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Meeting the future digital skills needs in tourism

Tourism arrivals worldwide are expected to increase by 3.35 per cent each year until 2030 (UNWTO, 2011). But with technological innovations set to continue to change jobs and digital skills becoming ever more essential, how will the industry prepare its future workforce to capitalise on the opportunities this presents?

As a key partner of the Next Tourism Generation Alliance (NTG) – the first partnership alliance for improving a collaborative and productive relationship between education and industry – People 1st International is working with partners across Europe to establish a blueprint strategy for skills development and to influence national and regional policies in tourism.

The NTG Alliance has a particular focus on digital skills, as well as social and green skills needed for sustainable tourism development. So what are the challenges and approaches to improving digital skills internationally and why do People 1st International consider that the NTG project is of particular significance in helping to address some of these challenges? We speak to the Executive Director, Jane Rexworthy, of People 1st International to find out.


People 1st International works across the globe to support countries in developing sustainable skills models. What impact do you think technology is having on the tourism workforce?


For a number of years, many sectors have replaced staff with technology in order to become more productive.

For hospitality and tourism businesses looking to automate, the choice isn’t straightforward. By removing staff, they could damage the customer experience and reduce customer satisfaction, spend and retention. However, as the aviation and retail sectors have demonstrated, technology can disrupt the customer experience without necessarily eroding it. The challenge is knowing how technology can be best be utilised, how it can help drive outputs and its implications on the people working with it.

Given the nature of the hospitality and tourism sector, technology is unlikely to replace large chunks of the workforce, but rather change the way they work.


What technological innovations do you think are having the biggest impact on the tourism industry?


Many businesses are introducing new technology as they begin to rethink their customer journey, which is sometimes changing the ways staff work. Others are introducing technology to help staff undertake specific tasks more effectively.

Technological innovations will probably create the most change in front office roles, given that they are largely transactional. Some hotel chains already allow guests to check in and out and access their room with their mobile phone. The experience of similar changes in aviation highlight that customers in many settings are likely to embrace these changes, as long as it is quick and easy.

These developments are unlikely to remove the need for front office staff completely, but will perhaps reduce the number required and instead emphasise their role as hosts to welcome guests.

Much of the technological investment in tourism businesses aims to help support staff complete core tasks more efficiently. Such investments include hand-held devices to send orders directly to the kitchen, new payment systems and hand-held checklists for room attendants.


What impact is this having on the demand for digital skills?


Customer experiences have evolved alongside the rise of technological advancements in the industry. As a result, customer expectations are higher and operators need skilled staff who are able to respond to the demands of more tech-savvy guests.

Employees need to be at ease with digital devices simply in order to undertake their job.

For operators to ensure they have a digitally-proficient workforce, continuous training is required. Receiving learning digitally responds well to the tourism industry as training is more accessible and can be undertaken 24/7. This flexibility provides huge advantages for businesses, particularly those with large numbers of multi-site operations, and it shifts the responsibility for learning to the employee as much as the employer. However, a blended learning approach to gaining these skills is really important.


Have you experienced there to be digital skills gaps across the tourism industry globally or is it more apparent in particular regions?


Broadly, across all the regions People 1st International work in, we’ve found the biggest gap in digital skills to be in more rural areas where businesses tend to have less access to broadband, technology and digital systems.

However, it is the generational gap rather than a geographical location where we’ve experienced the biggest contrast in digital skills. For millennials, technology is easily adopted, but older employees – and even those in more senior roles – tend to be less comfortable with technology. Management staff often have to learn skills that are second nature to the younger population.  


Why did People 1st International get involved in the NTG project?


Our research shows that the industry is beginning to embrace more flexible ways of working and training. This, coupled with fast-paced changes across the industry and the speed of technological advances, means that digital skills are such an important topic. Changing tourist expectations and a shift in the experiences they demand mean that it’s critical that we join forces as an industry to address digital skills.

The NTG project brings together eight European countries to explore best practice through a variety of different levels of training provision. By working with a large consortium of partners with diverse challenges and economies it gives us the opportunity to pull on our expertise collectively. The project allows us to test and pilot different models of digitisation and digital training, providing a wealth of knowledge that we can invest in digital learning approaches moving forward.


How does the NTG project link to the work People 1st is doing both in the UK and internationally?


The NTG project provides substantive value to the work we’re doing in the UK and across the globe.

In the UK, we will be using the results of the NTG research into the digital, green and social skills needs of the future to inform a comprehensive piece of research with businesses. This research covers each touchpoint of the full tourism and visitor experience needed as part of the response to the Tourism Sector Deal – announced in principle by the government on 27 November 2018 – to attract more domestic and overseas visitors and help drive major economic growth. We are working with UKHospitality as a lead partner in the response on the skills piece to help determine the future skills requirements across the sector from entry-level through to management.

Internationally, the wealth of research generated through the project will provide valuable insight to the countries we’re working in, both in terms of assisting them in understanding how the industry is embracing technology and how to develop their approaches to create a digitally skilled workforce. For the partners we’re working within our international projects it brings alive what’s happening now and in the future, and defines what best practice looks like.


Follow the efforts of the Next Tourism Generation via our website, Facebook, Twitter | #NTGskillsalliance or via LinkedIn



Risi, M. (2011). International tourists to hit 1.8 billion by 2030. Retrieved from UNWTO: http://media.unwto.org/en/press-release/2011-10-11/international-tourists-hit-18-billion-2030 



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