Latest UNWTO recommendations for tourism’s Covid-19 recovery repackage the old as new for women


Since the onset of the pandemic, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has published a series of Inclusive Recovery Guides. These aim at outlining the sociocultural impacts of Covid-19 on the tourism industry, as well as making a number of recommendations that stakeholders should implement in order to rebuild the industry in a more equitable way.

Issue 3 (March 2021) focuses specifically on the role of women in tourism. It neatly summarizes issues that women faced before the pandemic: such as their concentration in low-skilled, low-pay jobs, the additional burden of unpaid care work they frequently undertake, and the lack of social and economic security their roles provide due to their casual terms of employment. It states that due to these pre-existent inequalities, women in tourism have been disproportionately affected by the destructive consequences of the pandemic, echoing Equality in Tourism’s own observations on the ground.

A number of recommendations are then suggested, which the guide argues will enable the tourism industry to rebuild in a way which better serves the women working within it. These address a range of issues, including improving employment conditions for women, offering skills-development opportunities to allow them to adapt better to any future pandemics, and collecting more systematic data to develop deeper analyses about the root causes of gender inequality in tourism.

Equality in Tourism welcomes these recommendations and agrees that such changes are sorely needed if the tourism industry is to take gender equality seriously in the future. However, we would also like to point out that the guide itself takes a ‘breadth over depth’ approach, in that whilst a host of issues are touched upon, the recommendations made as a result are general and lack clear actions which can be taken from them. We worry that without clearer instruction, the guide becomes a symbolic rather than practical commitment to gender equality by the UNWTO.

Equality in Tourism would also stress that many of the recommendations made by the guide are far from new: most of those mentioned have been circulating in academic discourses for up to 30 years now, whilst we, alongside other organizations, have long advocated for such measures in tourism and international development spaces. In this way, while we wholeheartedly approve of the UNWTO using its influence to raise awareness of women’s disadvantage in tourism, we would also question why these measures have not been championed in the past?

Overall, whilst the guide has some merits, Equality in Tourism would advise that the UNWTO should use its authority to recommend direct actions that governments and operators can implement now to help women, who have after all formed the backbone of the tourism industry.


World Tourism Organization. 2021. UNWTO Inclusive Recovery Guide – Sociocultural Impacts of Covid-19, Issue 3: Women in tourism. UNWTO: Madrid. DOI: 10.18111/9789284422616.

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