Dr. Stroma Cole, one of Equality in Tourism’s Directors, shares a brief global overview of the impact of Covid-19 on women in the tourism industry and the need for a gender equal approach in the recovery phase.

Covid-19 has had an unprecedented impact on tourism with the UNWTO anticipating a 60-80% decline in international tourism. The crisis has laid bare structural inequalities in particular gender, race and age within and between societies, it has also revealed the vulnerability of destinations and communities over dependant on tourism.

Covid-19’s impact on tourism will hit Less Economically Developed Countries hardest and women in those countries the most, and some of those women harder than others. There are a number of reasons for this which I will outline before considering what could aid gender equality in a post Covid-19 tourism future.

Women make up the majority of low-skilled, casual, seasonal and informal workers in tourism which has seen the greatest down turn. Women, young people and migrants are most likely to have lost paid work. Those working as “non-standard workers”, in the “gig economy” in “uncontracted casual roles”, precarious roles that are on the lower rungs of the occupational ladder, are the first to lose their employment. Men are more likely to be in the few remaining in high-skilled permanent positions e.g. reservation services sectors that can be moved to remote working. Research suggests that women and those without a college degree are more likely to have lost their jobs (1).

Furthermore many women work in informal sectors linked to tourism such as crafts, food stalls and beach vendors – will have been negatively impacted. Likewise, women with their own small businesses are at risk as the economies contract.

Women are also facing an increase in their already unequal share of unpaid domestic and care work as many services such as education, childcare, and healthcare, have been interrupted during the pandemic. This also puts them at higher risk of business closures and bankruptcy than their male counterparts.

The resulting fall in incomes due to job losses and business closures in tourism implies a higher incidence of poverty for women who have less capacity to absorb economic shocks than men.

Women who are being paid to stay at home or lost their jobs face increased financial dependence and increased Gender Based Violence at home (4).

Countries, regions and areas that are highly dependent on tourism have a higher proportion of small and micro enterprises, frequently run by and employing a disproportionately high number of women. While small enterprises play a major role as job providers, they often lack access to credit, have few assets and are the least likely to benefit from economic stimulus packages without targeted support. Furthermore many of the workers are seasonal, and many destinations already affected.

While some countries are already re-opening we have to ask how many tourists will want to be part of holidays with no night-life, socially distanced restaurants, no hotel buffets and the fear of lockdown occurring at any time. Many higher spending older tourists are not only reluctant to travel but also to dine out.

In the short term gender responsive fiscal policies are desperately needed to shield the worst impacts on the pandemic for women working in tourism and tourism related sectors e.g. cash transfers to the most vulnerable (4), aid to self-employed, informal workers and special credit lines for women tourism entrepreneurs and priority to women-owned enterprises in public procurement (2); and increase in funding for women’s services that address violence against women and girls (7). Furthermore, tourism employees should be redeployed to other service sectors requiring similar skill sets. Help should be provided to re-orientate/re-purpose businesses.

Post Covid-19 tourism

The tourism sector is known for its resilience to economic downturns and crises and thus may play a key role in reinvigorating the global economy once the crisis is over. Many of us hope the pandemic provides an opportunity to rebuild global tourism in a more sustainable way, which will require policies to alleviate over-dependence on tourism and programmes to develop diversification. Gender Equality should be at the centre of the Build Back Better post Covid-19 recovery framework, which could improve alignment of tourism with all the Sustainable Development Goals and lead to a greener, more inclusive and resilient industry.
Globally, our ability to bounce back or indeed ‘build forward’ to an economy that drives wellbeing – a ‘human economy’ that ensures gender equality is dependent on how we include everyone equally (3). If more women take part in shaping the post Covid-19 recovery, chances are that it will be more responsive to everyone’s needs and improve resilience to the future shocks we will face. Gender Equality is essential if tourism is to be truly sustainable (6). This requires taking a human rights perspective and integrating gender equality in tourism development at all levels and in all phases by all stakeholders, when designing, proposing, creating and implementing any sort of measure. To bring about change we need:

• A gender-just Human Rights approach to tourism
• Disaggregated data – not just by sex but also race, age and (dis)ability.
• Recognition of the care-economy, and
• Enhancing women’s voice and agency by their inclusion in policy making (5). This could start with working with Women’s Rights Organisations (WRO) (7)


  1. https://www.inet.econ.cam.ac.uk/working-paper-pdfs/wp2018.pdf
  2. https://unctad.org/en/pages/newsdetails.aspx?OriginalVersionID=2370
  3. https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_dialogue/—sector/documents/briefingnote/wcms_741468.pdf
  4. https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2020/05/15/covid-19-could-worsen-gender-inequality-in-latin-america-and-the-caribbean
  5. Cole, S. 2018 Gender Equality and Tourism: Beyond Empowerment. CABI Wallingford.
  6. Moreno Alarcón, D. & Cole, S. (2019) No sustainability for tourism without gender equality, Journal of Sustainable Tourism
  7. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/536c4ee8e4b0b60bc6ca7c74/t/5ed9459781dce22bb335c9c0/1591297432881/COVID-19+-+A+feminist+response+to+a+global+pandemic.pdf