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Tourism development doesn’t equal bad jobs – weak government protection does



Tourism development doesn’t equal bad jobs – weak government protection does

While tourism’s ability to create new jobs is indisputable, there is much talk of these jobs being low quality and precarious. Despite this criticism, many public administrations see tourism as a valid way to create new jobs in their regions.

Job quality is the measure of how beneficial a job is for an employee. It encompasses the physical, psychological, social and organisational aspects of a job, along with the demands it places on a person and the processes that influence these factors. Psychological and physical wellbeing, as well as attitudes and job satisfaction, are considered to be especially important.

When analysing job quality, most studies take into account a wide range of factors, including individual autonomy, pay, job security, working conditions, qualification requirements, workplace relationships, and work-life balance.

Seasonal and low-skilled work

As the tourism sector covers many different economic areas – accommodation, catering, transport, entertainment, sightseeing, and so on – it cannot be treated as a homogeneous whole. However, it is a fact that jobs in accommodation and hospitality are often lower quality than in other economic areas.

This low quality is the result of these sectors’ specific characteristics: they provide low-skilled, seasonal jobs with long hours, including weekends. In addition, the tourism labour market offers below average wages and few opportunities for training and professional growth. These circumstances particularly affect the most vulnerable segments of the working population, such as young people and immigrants.

Tourism development and non-tourist jobs

Dependence on the tourism sector does not necessarily mean more low quality jobs overall. There are two factors to consider here.

Firstly, tourism development indirectly generates work outside the tourist sector, in areas such as consultancy, energy, transport, healthcare and public administration. These can all be high quality jobs, which help to redress the overall balance of employment quality within a region.

Secondly, job quality depends heavily on the rights, regulations and protections provided by national governments. These vary hugely from one country to another.

The impact of governments on job quality

In addition to a population’s education level and employment rate, one factor that strongly influences job quality is what is known as the “institutional employment regime” of a country – a term that encompasses its labour legislation, employment policies and employer-union relations. Applying this term to job quality is known as employment regime theory.

On the European level, this theory classifies different institutional regimes into five large groups:

  • Social democrat, mainly found in Scandinavian countries. These regimes tend to provide robust, extensive social benefits, support worker training and have influential trade unions.

  • Liberal, such as the UK and Ireland, which have weaker employment protection legislation and weak trade unions.

  • Continental, which includes countries such as France and Germany. These fall somewhere between social democrat and liberal regimes.

  • Southern European, including Spain, Portugal, Greece and others, where the state intervenes relatively little in labour regulation and trade unions have relatively little influence on working conditions. In these countries, state-sponsored vocational training is limited, incentives for employers to invest in training are low, and employees show little initiative for lifelong learning. The result is a lower skill level of workers.

  • Transitional (the term applies to liberalisation and economic efficiency, and consolidation of the country’s legal and institutional regime), which includes countries such as Bulgaria or Poland. In this category, autocratic management structures limit participation in workers’ organisations, and economic liberalisation reduces job security and increases cost-cutting measures when training staff.

Tourism and job quality: location matters most

Our recent study, published in March 2024, has analysed the relationship between tourism development and job quality in several European regions.

Based on the European Working Conditions Survey samples from 2015 (almost 44 thousand people) and 2021 (almost 72 thousand), we analysed the quality of employment in various European regions, specifically using the EU’s NUTS2 administrative units.

All kinds of regions appeared in our research, from those with a very high level of tourism development – such as the Spanish Canary Islands and Balearic Islands – to others with a much lower level of tourism development, such as Radomski in Poland and Severozapaden in Bulgaria.

Although southern European regions have higher levels of tourism development and, in general, lower job quality, our analyses show that job quality is not directly linked to tourism activity. In fact, in all the regions we looked at, job quality was most strongly affected by the institutional environment – meaning, among other things, government legislation and workers’ rights.

Tourism jobs are not inherently low quality

Our study found that, in Europe, there is no direct relationship between the development of tourism in a region and the quality of its employment. However, we did find that the social democratic institutional regime is the one associated with a higher job quality, followed by continental and then liberal regimes. Southern European and transitional regimes are the worst in terms of job quality.

In the light of these results, policymakers seeking to increase job quality should concentrate not on the type of employment, but rather on analysing where elements of their government and institutions are falling short.

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