Digital technology can enhance opportunities in the rapidly expanding tourism sector whose labor force is more than 50 percent female, states a written analysis issued by the APEC Tourism Working Group and received here Tuesday.
Among the most successful hosts for accommodation provider Airbnb in Malaysia are women, who in 2018 earned US$39 million from welcoming visitors to stay with their families. These women-run businesses may reflect the future of tourism.
With improved digital skills, women entrepreneurs in the tourism sector can enter larger markets and boost their incomes, according to the analysis.
However, one of the biggest challenges that the tourism industry faces and one that everyone else faces across APEC is the digital gap, Chair of APEC’s Tourism Working Group, Alcinda Trawen, stated. For example, over 300 million fewer women have access to mobile internet.
"Women have less access to technology,” said Jane Stacey, Head of Tourism at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) at an APEC conference of tourism experts.
Therefore, the APEC Tourism Working Group is currently exploring policies that can help the sector achieve better results, such as targeting more women to undergo digital skills training.
Tourism continues to grow
Women traditionally dominate the tourism industry, where they have more opportunities to advance. Economies who enjoy strong growth of tourism, such as APEC economies - Indonesia and Mexico, also see more jobs and higher incomes for women, according to a report by the World Travel and Tourism Council.
The expansion of global tourism looks set to continue with air travel expected to double in twenty years. Tourism has already created one out of five new jobs in the last five years. The so-called ‘experience economy’, favored by the younger generation for its ‘authentic’ offerings, may enjoy particularly high growth.
‘Experience economy’ experts say that women can catch up on digital skills. Women account for more than half of Airbnb hosts, according to Nayana RenuKumar, Public Policy Lead for Airbnb Experiences in the Americas and Asia Pacific region. So, supporting women entrepreneurs makes business sense.
"If we are not helping women and SMEs, we are losing out on 50 percent of the population. It is our loss," RenuKumar said.
Nevertheless, bringing women into the digital economy can be a long process. In the early days of training women hosts in rural areas, Airbnb realized that many newly trained hosts struggled to get online. One of the reasons was the lack of bank accounts.
The preliminary findings of APEC’s upcoming Women and the Economy Dashboard show that while 58.6 percent of women across the region are economically active, only 33.8 percent of women have savings at financial institutions.
The experience presented a key lesson about economic empowerment. If they are on the margins of the economy, they need comprehensive support to succeed in the digital world.
Policymakers can help to solve this matter through digital literacy programs that work closely with industry, colleges, and training institutes to help small businesses keep up with evolving technology. More importantly, any skills-training initiative must have more women joining the program.
"Both governments and industry have a role to play in helping women and small businesses have access to digital tools and infrastructure,” Jane Stacey from OECD said.
Efforts are underway. The APEC Policy Partnership for Women and the Economy, for example, is preparing a roadmap on how to strengthen women’s economic empowerment in the region.
Already an important driver of tourism growth, with more tools and support women entrepreneurs can bring even more prosperity to APEC economies.
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