The tourism sector has the opportunity to impact global change and lead the world in a new age of environmental and social responsibility. This was the main message and feeling coming out of the 2023 IMPACT Sustainability Travel & Tourism Conference held in Victoria, BC, last month.
Tourism HR Canada’s President & CEO, Philip Mondor, was among the conference’s robust agenda of thought-provoking and forward-thinking speakers. His session—Reality Check: How Are Our People?—focused on the economic, social, and political impacts of the tourism workforce.
In February 2020, tourism employed over 2 million Canadians—1 in 10 workers. This number plummeted in the spring of 2020, and recovery has been slow and uneven. As the sector emerges from the pandemic, a critical shortage of skilled labour has hampered the industry’s growth and continues to contribute to higher operating costs and reduced profits. Without workers, businesses forego investments, lose their ability to compete, burn out staff, and ultimately anger and turn off customers. This is clearly not the image Canadian tourism wants.
In addition, the economic and social implications of a protracted and unequal recovery impact tourism disproportionately—with more persistent underemployment of vulnerable workers. Workforce recovery is at the starting gate; shifting our collective emphasis to employer practices and supports at this moment is critical.
Tourism is synonymous with Canada’s identity: it emphasizes social capital and cohesion, promotes inclusion and diversity, and contributes to cultural and heritage preservation, Indigenous reconciliation, and overall wellbeing.
The high intensity of labour within the industry makes it a significant source of employment and places it amongst the world’s top creators of jobs that require varying degrees of skills and allow for quick entry in the workforce—including by under-represented groups.
“The tourism sector can provide decent jobs, helping to build resilient, sustainable, gender-equal, inclusive economies and societies that work for everyone.”United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.
Addressing labour challenges requires decisive and urgent action. Consider the following:
- How do we transition from low pay to higher pay? In addition to wage or salary, what other benefits or perks can we offer our people? What is our value proposition?
- What responsibility does the industry have to take action on human rights violations?
- What opportunities do we have to recruit and develop/train underrepresented groups (e.g. Indigenous peoples, newcomers)?
- What tools and resources are needed to help colleagues/team members with their personal and professional development goals?
To expand on what sustainability truly means—with the aim to mobilize global efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities, and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind—the United Nations published its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2016. Tourism HR Canada is specifically working towards supporting these five:
#4: Quality Education
#5: Gender Equality
#8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
#11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
#17: Partnership for the Goals
It is time for a change in mindset and practice. Tourism—all of us—is in the business of human development. Individual and collective investments result in a net positive benefit to people, places, and the planet.