Tourism provides jobs where they’re needed most

World Travel & Tourism Council
5 min readJun 18, 2018


The high level statistics are often quoted. Tourism is a driver of job growth and economic prosperity, accounting for 1 in 10 jobs worldwide and delivering 1 in 5 of all new jobs created in 2017.

But dig deeper and the story gets more interesting still.

Speaking at the WTTC Global Summit in Buenos Aires recently, former President of Costa Rica Laura Chinchilla Miranda put it like this:

“Tourism equates to 27% of Costa Rica’s GDP. 80% of that benefits the lowest quintile and 60% of the jobs are for women.”

In short, the employment opportunities the sector provides tend to benefit those that need it most.

Tourism goes where other sectors often don’t

Take a tiny island nation like the Maldives. Tourism accounts for nearly 40% of all employment here providing livelihoods for thousands. Or a landlocked Himalayan kingdom like Bhutan. Tourism arrivals to Bhutan have risen from around 20,000 a year to nearly 160,000 in the last seven years, bringing over 30,000 new jobs to far flung places. Which other multinational industries are likely to invest in places like these? The Seychelles, Cape Verde, Cambodia, the list is long of small, often poor countries where the Travel & Tourism sector plays a leading role in providing jobs and income.

Tourism offers a large volume of low skilled jobs

The International Labour Organization estimates that 40% of the world’s unemployed are aged between 15 and 24 and after the 2008 financial crisis in places like Greece, over 40% of young people are out of work. The advance of Artificial Intelligence (AI) means these issues may well become more extreme. By its very nature Travel & Tourism is labour intensive. Many of the jobs it offers are all about working with people; they’re often low skilled so they are ideal for less developed countries where lack of formal education holds many people back. These are jobs that are also relatively well insulated from the impact of AI. Take the hotel sector. It provides on average one employee per room. Add on people indirectly employed too like guides, drivers, gardeners and laundry staff and that number rises to four. And around half of all employees in the hotel, catering and hospitality sector are under 25.

Tourism employs a disproportionally high percentage of women

In both developed and less developed economies, Travel & Tourism typically employs a far higher proportion of women than other sectors. Women make up over 60% of the labour force in the hotel sector. Not only are more women employed in tourism, they have more opportunity for advancement. In Bulgaria a recent study showed that women occupy 71% of management and administrative roles compared to just 29% in the country as a whole. In Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand, more than half of tourism businesses are run by women. The percentage is very similar across Latin America.

But there’s undoubtedly more that we can do:

Keep more tourist spend in destination

It’s not just the size of the pie, it’s the share of it. The growth of all inclusive packages in particular has led to much of the spend tourists make in resorts staying with the corporations that own them, rather than going to locals. This problem is often called Tourism Leakage. Estimates for Tourism Leakage range from 80% in the Caribbean to 40% in India. Governments and the industry need to work together to ensure ever larger proportions of the benefits from tourism trickle down to the local populations. A number of big brand hotel chains now pursue policies of buying local. Hyatt’s ‘Food. Thoughtfully Sourced. Carefully Served.’ programme is just one example. In the Bahamas, where estimates put tourism leakage at 85%, the hotel association and tourist board are working together to combat the problem. The Tru Tru Bahamian Marketplace project aims to help local entrepreneurs market themselves and sell their services to hotels and tour operators. In St Lucia, local farmers now use a Whatsapp group to sell their produce direct to local hotels. The result is fresher food and better menu planning for the hotels and guaranteed sales for the producers. Find out more in the video below.

Spread the benefits further

It’s not just employment opportunities and income that the sector can offer. Often better quality infrastructure has to be built to support the industry and the local population benefits too from improved roads and water supplies, internet access and waste disposal. But many Governments are going further, realising that the benefits of tourism need to be felt by everyone in the local community. Speaking at the WTTC Global Summit, Prime Minister of the Republic of Rwanda, Rt. Hon. Prime Minister Edouard Ngirente explained how they plough some of the profits from tourism back into local communities. Communities around Rwanda’s National Parks receive 10% of tourism earnings for their wellbeing. So far 751 community based projects have been implemented providing housing, schools, health clinics and clean water. Using income from tourism as a wider tool for development lifts people from poverty more quickly.

Offer development and career progression

Travel & Tourism might offer more opportunities for women than other sectors, but there’s still work to do. While the income disparity can be far higher elsewhere, typically women still earn 10 to 15% less than men in similar jobs in Travel & Tourism. Some hotel corporations are actively redressing the imbalance like Hilton with its Women in Leadership programme. Marriott has similar programmes aimed at mentoring and offering opportunities for progression specifically for women. Ambitious young people of both sexes are unlikely to want to wait tables and clean rooms forever and the way that the industry helps them develop their careers and take steps up the earnings ladder is important.

Develop resilience

Whilst Travel & Tourism can offer a relatively speedy development trajectory, it’s also susceptible to its own unique challenges. Particular problems include outbreaks of disease, freak weather events and terrorism, all of which can prompt swift declines in the numbers of tourist arrivals. This is particularly problematic for countries whose economies rely very heavily on tourism. Speaking at the WTTC Global Summit H.E. Najib Balala, Cabinet Sec. for Tourism, Kenya pointed out that the crisis incident is only part of the problem. The knock-on effects to people’s jobs and livelihoods is huge and can be felt for many years after. Often the people impacted by a crisis are the low skilled workforce who have little in the way of alternative income sources. At sector and Governmental level it’s important to be ready for the unexpected, developing resilient infrastructure and having a defined plan in place for managing crisis and promoting a swift recovery post disaster.

Further reading:
1. World Bank Report: Women and Tourism, Designing for Inclusion
WTTC report: Travel & Tourism as a key employer of women and young people



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