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Forgotten Majority

Informal workers in tourism are disproportionately affected by the pandemic

Companies are often insufficiently aware of their responsibilities

March 10, 2022

The coronavirus crisis has affected the entire tourism industry, but its informal workers have suffered most of all. From taxi drivers to independent tour guides and cultural performers, they are an important factor in tourism all over the world and account for a large proportion of the industry. The pandemic has highlighted the precarious situation of these people. Experts attending a panel discussion discussed possible solutions for creating a greater respect for the human rights of informal workers.

“The informal sector is an important source of income in many countries which lack decent working conditions or guaranteed wages”, explained Katharina Stechl of the Roundtable Human Rights in Tourism. This is not a new problem but has been exacerbated since the start of the pandemic. Tour guides from Brazil and Bolivia reported on their situation and gave insights into the fates of people that the figures do not reveal. For example, during lockdown they had to seek other employment and, given the uncertainty of tourism, they have tended to stay in these jobs. This means that new job-seekers will take their places, who are not as well trained and have less experience of dealing with travellers and tourism businesses.

Antje Monshausen from the charity Brot für die Welt added that the situation of informal workers differs from one country to another but they do share one thing in common: when crises strike these people are hit first and hardest. Companies often do not honour their responsibilities and, when a crisis arises, it is the weakest who are exposed to the risks and the pressures. “People need support and protection, and should not be left to their own devices.”

For Graeme Jackson, Travel Foundation, it is very important to make people aware that travel involves much more than just a flight and a hotel. “The informal sector is the key for strengthening the entire industry.” This will involve a constructive dialogue between stakeholders and governments. The informal sector should not be abandoned, but instead companies should be more aware of their responsibilities. The end result could be a win-win situation and in this way the quality of travel and the experiences of travellers could be improved. But this requires more than just good intentions, demanded Agnes Rodriguez, a tour guide in Barcelona for 16 years and a member of the Spanish association AguiKAT (Association of Tour Guides in Catalonia / winner of the TO DO Awards Human Rights in Tourism 2022). “We need regulations and laws that encompass the entire added value chain in the tourism sector.”