The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is stressing SMEs and talent development as key transformers of global tourism. The two areas were the theme for a thematic session at the ongoing 117th Executive Council Meeting in Marrakech, Morocco.
Tourism has been one the sector’s most affected by COVID-19. The impact has been particularly acute among Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSEMs) which are the backbone of the sector and have seen existing challenges in the areas of liquidity and financing, human resources or digitalization accelerated by the pandemic.
UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said at the opening of the session that the organization recognized the need to help tourism SMES in order to withstand the shocks of COPVID-19.
“As you know, the pandemic hit our sector hard. Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises are the backbone of our sector, and they were hit hardest of all. It is these businesses we need to make agents of transformation. But we recognize that not all of them have the tools or the knowledge to adapt to changed circumstances.
“In fact, the pandemic was a reality check for our sector, it showed us just how many small enterprises had not made the shift to digital. It is not because the interest isn’t there. The opposite is true – the vast majority of tourism businesses want to adapt, evolve and innovate. But too many lack the resources to do so. This is where we come in. Through the UNWTO Digital Futures Programme, we offer a platform that aims to reach 2 million SMEs,” he maintained.
In addition to this, the Executive Council has approved the “Marrakech Call to Action” to commit to supporting MSMEs in all of UNWTO’s Members States and be a key part of the sector’s digital transformation.
The Call to Action will target investment in three ways: Digitalization of SMEs to benefit people – this includes through organizing competitions and challenges in specific countries and then helping enterprises to benefit from existing technology as well as emerging tech and deep tech.
Digitalization of SMEs for prosperity: To increase investments and ensure money is targeted where it will make a real difference in accelerating change.
Representing around 80% of all businesses in tourism worldwide, and in some G20 economies as much as 98%, MSMEs are vital for the sector’s competitiveness, job creation and transition to a more sustainable model. Supporting SMEs as agents of transformation in tourism will lead the way towards a more inclusive, resilient and sustainable sector. The importance of digitalization for SMEs needs to be accelerated for economic recovery of the tourism sector by supporting SMEs to unleash digital technologies to create jobs and enhance future resilience in the linkages of the tourism value chain post COVID-19.
At the same time, as recovery consolidates workforce challenges have become more evident as the pandemic also accelerated a series of shifts happening in the world of work, adequate new skills, education, and training. Tourism businesses previously faced some challenges filling jobs that were sometimes perceived as being low-wage and low-skilled, with little chance of career advancement or steady employment; with pandemic shutdowns, laid-off employees in the tourism appear to be moving into other sectors, leaving many tourism jobs unfilled. Indeed, the increasing challenges related to the attraction and retention of talent in tourism mean the sector needs to promote value-added jobs, improve job-related conditions, including life-work balance, tackle inequalities and focus on career development especially for women, youth and people in vulnerable situations.
Challenges identified by G20 economies, which relate as well to overall countries, include
− Lack of access to finance
− Lack of access to market intelligence
− Market uncertainty
− The volatility of the working force
− Changing consumer trends and needs
− Low level of innovation
− Need to strengthen sustainability-orientation and developing new sustainable product
For talent development
− Need to review national policies and strategies to ensure adequate human capital in tourism
− Increase level of skills and qualification
− Improve the attractiveness of the tourism sector
− Support labour and skills upgrades through digitization
− Improve business adoption of new technologies and leveraging of new trends and meeting new consumer needs
− Up-skill workers and incentivize employers to hire and retain workers.
The digitalization of SMEs for the planet – with sustainable practices and the SDGs as our guides. UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili is of the firm belief that “the effort will be worth it” and that “innovation can help small businesses cut costs and become more efficient. It will help them become more competitive in a truly global market.”
“It will also be essential if we are serious about making tourism more inclusive and sustainable,” he emphasized.
Marrakesh Call to Action: Marrakesh Digital Futures Pledge: Enabling the diffusion of digital technologies for SMEs to accelerate economic recovery of the tourism sector H.E. Fatim-Zahra Ammor, Minister Ministry of Tourism, Kingdom of Morocco and H.E. Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary-General World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
The pledge will encourage to contribute to the closing of the technology skill gap in the tourism SMEs by identifying 10.000 SMEs per respective country to take the digital diagnostic tool and implement specific training programs fostering partnerships with the large technology companies to accelerate digital transformation, and innovative solutions for SMEs and the tourism Sector.