ILO: Travel woes: tourism and travel jobs suffer new decline

Since January of 2002, when the ILO first reported major job losses in the travel and tourism sector due to post-September 11 economic woes and security concerns, the sector is facing new problems. The recent outbreak of SARS has further cut into the sector, axing more jobs. ILO analyst Dirk Belau answers questions about the problems facing the sector.

World of Work: Tourism already suffered huge job losses in 2001-2002. Is the picture getting worse?

WOW: So how serious is this fallout going to be?

Belau:"In total, we can now say some 11.5 million jobs are going to be cut . That means one in every seven jobs in travel and tourism has been lost since 2001, and no end appears to be in sight. Our latest report 1 adds that prospects for a recovery are grim, saying "the capacity of the travel and tourism industry to create employment seems to be severely damaged by the recent events."  The new estimate continues to dampen early 2003 optimism in the tourism industry that the worst of the aftermath of September 11 might be over. The sector had just weathered a year of virtually flat growth in 2002, exacerbated by attacks on tourists in 2002".

WOW: Can the downturn be attributed to SARS?

Belau:"Much of the recent pressure on jobs in travel and tourism can be attributed to the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), especially in Asia and other regions. But this comes on top of the continuing global economic doldrums and other factors such as security concerns which had driven down the number of jobs last year".

WOW: Has Asia been hit hardest?

Belau:"The countries or areas directly affected by SARS (China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and Vietnam) may lose more than 30 per cent of their travel and tourism employment, whereas their neighbours (Australia, Fiji, Indonesia, Kiribati, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Thailand and others) in South East Asia and Oceania will lose an estimated 15 per cent.  In Thailand, one in nine jobs is in danger when travel and tourism slumps. The Philippines remained moderately affected so far, with foreign arrivals dropping by 4 per cent in the first quarter as compared to the first quarter 2002, in spite of a 13 per cent growth in January over last December. Malaysia, on the other hand, is affected heavily, with airline bookings down by 40 per cent and hotel occupancy rates by as much as 30 per cent".

WOW: Is it the same case around the World?

Belau:"Outside Asia, the ILO is forecasting an average 5 per cent loss in tourism employment, but this is more an issue of security concerns and the slow recovery in the overall global economy. The Mexican tourist industry reported a 17.1 per cent slide in reservations since the beginning of the war in Iraq, and the US is forecast a 7 per cent drop in the sector's earnings for 2003.  In Europe, hotel bookings in Rome, Florence and Venice, normally throbbing with springtime visitors, are reported to be down 50% on last year".

WOW: And the future, will tourism bounce back?

Belau:"We are forecasting long term damage to employment in the sector. The longer the decline in travel and tourism commerce, the greater the possibility that jobs will be eliminated entirely. New ways of getting the work done may help the sector make ends meet in the face of declining revenues, however. These include more versatile working methods, re-skilling, more flexible working hours and so-called "multi-skilling" - all may soon come into place, with one person carrying out what was once two separate jobs".

WOW: So who's bearing the brunt of the slowdown?

Belau:"Loss of employment in tourism and travel often hits lesser-skilled or "socially weaker" staff the hardest, as employers tend to keep their skilled core staff through the crisis. Part-time workers, women, migrants and younger workers face the highest risk of losing their source of income as long as substantial growth isn't restored, and have more difficulty finding alternative work".

WOW: What steps can the ILO take to counter job losses?

Belau:"Governments, employers and trade unions in some countries should embrace or expand tripartite solutions that were proposed at an Informal Meeting on the Hotel and Tourism Sector: Social Impact of Events Subsequent to 11 September 2001. Such tripartite social dialogue is essential to supporting affected companies and their efforts to implement temporary cost-cutting measures that will help them stay viable and preserve as many jobs as possible".