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An Inclusive Response for Vulnerable Groups

April 29, 2020 Coronavirus (Covid-19) No Comments

Just as the tourism sector is affected more than others by the current COVID-19 pandemic, vulnerable groups within the sector are among the hardest hit.

As laid down in the UNWTO Framework Convention on Tourism Ethics, the sector has a duty to promote the rights of the most vulnerable groups such as women, indigenous people and people with disabilities.

“Tourism activities should respect the equality of men and women; they should promote human rights and, more particularly, the individual rights of the most vulnerable groups, notably children, the elderly, persons with disabilities, ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples.”

UNWTO Framework Convention on Tourism Ethics
Article 5, paragraph 2

When we talk of designing sustainability into tourism recovery programs, we must acknowledge that sustainability cannot be achieved until all vulnerable groups are embraced fully into the new design.

UNWTO has developed the following measures in collaboration with relevant international, national and local partners to help governments and businesses craft an inclusive response to COVID-19, ensuring that no one is left behind.

As a sector with a majority female workforce worldwide (54%) and most women in low-skilled or informal work, women will feel the economic shock to tourism caused by COVID-19 quickest and hardest. These women must be included in immediate mitigation measures.

Looking ahead, the recovery of the sector presents a golden opportunity for tourism to build on the huge strides forward it has taken in women’s empowerment by reducing barriers to entry, elevating female employees recovery efforts, increasing protections and reporting how the effects of the pandemic are affecting men and women in tourism differently.

Aid for informal workers: Women’s employment in tourism is dominated by informality. The instability and lack of legal protections inherent to informal employment therefore leave women particularly exposed to the sharp downturn in tourism trade and receipts. Stimulus and aid packages must ensure that people in informal employment are eligible for relief and support measures to avoid adversely disadvantaging the female workforce.

Gender balance at the top tables of crisis management: The tourism sectors workforce and public authorities are characterised by a lack of women in positions of power. To ensure that women are an integral and equal part of the recovery, they must be an equal part of shaping the sector’s response. Female inclusion in decision-making processes and visibility in communicating the response are therefore vital to ensuring a gender-inclusive sector-wide response.

Access to healthcare: Many women in tourism form part of the vulnerable groups such as migrants or seasonal workers and have precarious working conditions which impede their access to healthcare. Governments must ensure women in tourism’s access to affordable, quality and equitable healthcare, including sexual and reproductive healthcare, in particular for the most vulnerable groups.

Equal access to information: The internet user gender gap stands at 17% worldwide, with many women’s access limited due to illiteracy, financial or domestic concerns. Information and material on COVID-19 and response efforts should be disseminated through a varied spectrum of communication channels with a focus on formulating messages targeted at mothers and youth.


Protection against gender-based violence: Sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based violence (GBV) are prevalent in the tourism sector. The increased visibility of GBV that has arisen as a result of COVID-19 must be met with increased legal protections not only for cases of domestic violence but also other forms of GBV that will make tourism a safer-space for women workers as the sector recovers.

Flexible working conditions: Three quarters of all unpaid care work is performed by women. As COVID-19 increases the need for unpaid care with higher illness rates and many dependents at home, it is also forcing businesses to offer more flexible working conditions and increase teleworking capacities. The continuation of flexible working conditions in the recovery would remove barriers for women wanting to get back to or begin work in tourism.

Boost entrepreneurship and career progression: Tourism’s economic recovery will provide a unique opportunity to have more women in leadership positions. Governments should reduce legal barriers and increase access to finance to boost women’s entrepreneurship. Meanwhile in businesses more women should be designing and implementing recovery programmes which offer opportunities for career progression as the recovery gathers pace.

Sex-disaggregated data: Understanding and analysing women’s participation in tourism is made difficult by the lack of tourism data that is disaggregated by sex, also hampering the sector’s ability to formulate a gender-inclusive response. Member States and tourism businesses should prioritize disaggregation by sex in their data collection and increase reporting to give policymakers, CEOs and entrepreneurs the tools they need to ensure that recovery measures boost women’s empowerment.

UNWTO has developed these measures in collaboration with international, national and local partners to help governments and businesses craft an inclusive response to COVID-19, ensuring that no one is left behind.

If you would like to share how women in tourism are responding to the COVID-19, please send us an email at This information can help the sector and other women in tourism face the impacts of COVID-19. #TravelTomorrow; #GenderEquality

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