The UfM gathers young entrepreneurs who presented their projects and success stories in the tourism sector, even in rural areas.
Barcelona, 4 December 2019. More than 30 participants, stakeholders, members of the academia and entrepreneurs from the tourism sector gathered at the Headquarters of the UfM to discuss the sector’s role as a catalyst for job creation on both shores of the Mediterranean, especially for youth and women.
The workshop was a follow-up activity of the brainstorming meeting held on sustainable tourism in November 2018. Marisa Farrugia, UfM Deputy Secretary General for Social and Civil Affairs and responsible for the Tourism Dossier at the UfM opened the event by acknowledging the added value of tourism to regional economies due to its cross-cutting nature resulting in a linkage with many other sectors. The main benefit the industry brings is through income generation, especially through the creation of jobs. DSG Farrugia highlighted the potential of the sector in the MENA Region, where youth constitutes 60% of the population. Youth participation should be promoted as well as the participation of women, who should have equal access to the same opportunities as men, in order to tap the whole potential of the region in the development process. “Despite women being most of the global tourism workforce, they are underrepresented, predominantly in leadership and managerial positions. Studies have shown that female participation is often concentrated in the lowest paid, lowest skills sectors of the Tourism industry. Tourism entrepreneurship may function as a means for women to negotiate discriminatory social norms and power dynamics that are still prevailing in our societies.” said DSG Farrugia.
During the first session young entrepreneurs from various countries from the Euro-Mediterranean Region were given the opportunity to present their projects and startups, including touristic platforms that deal with over tourism, educational applications and eco-tourism lodges. The session was followed by a dynamic discussion concluding that local entrepreneurs should be the main beneficiary of the sector. Their growth will translate into an authentic and unique touristic product. Within the regional context it was discussed that tourism does not necessarily create economic development from North to Southern countries, but tourism flows can likewise be more developed through South-South cooperation.
The plenary was followed by three break-out working groups focusing on youth entrepreneurship and job creation, women in tourism and the role of digital transformation in the sector.
During the session on tourism as catalyst for the development of youth entrepreneurship and MSME’s, participants stressed on the importance of providing education on tourism, focusing on business management (both at tertiary level and for local communities with any background). Thus, vocational training, capacity building and soft skills that match the market and local communities were discussed. They also highlighted the need to create a regulatory toolbox to clarify the status of new (eco-)tourism, potentially creating a Euromed-wide standard/label/certification for eco-tourism MSMEs. The need to build an eco-logic type of eco-tourism policy was underlined. Eco-tourism requires standardization and categorization, as currently there is none. Showcasing success stories for the benefit of other operators, eg. a hub specialised in eco-tourism for MSMEs was suggested as well as the need to empower women and youth in the tourism sector in the MENA region. The group discussions also focused on mainstreaming climate action into the tourism sector and developing eco-tourism in the MENA region and including local communities in the process, whether these are rural or urban, big or small. Rather than expecting North-South tourism business, regional South-South cooperation emerged as a major issue of interest to participants for tourism travels that will help to generate economic revenue and trigger more employment opportunities in the MENA region.
In the session on women in tourism, participants discussed that despite women being highly present in the tourism sector, there is both a lack of data on their role and an underrepresentation of women in managerial or leadership positions. Women face many challenges in both integrating and working within the sector, for example: gender pay gap, gender unfair methods in financial assistance, lack of information access or women networking to start-up a business, and cultural restrictions that defy the established legal frameworks. There is a need to approach every regional context for women differently when implementing inclusive tourism policies and programmes. When implementing gender-based projects, it is important to focus on organic means of development which allow women to maneuver and mobilise in their own terms to allow them to sustainably approach their own challenges. Women are innovative and creative but their local institutional mechanisms may not be supportive in the structuring of their business plans and financing. Tourism stakeholders and women entrepreneurs must not only be identified but work in complementarity. Lack of data and statistics on women’s employment in the tourism sector pose a problem to effective policy making.
Digital transformation was addressed, exploring the challenges and opportunities it can entail in the tourism sector. Participants underlined the need to develop digital skills. This is key to integrating digital transformation into the tourism sector as it is beneficial for content creation and a skillset that is needed in other sectors, as well. The role of A.I. and web-mining tools were indicated as essential to developing labor market information, which identifies the required skills for the tourism sector. The group also pointed to the importance for increased visibility and opportunity for tourism-focused start-ups. This can be achieved through the establishment of acceleration and innovation labs, start-up competitions, and exhibitions that attract investors and hence funding.
Participants called for ¨match-making¨ processes between the traditional stakeholders of the tourism industry (the ministries, museums etc.) and start-ups through which partnerships are to be established, funding is to be secured and the digital skills gap is to be addressed through more education and necessary training programmes.
The working group shared common views that there is a prevalent perception that the tourism sector is unstable due to the uncertainty of external market factors. Thus, there is a need to make the industry more attractive by developing a clear career path and ensuring swift integration into other sectors where their skills would be relevant in cases of emergency. Experts stressed that sustainable tourism has to be one of the focus. It needs to be promoted via social media platforms and exhibitions, such as the Smart Cities Expo and by means of addressing the gap in know-how of technological solutions.
The main exchanges concluded that policy dialogue in the tourism sector in the Euro-Mediterranean region cannot be neglected, and so is transfer of knowledge and best practices in the field. Specific capacity building, standardisation and training skills in the tourism sector would help to alleviate youth unemployment and create various opportunities for women. Policy and decision makers on Tourism must be engaged to address the pressing challenges that are facing the Mediterranean. In line with the UfM Roadmap for Action, a common call to set up a UfM regional platform for the tourism dialogue was indicated to tackle the sector transversally where a policy in this direction needs to be formulated and build governance support for action to address the challenges while maximising its opportunities.