Relevance of gender in the policy area

Tourism is the third largest socio-economic sector in the EU. Research shows that tourism has become one of the main income generators in both developed and developing countries, with business volumes that equal or surpass oil exports, food products or the car industry. The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) estimates the impact of tourism in the world economy as 9% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP).

While its contribution to economic and social development is widely acknowledged in the literature, over the years little attention has been paid to how the tourism industry benefits women and men, as well as to the relation between tourism and gender equality. According to the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), tourism presents both opportunities and challenges for women, which makes the gender equality perspective highly relevant.

From the opportunities perspective, tourism can contribute to gender equality in several ways:

  1. Offering important employment possibilities. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), tourism represents an entry point into the labour market, especially for women, young people, migrant workers and rural populations, particularly in developing or less developed countries. In fact, worldwide, women make up between 60% and 70% of all workers in the tourism industry. In 2011, the EU-28 women’s participation in the overall tourism workforce stood at 56%, compared to a participation rate of 46% in the EU economy as a whole. Furthermore, tourism is closely linked to other sectors (transport, food, environment, local handicrafts, etc.) and can create more jobs in these areas. Moreover, numerous tourism jobs are flexible and can be carried out at different locations, such as the home, the workplace or in the community. Tourism also offers part-time and shift work, which can support work–life balance.
  2. Increasing women’s participation in community life and decision-making. Some studies reveal that women’s participation in tourism enterprises not only contributes to decreasing individual and household poverty but can also change the way decisions are made at work and in the community. Women, who previously felt lacking in status and power, gain increased standing and self-esteem within society through their economic empowerment and access to decision-making.
  3. Increasing women’s economic empowerment and access to resources. The tourism sector has a considerable potential for the development of entrepreneurial activity, especially because most tourism businesses are small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). In addition, cooperation between sustainable rural tourism and arts and craft trades can be established, which can help to preserve cultural heritage and develop local economies. Funding entrepreneurship initiatives targeting women artists and craftswomen could be a policy measure aimed at promoting women’s empowerment and, at the same time, contributing to the preservation of cultural heritage. Many women are experts in specific crafts that are typical of certain regions in a country, but lack knowledge on how to transform this activity into a profitable business. Supporting them in organising their own small business would create an opportunity to generate income and give visibility to the cultural heritage of the country.

The tourism sector faces several challenges that can negatively affect women’s presence in this sector. In particular, as in many sectors, labour market segregation in the tourism industry is a challenge: women are concentrated in low-paid jobs. In addition, women’s presence in decision-making positions is not particularly high. As beneficiaries of the tourist industry, women are more likely than men to declare that they are not planning to go on holiday due to personal or financial reasons, or that, when they go on holiday, they visit friends and relatives. Furthermore, several studies reveal links between tourism and the sex industry, which could make women more vulnerable to sexual exploitation.

The following gender gaps need to be addressed:

  • gender segregation in the labour market
  • women’s low representation in decision-making within tourism businesses
  • gender stereotypes and travelling
  • risks of gender-based violence.

Issues of gender inequalities in the policy area

Gender equality policy objectives at EU and international level


Policy cycle in tourism

Click on a phase for details

The gender dimension can be integrated in all phases of the policy cycle. For a detailed description of how gender can be mainstreamed in each phase of the policy cycle visit EIGE's Gender mainstreaming platform.

Below, you can find useful resources and practical examples for mainstreaming gender into regional development. They are organised according to the most relevant phase of the policy cycle they may serve.


Practical examples of gender mainstreaming in tourism


Current policy priorities at EU level

The European Commission 2010 Communication Europe, the world’s No 1 tourist destination – a new political framework for tourism in Europe, includes the main priorities for EU action in the tourism field:

  • stimulate competitiveness in the European tourism sector
  • promote development of sustainable, responsible, high-quality tourism
  • consolidate Europe's image as a collection of sustainable, high-quality destinations
  • maximise the potential of EU financial policies for developing tourism.

Tourism policy is directly or indirectly influenced by a large number of other European policies (such as transport, competition, internal market, taxation, consumer protection, environment, employment and training, culture or regional and rural development). Therefore, the European Commission aims at ensuring a better integration of tourism into its various policies and guaranteeing that the proper application of the legislation in force releases the sector’s full competitive potential. Efforts will be made to coordinate the various policies concerned in order to ensure that the interests and needs of the tourism industry are fully taken into account when formulating and implementing its policies.

An implementation rolling plan of the Tourism Action Framework has been developed in order to outline major tourism-related initiatives to be implemented in collaboration with national, regional and local public authorities, tourism associations and other public/private tourism stakeholders. In 2015, the Commission is expected to adopt a new Communication on tourism defining the future priorities in the tourism sector. The Communication draft was discussed at the Spain Global Tourism Forum in January 2015. The priorities on which the next EU strategy in the tourism field is expected to focus are:

  • simplify and streamline the regulatory and administrative frameworks for tourism
  • promote the digitalisation of tourism SMEs
  • improve professional skills in the tourism sector
  • promote sustainable and responsible tourism
  • reduce tourism seasonality
  • promote multimodality and transport connectivity
  • contribute to the joint promotion of Europe as a tourist destination, in particular in third countries
  • improve tourism governance.

Many of these are a continuation of the previous priorities, while some are reflecting the changes in the sector.

It should be underlined that tourism is not a standalone sector, but is a sector made of different subsectors. Therefore, strategies/programmes promoted by the EU in other sectors are also relevant for tourism development. Among the most relevant, it’s worth recalling:

  • EU programme for competitiveness of enterprises and small- and medium-sized enterprises (COSME) which also targets tourism. The main aim of the programme is to improve framework conditions for the competitiveness and sustainability of EU enterprises, and in particular SMEs, including those in the tourism sector. In 2015, the programme allocated €9 million for the following objectives in the tourism sector: increase tourism demand; diversify the tourism offer; enhance tourism quality sustainability; improve accessibility; develop skills, information and innovation; increase the visibility of Europe as a tourism destination as well as the diversity of its destinations; improve socio-economic knowledge.
  • The EU 2011 White Paper Roadmap to a single European transport area – towards a competitive resource efficient transport system aims to improve travel in the EU through making travel more sustainable, safe, secure and efficient. Furthermore, it also aims to increase the capacity to carry a growing number of passengers, reduce traffic congestion and develop the transport infrastructure in the EU through the TEN-T projects. Furthermore, the Regulation 1315/2013 on Union guidelines for the development of the trans-European transport network mentions that TEN-T projects should seek synergies with other policies, among which also tourism.
  • In 2014, the Commission presented a proposal for a new visa policy in order to simplify travelling to Europe and sustain the development of the tourism sector. Among the measures proposed, the most relevant for tourism are: simplification of the short-stay visa applications to meet growing demand; introduction of mandatory criteria for obtaining a multiple entry visa (MEV) valid for 3 years and subsequently for 5 years for ‘VIS registered regular’ travellers; the introduction of a touring visa.
  • Tourism also represents one of the issues tackled by the European funds, and in particular by ERDF. The ERDF regulation foresees that, in order to maximise their contribution to the objective of supporting employment-friendly growth, activities supporting sustainable tourism, culture and natural heritage should be part of a territorial strategy for specific areas, including the conversion of declining industrial regions.

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