Travel, Tourism & Hospitality

The future of work and skills in tourism

Tourism is experiencing its most drastic transformation in decades, if not centuries. But, are we prepared for it?

The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), in collaboration with the French group Cegos, has released a ground-breaking report that looks at the impact of technology on the jobs and skills of tourism, and puts a spotlight on the challenges and opportunities that innovation today presents for the sector, writes New York-based independent journalist Javier Delgado Rivera.

According to Rivera, the paper uses the ‘seven emerging realities’ to illustrate how social and technological transformation is revolutionizing tourism at all levels:

The appearance of exponential organisations. These are newly-created companies of reduced structure that in a short time, and with the advanced use of technology, have expanded massively and disrupted the industry.

Airbnb is the paradigm of an exponential organisation; capable of transforming the competitive dynamics of an entire sector without owning any property. And as the UNWTO cautions, “the development of organisations of this type in tourism is still open.”

Regulated innovation. The democratisation of technology, real estate saturation and the recent economic crisis have all contributed to the emergence of collaborative consumption models in the tourism industry. This is particularly evident in the areas of transport, restoration and accommodation, where the traditional actors of the sector have seen their competitiveness shrunk, Rivera highlights.

The agile organisation. Size no longer is a disadvantage. That is, if innovation is embraced to adopt solutions that until recently were only accessible to large companies. Think of cloud computing, e-commerce or the Internet of Things (IoT).

As the UNWTO notes, “the impact of social networks and collaborative platforms is behind much of the changes experienced by the tourism industry in recent years.”

The ‘liberation of the workforce’. The growth of independent enterprises, mobility, flexibility and project-based schemes are redefining the increasingly diffuse boundaries of traditional work. 

It has both multiple benefits and numerous risks for workers. Policies and practices that advance decent work and work-life balance are today more urgent than ever before, Rivera notes.

Lifetime reinvention. Important segments of the working-age population can get excluded if they fail to be trained in the latest technological developments. A threat that, at the same time, offers a pathway for labour inclusion to the youth and the unemployed — groups that can benefit enormously from the new opportunities presented by the tourism field.

Technology, talent and transformation. Skilled professionals engaged in areas like mobile technology, IoT, artificial intelligence (AI) or data analytics will see their market value increase, Rivera writes.

The ethics of work and society. Visitors are starting to place more trust in the advice given by peers than in the information provided by traditional actors of the sector. As a result, the image and reputation of destinations and companies are becoming even greater factors of differentiation in the travel industry.


The UNWTO also carried out a worldwide survey among tourism administrations, companies, educational institutions, workers and students. According to the poll, digital and customer focus will be the profiles with the highest level of demand in the sector in the coming five years. Moreover, big data and data analytics, together with environmental innovation, emerge as the most valued technologies to consider for skills development.


For governments - To step up schemes to upgrade people’s competences so that they fit the new demands of a sector in permanent transformation. In addition, the public sector must: 1) support the digital transformation of small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs); 2) connect start-ups with investors and governments; and, 3) adopt a regulatory framework more conductive to innovation.

For the private sector - To re-adjust to new forms of work, especially in areas related to the management of people and the promotion of autonomy in decision-making.

For professionals - To develop their skills continuously — “the ‘finish studying to start working’ paradigm is no longer valid” — with special relevance to less automated or more complex skills like problem solving, critical and analytical thinking, creativity and coordination of people, Rivera writes.


To maintain its position as a major driver of economic growth and employment creation, the sector needs to be more nimble in adopting technological innovations and social trends in a sustainable way, Rivera notes.

A process that should take place as countries evaluate new legislation and regulatory frameworks that provide equal and fair competition opportunities and guarantee decent work in the industry, he concludes.