World Tourism Day is celebrated on the African continent this year, namely by Côte D’Ivoire under the theme ‘Tourism for Inclusive Growth’. The spirit of the day is to contribute to peace and mutual understanding through enhanced awareness about cultures, societies, the environment, business and human development. Inclusive growth ensures that no one is left behind and tourism is for all.
The “ILO Monitor: COVID-19 and the World of Work” released in its seventh edition at the beginning of the year revealed that the tourism sector has been hardest hit by the global pandemic, suffering massive job losses. While total working hour losses were greater than the decline in employment – reflecting the fact that adjustment also took place through lower average weekly working hours – employment still decreased very sharply, by more than 20 percent in accommodation and food services. Research by the World Travel and Tourism Council shows that the sector’s contribution to Egypt’s GDP plummeted by 55 percent in 2020 whereas 844,000 jobs were lost in due course.
With the roll-out of vaccines and subsequent ease of lock down, a recent survey by the global vacation rentals company, Airbnb, indicated that across all age groups 77 percent looked for authentic experiences, 44 percent wanted to be close to nature and 57 percent wished to reconnect with family and friends. Needless to say, safety and health topped the list of priorities.
Community-based Tourism (CBT) is one facet for inclusive growth, with visits to farms and tours to villages being part of the offerings for a growing demand for authentic experience. This is an opportunity for locals to thrive as hosts, arts and handicrafts merchants, tour guides, service providers and entrepreneurs. Such an engagement with people from diverse backgrounds broadens perspectives allowing for new shared narratives.
Nada Zein ElDin is an Egyptian social entrepreneur who has founded the social media group ‘Let’s Explore Egypt’ attracting travelers and those curious to explore unconventional places of the country. The group organizers have undertaken 175 rounds to more than 100 places since its inception in 2016. She gives the example of a recent visit to Dahshour (a rural village on the outskirts of Cairo known for its three pyramids and date palm trees) with a group of 15 tourists, resulting in the engagement of 60-75 local people preparing and cooking the food, providing guiding services and offering their handmade products.
Accessible Tourism is another facet for inclusive growth by attracting visitors with disabilities as well as raising awareness about the value of employing differently-abled persons. There are 1 billion people living with disabilities around the world, and 10-15 percent of the people living in Egypt are with disabilities. This is a huge market to be catered to at both the global and national levels.
Making touristic sites more accessible ushers a broader customer base including families with elderly parents and younger children who also need comfort, safety and reasonable accommodation to navigate such places with ease. According to the UN World Tourism Organization accessible tourism is a game changer “to bounce back from the impacts of the pandemic”.
While building the capacity of human capital is equally important to improving physical infrastructure, training and employing people with disabilities in the sector is also of greater importance. Ebtesama Foundation, an organization for people with disabilities, founded and spearheaded by the late Magda Sami (a veteran hotelier and mother of a disabled child) walked the talk and placed more than 300 young people with intellectual disabilities in hotel chains throughout Egypt. This is a road that needs to be more traveled in the tourism industry to ensure inclusive growth.