Innovative People-Centered Solutions for the Future of Tourism
Evie Ndhlovu Program Manager EMEA
Nabil Tarazi Founder
Antje Martins Researcher
Brian Baker Endowed Professor of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Katharina Stechl Program Manager
Natalia Bayona Director of Innovation, Education and Investments
Joe Baker CEO
Helga Nagy Member of the International Advisory Committee
True systems change. That’s what we often say is needed in all aspects of sustainability discussions, from climate solutions to poverty reduction. And that’s exactly the challenge facing the travel and tourism industry, as we start to recover from the pandemic and are experiencing serious issues as companies across the global tourism value chain remain understaffed.
Some of those who lost their jobs due to the pandemic may have decided not to come back to work in tourism, having had the time to self-reflect and reevaluate their priorities. If many workers are finding better opportunities elsewhere that allow them to prioritize their well being, that is indeed a positive outcome for them.
However, what does that say about tourism?
If we are to work to harness “tourism’s potential as a vehicle for recovery and transformation”, we must strive to become an industry that considers taking care of its people as the new normal (and not a bandage crisis response). We need to invest in systems change and transform ourselves into an industry that we can proudly say is a leading provider of fulfilling and rewarding jobs, and meaningful career and professional development opportunities.
So, what does “putting people at the center” mean for tourism today?
This panel features examples of diverse solutions addressing the complex challenge from various perspectives: empowering local communities; extending access to career opportunities in our industry; ensuring workers’ rights are respected; strengthening education for future industry leaders; and much more.
What are some good examples of tourism organizations investing in people, promoting decent work and meaningful careers, and supporting innovations that put people at the center?
Community Tourism: Turning Travel into Meaningful Impact
Planeterra is a nonprofit organization using tourism as a means of poverty alleviation.Through the training, mentorship and market connectivity of community tourism enterprises, we ensure that the gap between mainstream tourism and local communities is bridged. By providing a level playing field for experiences that are owned, led and run by communities, we ensure that revenue from tourism also reaches local communities, who use it not only for personal development but also community wide growth.
Our Global Community Tourism Network is a platform where small community tourism businesses can learn how to successfully develop, grow and manage their business through an Online Learning Hub, networking with like-minded communities all over the world. Through access to free learning and training we aim to provide an easy solution to the issue of lack of knowledge for communities who want to develop and manage their experiences. We use our links to experts and professional stakeholders in the travel industry to share practical knowledge in different aspects of the industry that are not only valuable for the communities, but also level the playing field for individuals who have in the past been marginalized by an industry that thrives on their culture, conservation methods and experiences.
We believe that tourism is not tourism, if the local people where we travel are not equally benefiting from it. And at the center of our work, are diverse groups of people who are doing amazing work for their communities through tourism. From indigenous peoples around the world, to single mothers who head up their families, we are fortunate to be working with different people who share the common goal of benefiting their communities socio-economically.
When income from tourism goes to the hands of women, they use that income to educate themselves and their families. They save towards healthcare and education within their homes and only then do we see the positive impact of community tourism. These ripple effects of community tourism are vast and reach beyond individuals who are engaged in tourism. We continue to see many of our community partners investing in education, diversifying their business models and even creating community development funds that empower youth and women to further invest in their dreams. We are proud to be working with amazing communities in over 77 countries, who are turning travel into meaningful impact and we are honored to be sharing their stories through travel.
Local Community-Focused Tourism That Benefits All Involved
According to the definition of ecotourism by Global Ecotourism Network (GEN), ecotourism is “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and creates knowledge and understanding through interpretation and education of all involved: visitors, staff and the visited”.
For us at Feynan Ecolodge, ensuring benefits for the visited - the local community - is really crucial, especially because we are located in one of Jordan’s poverty pockets. Every single member of the staff at Feynan is a member of the local community; from housekeeping, guides, to the local managers.
In addition to hiring local community members, we also create business opportunities for the community. For example, the bread we serve our guests is made by a local woman, Um Khalid, who runs her own business out of her goat-hair tent. Our lodge is her single client. Three times a day she bakes our bread. The candles that light the lodge at night are made by local women who work in the candle workshop at the lodge. We also have another workshop for leather products, which are sold to our guests.
We also spread opportunities outside the lodge. We are located 8km from the closest paved road, and instead of using our own vehicles, we have 40 drivers from the local community that shuttle our guests to and from the lodge. The money we collect for the transfer goes directly to those drivers to supplement their income. We also helped Ahmad, a local community member, start his own bike rental business, and now we use his services for our guests, with 100% of the rental fees paid by the guests going to him. And most of our food and services are sourced within a 40- to 50-km radius from the lodge, to keep benefits local.
So in terms of local benefits, our small lodge has a big impact. And the income-generating opportunities we provide means a lot to the community. Knowing this, despite the difficulty we had in the last years, with the pandemic shutting down international travel, we kept all of our staff on payroll.
Our focus on local benefits is because of our sustainability ethos, and because we believe in making a difference in the lives of the local families. But it’s also about benefits for our guests, and by extension, for the lodge’s bottomline as well.
Our guests come for the experience - to experience the unique nature and to encounter the traditional way of life. Because of our close relationship with the local community, we are able to offer amazing unique and authentic experiences to our guests - visiting local families and learning first hand how they weave or how they practice their goat raising tradition. We also have cooking classes, which are popular with both individual travelers and companies retreats.
So this aspect of our commitment to ecotourism - creating benefits for all involved - has become a key differentiating factor for our lodge, while at the same time playing a key role in reviving a strong sense of cultural identity for the local community. We are proud that a 26-room lodge is able to benefit around 100 families / 500 people in our area.
Rethinking Tourism Should Start with Investing in People
He aha te mea nui o te ao
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata
(What is the most important thing in the world?
It is the people, it is the people, it is the people)
- Maori proverb
Without a doubt the tourism industry has made measurable progress over the past years to address calls for increasing sustainability. Hotels, for example, have implemented a myriad of environmental initiatives. However, emerging voices point out that some of these measures could be considered greenwashing - claiming to have more positive impact than they actually do. For example, daily room cleaning might save a considerable amount of resources (approx. 35 l of water, 100 ml of chemicals, and 1.5 kWh of electricity in a four-star hotel). However, as a result it also reduces the salary and working opportunities for room attendants, thus committing one of the seven sins of greenwashing – the sin of hidden trade off.
Sustainability in essence means to balance impacts – negative and positive – for planet, profit, and people. However, the people aspect is usually forgotten when identifying and implementing sustainability initiatives. In an industry where people are the “most important asset”, any change in operation and management will have an impact on the people delivering experiences. Nevertheless, we rarely consider this side of sustainable change. So let’s rethink tourism and put the people that deliver it first.
Cayuga Collection for example continuously invests in their people so they are empowered, professionally and personally. Cultivating their people’s natural passion and interest for sustainable hospitality, they create change from the bottom-up, for example via their Innovation Contest. Tapping into their staff’s intimate knowledge of how things work, they not only recognise that their people are at the forefront of implementing sustainability, but they also use this knowledge to their strategic advantage. This way staff impacts are balanced from the start.
In my research I look at reasons why staff do not participate in hotel sustainability initiatives, such as towel reuse initiative, where towels are changed no matter if the guest has hung them up or not. Not considering the impact of these initiatives on staff well-being is a major contributor. If staff are pressured to do more with the same amount of time, sustainability will fall by the wayside. I thus believe that considering people, in addition to planet and profit, impacts will allow for more success in sustainability.
Academic-Industry Alliance Tackling the Hospitality Industry's Diversity Challenges
As the only hospitality endowed professor of diversity, equity and inclusion in the country (U.S.), I apply theoretical principles from a business concept, identified as hybrid organizing, to address an array of social challenges impacting the hospitality and tourism industry. Battilana & Lee define hybrid organizing as "the activities, structures, processes, and meaning by which organizations make sense of and combine aspects of multiple organizational forms" (P. 398, 2014). The mission of the Alliance for Hospitality Equity & Diversity (AHED) is to "intentionally transform the hospitality industry to uplift and amplify a culture representative of untapped talent."
Black and Hispanic professionals account for less than 1% of all hospitality industry CEOs and presidents, and diverse student enrollments are declining at nearly all hospitality four-year colleges and universities. According to the United States Department of Labor, only 5.8 percent of hospitality students in the United States identified as Black or African American. Income disparities, lack of upward mobility, and lack of promotions contribute to Black and Hispanic students not pursuing a hospitality education and careers. These factors compound existing challenges students face, such as lack of institutional commitment, academic preparedness, role models, and financial aid.
As the leading minority-serving institution in the country and a Top 10 hospitality school, FIU Chaplin School has established AHED and will oversee the group's national efforts. The Alliance comprises universities designated as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI), and other four-year hospitality universities. Organizations represented in the DE&I Alliance Council include Southern Glazer's Wine & Spirits, Hilton, Marriott International, Bacardi North America, Bloomin' Brands, JLL, CBRE, Castell Project, NABHOOD, AHLA Foundation, Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, and The Advanced Leadership Institute.
Through these strategic partnerships, AHED is laying the groundwork for Black and Hispanic students to pursue executive leadership and professorships in hospitality. This Alliance will engage in Fundraising, Recruitment, Professional Development, Partnerships, and Belonging as part of its strategic enabling pillars to generate solutions to the hospitality industry's diversity challenges.
Respecting Human Rights Is Everyone’s Business
Tourism is service-oriented and a people's business. It can only be successful if the well-being of local communities and staff is ensured. This means that human rights concern all stakeholders, whether for a single-person business or a large corporation and whether it operates in a neighbouring country or worldwide.
But, unlike with, e.g. climate action, there is no need for big technological innovations – but to put the people at the centre by strategically including the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights in all business activities and decisions. Indeed, this is far from being as easy as it sounds, but it is also not as difficult as one might think.
It's first about acknowledging that human rights are an issue. The freely available online "Get Started Tool" on our website helps tourism stakeholders identify human rights risks in the value chain and provides measures to address them.
An example unrelated to tourism: Tony's Chocolonely: The business model and entire communication are based on the fact that child labour and modern slavery are huge problems in the cacao industry - and that this must change. They show that selling a cheerful product and, at the same time, actively addressing serious topics doesn't have to be a contradiction. This change of attitude and the status quo is also necessary for tourism. Each tourism business has to "invest in people", respect human rights in-house and in the entire value chain and tackle overarching topics with joint forces and in collaboration with different partners and stakeholders.
Let's briefly look at a few actions that can be taken to address problems such as working conditions, discrimination and lack of participation. The organisation "Living Wage Foundation" shows very tangibly how a wage must be structured to support a decent life and has also proven in various studies how positively this affects companies themself.
Much is also gained by conducting dialogues at eye level and addressing partners' needs on the ground. The trekking tour operator Hauser Exkursionen has introduced a porter policy that regulates fair pay, working conditions, suitable equipment, and weight restrictions.
Dialogue at eye level also means involving different stakeholders. Studiosus Reisen, e.g., has been organising the "Dialogue of Cultures" since 1998, bringing together representatives from various tourism areas to shape sustainable tourism jointly. These are both examples from Roundtable members; of course, we could give many more.
In summary: respecting human rights and putting people at the centre of tourism paves the way for empowerment and meaningful careers. It also creates space for innovation where it is genuinely needed.
Global Programmes Supporting Skills and Innovation, Building a Strong and Educated Tourism Sector
Tourism is the most human sector of all industries, and one of the sectors that creates the most jobs for women, young people and SMEs. Sustainability is key as tourism has to be focused on giving back to society, strengthening the impact and helping things to be done in a different way to improve the quality of life of future generations, starting from school education, with a transversal education model and continuing with professionalization. It is clear that a strong and educated tourism sector will combat poverty and for this there must be a sustainable tourism model led by young people because, through them, we are able to reorient tourism based on innovation and sustainability.
For this reason, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) created the UNWTO Tourism Online Academy, an online education academy where we collaborate with universities that have a vocation in tourism to upload high-level content to scale the way in which people are educated. Funded in 2019, UNWTO has been working closely with top-ranked universities and education groups from all over the world such as:
- IE University (Spain)
- Sommet Education (Switzerland)
- Swiss Education Group (Switzerland)
- Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts (Switzerland)
- Polytechnic University of Hong Kong (Hong Kong)
- Cornell University (USA)
- Bilkent University (Türkiye)
- Pontifical Catholic University of Chile (Chile)
- Externado de Colombia University (Colombia)
- University of Palermo (Argentine)
... amongst others, to create and curate Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and Open Certificate Courses on the most updated thematics to respond to the global challenges. Currently, the UNWTO Tourism Online Academy has over 16,000 students and over 20 courses, as well as a Scholarship Programme for Member States that has benefited more than 5,700 students since 2020, specially from Least Developed Countries. In addition, we work with academia, supporting university students in their final projects, capstones, among others, in order to be aligned and generate change.
UNWTO has set a comprehensive Tourism Education strategy that looks forward to advanced skills development in tourism, especially digital ones, from vocational and managerial approaches. Likewise, it is working to make high-quality education programmes more accessible and affordable and to continue supporting communities all over the world with added-value jobs. And when we talk about added-value jobs we can highlight the UNWTO Jobs Factory, powered by Hosco, designed to connect talent with employers across the sector.
Added to this, the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) represent 85% (OECD, 2021) of the total of tourism businesses and they still need a boost to increase their pace towards a more digitized world. This will support not only recovery but resilience in the long-term in both global and local perspectives. UNWTO has launched the Digital Futures Programme for SMEs in order to accelerate economic recovery of the tourism sector. With the aim of scaling up innovative SMEs to unleash digital technologies to create jobs and enhance future resilience in the linkages of the tourism value chain, the programme provides free-of-access online training on connectivity, business growth, e-commerce, big data and analytics, payments, and security to 1 million beneficiaries in collaboration with global technology companies.
As the challenges facing the tourism sector have accelerated exponentially, the UNWTO has taken a leading role in seeking a more sustainable, accessible, and inclusive tourism. We truly believe that accelerating startups will improve processes and lead to new ways of positively impacting the sector’s value chain. In this regard, the UNWTO leads challenges and competitions to give visibility to the leading startups in the global tourism innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem, following its mandate to promote sustainable, accessible and inclusive tourism, with innovation and digital transformation as a priority.
In terms of innovation, we always have inside of our startup competitions a vertical where social impact and community involvement projects can apply so we always want to empower and to recognise those entrepreneurs that are working in the most vulnerable areas and they are helping communities to go through the sector. If we take a look at our SDGs Global competition, the figures of the last editions were amazing: 20 programmes, 11.500 active startups, +150 countries, 276 mentorships and 214 M USD funding raised by top startups.
Finally, within the SDG4 (Quality education) vertical, we can highlight two examples of startups committed to it. The winner of the last edition, Inmersion India (India) guides students, corporate executives, faculty and professionals on study-centric, experiential learning programs in urban and rural India and adds the element of travel and cultural immersion to blend with the learning. Another good example is one of our finalists in this vertical called Deaf Travel (Czech Republic), an online platform providing video guided tours in sign language at attractions all over the world. They provide a map of deaf-friendly attractions, where videos made by deaf reporters and guides can be used by deaf travelers at home or at tourist locations.
Developing a Sustainable Workforce: Towards a resilient, inclusive, future-forward tourism industry
I would like to start by sharing a little about my personal and professional journey. I have spent my entire career in Canada’s hospitality and tourism industry. Born and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia, I had two strong family role models to look up to. My grandfather, Frank Baker, owned and managed hotels and restaurants. And my uncle, Paul Cote, was one of the founders of what would go on to become Greenpeace. Both successful business and environmental consciousness became my benchmarks for achievement.
I split my career between working in hotels and restaurants, leading tourism-focused higher education faculties, and now consulting with some of the most important not-for-profit organizations across Canada’s hospitality and tourism industry. At Joe Baker & Co., my human-capital consultancy’s goal is to contribute to building a resilient, inclusive, future-forward tourism industry through strategy, training, coaching and talent.
I have always believed that people, our most precious resource, are at the centre of the tourism industry. One visitor, guest, customer or client at a time. Without well-trained and well-treated people, our industry would crumble. As we are witnessing in vivid detail as Canada’s tourism industry talent crisis continues. The good news is that there have been some stand-out leaders crafting creative solutions. Organizations investing in people, promoting decent work and meaningful careers, and supporting innovations
Tourism HR Canada, headed by CEO Philip Mondor has been doing trailblazing work in the workforce innovation space for decades. Over the past few years THRC has levelled up their support for Canada’s hard hit tourism sector. Of note, their investment in wage subsidies, tools and resources to advance work-integrated learning has caught fire. The program, called Propel, builds and resources a solid bridge between Canada’s post-secondary institutions and the more than 200,000 businesses that make up our diverse industry. Through this process they also forged a partnership with another pan-Canadian organization, Co-operative Education and Work-Integrated Learning Canada, or CEWIL. Together they are a force for sustainable good.
And it doesn’t stop there. Future plans also hold great potential. The Tourism Industry Association of Canada, headed by CEO Beth Potter has recently launched well-resourced plans to develop their own training programs and tools to support the tourism businesses and workforce across the country. Soon-to-be-released resources include a sustainability for tourism training program, a digitalization for tourism playbook and toolkit. TIAC is also a force for good in this industry.
Quality Education for Cambodia’s Future Hospitality Leaders
‘An organization's ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage’ (Jack Welsh).
A good example of translating learning into action is the École d'Hôtellerie et de Tourisme Paul Dubrule, a non-profit vocational hospitality and tourism school. Founded in 2002, the school provides access to an innovative and professional education to over 300 young Cambodians annually, especially disadvantaged youth.
The school has embedded several of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into its school agenda, including the integration of goal 4, 5, 8, and 17, namely quality education, gender equality, decent work and economic growth, and partnerships for the goals.
Goal 4 of the 2030 Agenda calls for quality education. École d'Hôtellerie et de Tourisme Paul Dubrule (EHT) has always invested in its employees, considering them the most valuable assets to achieve its NGO mission. Teachers at EHT are supported with regular training and professional development programs, including access to modern teaching tools in a pleasant learning environment. Most teachers are certified ASEAN or National master trainers, having also completed Training of Trainers on sustainability and entrepreneurship.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit Cambodia in 2020, schools were closed nationwide; the Royal Cambodian Government, aware of the enormous consequences impacting education, quickly responded by requesting schools to shift to online teaching. This resulted in unprecedented challenges for the faculty of EHT and students alike: on one hand, teachers had little experience with digital learning tools, and on the other, most students had no access to laptops or tablets, nor to stable internet connections, especially in remote areas.
Despite these difficult circumstances, the EHT team agreed that learning must continue regardless of where and how students learn. Teachers have shown exceptional dedication and resilience, as well as the capacity to adopt new digital teaching methods under very challenging and uncertain conditions. With the support of the school’s partners, they engaged in an innovative blended learning project to digitalize parts of the curriculum and facilitate its access through a Learning Management system. The project has since gained momentum and the school is now leading the digital transformation of TVET in Cambodia.
By putting people at the center, the school’s mission to provide high quality education will continue to successfully impact the lives of future generations of Cambodian youth.