international arrivals for country’s tourism sector and (ii) share of small enterprises on employment in tourism.
(i) European countries are depending on international tourism on different degrees. Malta, country with less than half a million people hosted over 2.5 million foreign tourists in 2018, or 5.3 per capita; while Slovakia with almost 5.5 million people welcomed 2.3 million foreign tourists or 0.4 per capita in the same year.
Attractiveness for foreign tourists represent a further factor of vulnerability in times of pandemic: in the summer of 2020 local businesses may end up relying on domestic tourists (only or mostly) which in countries like Malta, Croatia and Cyprus, may not be enough to offset for the drop of international demand.
(ii) The period ahead will be challenging for all tourism businesses, but small enterprises with fewer resources are particularly vulnerable. Micro enterprises contribute significantly to the employment of the sector in some Member States such as Italy Poland, Belgium and Croatia.
The combination of these two important factors shows the high level of potential risk for the tourism sector in five European countries: Malta, Croatia, Cyprus, Austria and Greece. (see Figure 8).
Figure 8: Covid-19 disruption risk in tourism, 2020
Source: WorldBank, Eurostat Population database and Structural business statistics. Own calculations.
The European Commission’s Tourism and Transport Package addresses, among others, the need to support SMEs in the sector. Access to finance and resources can alleviate the caveats of the pandemic and the pressure on employment levels for millions of EU workers.
Tourism establishments hope for a recovery during the summer of 2020, as the pandemic abates in Europe and Covid-19 countermeasures are being gradually lifted by governments. At the same time, the pandemic accelerated some trends that are expected to significantly impact jobs and skills demand.
Digitalisation of services hampers employment but also increases the demand for digital skills
In the EU, 15% of international tourist arrivals are linked to work purposes. Lockdowns and restrictions in traveling boosted the use of online tools to host business meetings and events. Web-based events are increasingly seen as a safer, cheaper and more flexible option and rising investments in the supporting technology improve users’ experience in video conferencing. This trend is expected to hamper business tourism.
The same holds for the organisation and hosting of sports events, which is one of the fastest growing segments of tourism, contributing to international travels by an estimated 10%. The Covid-19 pandemic led to cancellation of all major sports events, such as the Olympic Games, tennis tournaments etc. Although events will gradually resume, their organisation could face challenges in the future, affecting the type and number of jobs offered, as well as the relevant skills. As events are planned years ahead and a risk of major disruptive incident (such as a pandemic or a terrorist attack) can appear in a matter of days or weeks, it is likely that two trends will emerge here with consequences for skills and jobs demand: (a) further digitalisation to allow more remote participation and reduce needs for personal interaction (e.g. only digital tickets, contactless services at events); (b) higher stress on hygiene, sanitation and cleanliness.
Automation risk. Social distancing measures have increased the demand for automated processes and web-based tools and customer service across sectors. In tourism, this trend led among others to an increase in web-based solutions to business meetings and events.
Cedefop explores how digital technologies affect job prospects and skill requirements. Based on the European Skills and Jobs Survey data and related reports on automation and social distancing risks, it is possible to assess which occupations within the tourism sector are likely to be impacted most.
Figure 9: Covid-19 disruption risk 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.
Figure 9 confirms most jobs in tourism are highly affected by Covid-19 and social distancing measures. Many tasks performed in these jobs can also be automated to a certain degree and the pandemic is likely to accelerate the process. For example, food processing workers are affected by the increase in food and beverages offered via vending machines in hotels. It is expected that demand for digital skills will go up as especially hotels will switch to online and remote check-in and check-out. In restaurants, digital menus and remote ordering will also contribute to rising demand for digital skills, both on user level (waiters, cooks) but on professional level too (development and maintenance of the online tools).
Complying with Covid-19 relevant hygiene measures is and will continue to be demanded by national rules; but it is also a key factor in gaining clients’ trust. Cleaners’ role in the sector will probably rise as their tasks can be automated only to a certain extent. In addition, demand for workers who are responsible for maintaining and improving a facility’s cleanliness and hygiene standards is expected to be on the rise.