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NTG desk research: Digital, Green and Social Skills in Tourism

According to the World Economic Forum we are today witnessing the beginnings of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Developments in previously separate areas such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, 3D printing, and blockchain technology are now joining forces and amplifying one another. The impact of this will be visible in the coming years and affect European societies, industries, jobs, and amounts of free time. These changes will not only pose threats to the tourism industry but also open up new opportunities for which the Next Tourism Generation (NTG) needs to prepare the next generation of entrepreneurs, educators, and workers in tourism.

NTG: the first phase


The first – desk research – phase of the NTG Skills Alliance project came to an end in October 2018 with a report composed under the supervision of Breda University of Applied Sciences. This report reviews the current skills situations in the partner countries involved (i.e., Bulgaria, Germany, Spain, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, UK). It also summarizes some of the main trends which will influence future skills for tourism. These will briefly be discussed below. A more detailed and in-depth discussion of the actual future skills for tourism will follow after the next phases of the NTG research have been completed.

Tourism 2030


Tourist arrivals are projected to continue to grow in the years to come. The tourism industry, however, is likely to change substantially. Tourism, just as other industries and societies in general, will be influenced by world-wide socio-economic and geostrategic forces. The most important of these are technological innovations, demographic changes, environmental pressures and a shift in economic power from the West to emerging and developing countries (OECD, 2018).


Technological innovations

Technological innovations will continue to change jobs in tourism and tourist experiences. With a future that will only bring more digital innovations, applications and disruptive business models, there is a growing need for data analysts, programmers and AI specialists. AI-driven technologies and data analysis enable a deeper understanding of consumption patterns and create possibilities for more customized and personalized services and experiences – the future in all tourism sectors!


Demographic changes

Demographic changes will result in more and different tourist preferences and choices than today. In Europe, we will see more Asian travellers as well as more elderly tourists. Also, more digital natives are entering the travel market. Most of them are always online, making it possible for companies to stay more or less permanently connected with their customers and build close relationships and loyalty.



There will, however, only be a future for tourism when more sustainable practices are incorporated in the consumption, production, and development of tourism. Reducing the impact of tourism on energy and water consumption, on emissions, and waste is not enough. We also need more sustainable forms of tourism in, for example, rural areas to diversify local economies, and create decent jobs for local people while at the same time conserving natural and cultural heritage. Conversely, reducing the impact of ‘overtourism’ is also a part of a more sustainable tourism development.

All these trends affect the digital, social and green skills of those aspiring to work in the tourism industry around 2030 and which are the focus of the NTG project.

NTG: some future skills for tourism


It is not possible to predict the exact impact of socio-economic and geostrategic developments on economies and societies in the near future. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that not only will the world, as we know it, change dramatically, it will also be a world in constant flux. Hyper-connected societies, markets, and industries will be adapting continuously to disruptions, many of which are unknown at this moment in time. The World Economic Forum (2016) notes that in many countries the most in-demand occupations did not exist ten or even five years ago. Technical skills will be indispensable and permanent education, adaptability and agility will be the new normal. Nevertheless, human skills such as creativity, critical thinking, collaborative and intercultural skills cannot (yet) be replaced by machines and are likely to grow in importance in the decades ahead.


Higher level of qualifications necessary

In order to cope with all this, Cedefop (the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training) notes a higher level of qualifications in general will be needed in the future. Cedefop’s European skills forecasting model projects that by 2025 about 48% of all job opportunities in Europe will need to be filled by individuals with tertiary-level qualifications (Cedefop, 2018).


Transversal skills for the future

To survive in an increasingly digitalized world, the following transversal skills will become ever more relevant for all:

  • self-learning capacities;
  • digital fluency;
  • cognitive skills (such as problem-solving, entrepreneurship, creativity);
  • socio-emotional (communicative, collaborative) skills and multicultural dexterity.


These transversal skills will be relevant for tourism as well. Future workers in all branches of tourism need to be able to gain an in-depth understanding – through AI data analysis or otherwise – of their customers. Only in this way will it be possible to deliver the highly personalized services and experiences that will be required by all kinds of tourists (elderly travellers, passengers with special needs or tourists from non-European countries of origin). Creativity and having more knowledge of destinations and experiences than the average customer can find on the Internet are also important. These are essential to co-create original, emotionally rich experiences together with customers. These experiences take place in real life but increasingly in mixed reality (a merging of real and virtual worlds to create immersive experiences).


While these are some essential future skills for tourism, efforts aimed at closing skills gaps should be grounded in a solid understanding of a country’s and industry’s skills base today. The next phases in the NTG project are taking national and regional differences into account when defining skills needs and designing methods to close the gap between today and 2030.


By Dineke Koerts, PhD, Breda University of Applied SciencesDineke is a lecturer and researcher at Breda University of Applied Sciences. In her academic research, she currently focuses on several aspects of Chinese tourism. She also works as a curator and consultant for cultural exchange projects with China and other Asian countries. Furthermore, she also put a lot of effort in the NTG desk research phase.

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Cedefop (2018). Insights into skill shortages and skill mismatch: learning from Cedefop’s European skills and jobs survey. Cedefop reference series no 106. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, http://data.europa.eu/doi/10.2801/645011


OECD (2018). OECD Tourism trends and policies 2018. Paris: OECD Publishing,  http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/tour-2018-en


World Economic Forum (2016). The future of jobs. Employment, skills and workforce strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Geneva: World Economic Forum, www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_FOJ_Executive_Summary_Jobs.pdf


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