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How to tackle skill gaps and weaknesses of the tourism labour market

It is a well-known fact that Europe is the most visited region in the world, with roughly 671 million international arrivals in 2017 and a notable 8% growth rate compared to the Americas, grown just 3% last year. Beautiful landscapes and regions soaked in history and culture make it possible to stand out, but there’s no way denying the powerful impact of EU policies on the sector.


Although, according to the European Treaty, the Union is not provided with an exclusive competence in tourism, there are a number of funding opportunities that produce an indirect, but positive, effect. Clearly, Brussels recognized the chances lying beneath the tourism sector, betting on it as an effective mean in fighting economic crisis and unemployment. The strategy and action plan developed by the European Commission, named “Europe, the world's No. 1 tourist destination – a new political framework for tourism in Europe” defined goals and priorities, most of which have been successfully fulfilled. Increasing tourism demand within the EU and beyond, diversifying the range of tourism services and products available, improving tourism quality, sustainability, accessibility and ICT use are some of them. And lately, it is the very ICT to appear as one of the most discussed questions. “We all understand that Europe's future is digital and that the only way to fully reap the benefits of new technologies is by working together”, claims the European Commission joint Statement following the Digital Day 2018, also undersigned by Elżbieta Bieńkowska, European Commissioner responsible for tourism. “By promoting innovation, Europe can significantly improve people's lives. We are starting to feel the benefits of tearing down digital borders: the end of roaming charges, the portability of online content”. 

Digital skills could definitely make the difference in tourism but the shortage of ICT skilled workers remains a concern. Keeping up with digitalisation and bridging any skill gap is a task of primary importance if Europe wants to remain competitive. Actually, the Union is taking great steps forward to guarantee high quality standards of the employees in tourism sector. Despite being one of the largest and most dynamic industries, supporting 25 million jobs directly and indirectly, tourism labour market still suffers from evident weaknesses. Key skills gaps and poor image of tourism careers are some of the issues the Directorate General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs is tackling, by working on initiatives to continuously enhance professional skills and assure mobility in tourism. The Blueprint for Sectoral Cooperation on Skills, launched by the Commission within the New Skills Agenda for Europe, faces the necessity for the workforce to adapt to a changing market that is getting more complex and day by day demands higher levels of skills. The Blueprint, experimented in 6 economic sectors, represents an effort to stimulate investment and a better use of funding opportunities by raising awareness about their existence at the local levels, supporting transnational mobility for apprenticeships, improving the image of careers in tourism.

The topic was raised on 12th April during the conference “New Skills Agenda: Career Development in Tourism”, held at the European Parliament in Brussels and organized by the Belgian-Italian Chamber of Commerce. As a concluding event of the project “IdEATE – Improved Employability and Apprenticeship in the Tourism Sector”, the debate gathered stakeholders of the tourism sector to address the main issues of employability of job-seekers and to present the current initiatives and policies for skills development in tourism. Challenges and opportunities, emerging in a shrinking touristic global market, were discussed. “Rural areas represent a great potential for the sector – declared Isabella De Monte, MEP and Member of Committee on Transport and Tourism – and through specialization and re-qualification it is possible to turn them into a source for both tourism and sustainable economic growth.” A remarkable statement, considered the urge for Europe to become more appealing, in view of the proliferation of new competitive touristic destinations. A long path still has to be beaten, but as Anna Athanasopoulou Head of Unit - Tourism, Emerging and Creative Industries at European Commission remembered, it is fundamental to recognize what the Commission is actively doing for the tourism sector. In spite of the lacking of a specific EU fund dedicated to tourism, many other funds effectively help improve its prospects and face its challenges.

Click the link below for info and materials of the event: