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This brief explores the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on women’s economic empowerment in the tourism sector. The restrictions of movement applied as a response to the pandemic all but destroyed the global tourism industry. This has disproportionately affected women due to the industry’s pre-existing gender inequalities and women’s predominance in the sector’s workforce. This brief examines emerging research and data on these impacts; identifies innovative responses to these challenges across regions; and makes concrete recommendations for action by different stakeholders to ensure that women’s economic empowerment is central to the COVID-19 response and recovery in the tourism sector.
Women’s participation in tourism is often concentrated in low-paid, seasonal work at the lower levels of employment. A good deal of women’s work in the sector also takes place in the informal economy, such as handicrafts and food production, and many women work as “contributing family workers” in family tourism enterprises. In India, many women workers are part of the homestay industry in various tourism destinations. However, due to the domestic and caring nature of this labour, their work is often invisible, and women rarely have financial control of these businesses. While homestays are usually registered under the Ministry of Tourism, women’s labour is not recognized within these businesses and women have therefore not been taken into consideration for relief packages.
The recommendations of this brief include targeted interventions by public, private and civil society actors can help to keep women in the tourism sector afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure that they are engaged in and benefit from response and recovery measures over the long term. Given that the tourism sector may offer greater opportunities for women’s employment and entrepreneurship than the broader economy,37 investment in decent work with social protection as well as financing and skills training for women and their enterprises are critical for gender-responsive tourism recovery. Building on accumulated research and recommendations developed by UNWTO, UN Women and partners,38 the following actions are recommended for the public sector, private sector, civil society and international organizations.