Tourism conference considers future of work

The tourism industry needs to focus on creating “quality jobs” rather than just quantity, delegates at a Caribbean Tourism Organization conference heard Wednesday.

Both Cayman Islands Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell and keynote speaker Claudia Coenjaerts of the International Labour Organization highlighted the need for the industry to meet its workers’ career aspirations rather than simply providing employment.

Amid advances in technology, Mr. Kirkconnell said people skills would become ever more vital. He said his government, through the UCCI hospitality school and through scholarship programs, was attempting to prepare Cayman’s young people to take good jobs in the industry.

“I would love to see the tourism sector become an employer of choice among young people,” he told a room full of industry representatives from across the region at the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort Wednesday.

“For that to happen, the attractiveness of the industry must be enhanced from being viewed as low paid, long hours, seasonal roles to one which embraces innovation, entrepreneurship and offers pathways for career mobility and acceleration.”

His comments were echoed by Ms. Coenjaerts, director of the ILO’s “decent work team.”

She said one in 11 jobs worldwide were in the tourism industry, but these were not always the most attractive positions.

“It is important to know that the quality of jobs is not always good,” she said. “If it [tourism] is to be sustainable and help our societies prosper, we must try to create decent jobs. We must really make sure it is a sector where people want to stay and develop their careers.”

She said technology was changing the type of work opportunities in the industry, with some careers, such as travel agents, becoming obsolete, while new opportunities for entrepreneurship were being created by the digital economy.

Those that survive in the industry will be those with transferrable skills, she said.

“Big transitions are taking place,” Ms. Coenjaerts said. “We still need human beings, but the nature of the work and the type of jobs are changing.

“There is much more need for core skills training. Some jobs will be robotized and what will continue to exist will be jobs that require interaction with people. That means you need to have more skills in problem-solving, in interaction, in language and so on.”

Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said he would like the industry to become a more desirable career option for young people. PHOTOS: JAMES WHITTAKER

She said the new economy created problems for governments too, with many new types of employment falling outside the parameters of traditional labor legislation. Citing statistics that show growing wealth inequality worldwide, she said a new “social contract” was needed where workers were able to have satisfying careers in the industry without fear of exploitation.

“We need to look and think about creating good-quality jobs, otherwise we will continue to only have workers who only go there as a first step into whatever is going to be their career,” she added.

Mr. Kirkconnell, who gave the opening address, said the Cayman Islands was focusing on developing its people to be front and center of the industry.

He said, “Tourism is a service industry and it needs people in order to function. Irrespective of how unique our tourism products might be, without a skilled and motivated workforce it is difficult to deliver [the] quality tourism experience that visitors expect.”