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ILO: Tourism recovery is key to overcoming COVID-19 labour crisis in Latin America and the Caribbean

At the worst point of the crisis, about 45 per cent of jobs in the tourism sector had been lost. In the recovery process, policies are required to generate more and better jobs.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has announced the need to design policies aimed at the recovery of tourism in Latin American and Caribbean countries, which will promote one of the most dynamic economic sectors essential for the generation of foreign exchange, income and jobs.

Tourism was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new regional technical note from the ILO. While the number of total employed persons contracted on average by 24.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2020, the loss of jobs in the hotel and restaurant sector in Latin America and the Caribbean totalled 44.7 per cent.

“The recovery of tourism depends directly on the advancement of vaccinations and the adoption of adequate safety and health measures at work. The reactivation of this sector may have an important multiplier effect on the economy and employment, which may be crucial to overcome the crisis generated by the pandemic,”said Vinícius Pinheiro, ILO Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

The ILO Regional Director added that, “it is essential that the recovery policies for the sector contribute to improving the quality of jobs and stimulate the formalization of the labour market. Supporting micro and small businesses is also crucial for the benefits of tourism to favour local development.”

Titled “Towards a sustainable recovery of employment in the tourism sector in Latin America and the Caribbean”, the technical note is part of the Labour Overview series of the ILO Regional Office. It highlights that before the pandemic, in 2019, the tourism economy, which includes both tourism and all the sectors that depend on it, accounted for 26 per cent of total gross domestic product (GDP) in the Caribbean and 10 per cent in Latin America.

It also says that the reduction in employment did not affect all workers in a homogeneous way: the loss was greater for women, young workers, migrant workers and for those who were in informal positions.

In 2019, women were overrepresented in the hotel and restaurant subsectors, with 58 per cent of employment, while in total occupations they accounted for 42.5 per cent. Another overrepresented group in the sector is young workers, up to 24 years of age, who make up 20.9 per cent of employment in the sector and 13.5 per cent of total employment.

Before the pandemic, informal jobs in tourism outweighed informality in all other areas of employment: 63.3 per cent of workers in hotels and restaurants in the region worked in informal conditions, while that percentage was 51.8 per cent of total employment.

Tourism is characterized by a higher percentage of workers who worked short hours in 2019: underemployment affected 25.9 per cent of total workers and 31.2 per cent of those employed in hotels and restaurants. In addition, according to the technical note, it is a relatively low-paid sector: the income of tourism workers represented on average 75 per cent of the income of all persons employed.

The ILO analysis highlights the need to design policies to promote a recovery with productive employment, the creation of decent work and sustainable companies in the tourism sector, especially to face challenges associated with the high presence of informality, underemployment and low income.

Additionally, the sector’s support policies must have a focus on protecting the environment and maximizing the benefits for the host communities and minimizing the negative impacts that tourism activities may involve, adds the analysis.

And, given the significant presence of women in the sector, the legal frameworks for the development of the activity should have a gender perspective and include mechanisms for the prevention of discrimination and the promotion of gender equality.

Other recommendations include need for digitization and expansion of capacities; productive transformation and creation of green jobs; and social dialogue and strengthening of coordination and voice of the tourism sector.

The recovery of the tourism sector was the subject of analysis during a virtual tripartite meeting of representatives from governments and employers’ organizations and workers’ organizations. The gathering will seek to exchange experiences and initiatives aimed at underpinning the recovery.

Tourism was the subject of special consideration in the ILO resolution for a global call to action for a human-centered recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, which was passed this month by delegates from around the world at the International Labour Conference.

The ILO call raises the need to “facilitate a rapid recovery that boosts the sustainability of the travel and tourism sector, bearing in mind its labour-intensive nature and its key role in countries highly dependent on tourism, including small island developing states”.

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