Training for tourism micro-services – a new approach is needed
Bed & Breakfast, farm accommodation and holiday rentals have existed for many years, but over the past 10 years, online Platforms like AirBnB or HomeAway have generated visibility and ever-increasing numbers of such services that are very successful in the tourism market. The Next Tourism Generation (NTG) key partner, Eurogites, delves into this topic highlighting success factors, skills gaps and the need for a different approach to recognised training provision.
Passion for the tourism industry as a success factor
These services operate in what can be defined as a micro- and collaborative economy. They are managed either by individuals or by small teams of 1-4 persons with strong personal links (family etc). In the vast majority of cases, the activity starts without formal tourism training. Despite this lack of formal qualification, these services are very well accepted by visitors. This is due to their core characteristics that coincide with the 3 skill areas (digital, social and green) that are the focus of NTG:
- They operate widely and communicate through digital platforms and tools
- Personal interaction is at the heart of their service philosophy
- They have a comparatively high awareness and commitment to sustainability
Their most important factor of success is providers driven by passion for their home place and/or for contact with people from other regions and countries. This passion is conveyed in the way they interact with travellers and co-workers, and in their motivation to improve knowledge and skills.
Photo by Association of Tourist Farms of Slovenia
Skills gaps defined by NTG
Success without formal qualification in tourism does not mean, however, that there is no need to improve their knowledge and skills. In fact, the full list of digital, social and green skills gaps identified by NTG also apply to this type of services. What differs is the level of skills required and the way training could be provided outside existing education systems.
Level of qualifications
Micro and complementary activities represent a relevant and fast-growing share of tourism services in Europe but are so far not considered nor covered by education and training suppliers. Reliable information on the exact type and level of qualifications that exist today, and what will be needed in the future, is not currently available. However, from practical experience and known cases, several points seem relevant to framing the needs of microservice providers:
- Due to the limited size of service providers, staff need to be highly motivated, passionate and polyvalent multipurpose at a practical level in various functional areas of work at the same time, rather than highly qualified in only one or two areas.
- The training content required is likely to be similar to larger tourism service providers but at a lower level.
- The knowledge and skills required need to be applied rather than conceptual such as understanding of contexts and learning how to manage, use, or interact with tools and visitors.
- Only monographic single or unique subject, short training units of 40-80 hours is feasible. This is very different to the situation in bigger tourism SMEs that need higher specialization levels.
The existing education system is based on 2-4 years of formal training and this is not suitable for this type of training. Where they exist, formal professional qualifications have no practical relevance even when they are at a low level (EQF 3-4). The most suitable alternative is on-the-job training or lifelong training programmes for those not pursuing traditional careers, but these alternative forms of training are generally only available to employees with labour contracts. This leaves the vast majority of micro-services without any access to recognized or funded training as they are self-employed or work under a complementary income concept.
A new approach to recognized training provision is therefore critical to bridge this gap. Such an approach should include the following aspects:
- A modular structure of training, where several separate short courses can be taken over a longer period of time and build up into a full recognized qualification.
- The provision of publicly supported and financed training accessible to all owners of legally registered tourism services, regardless of their size and character as a full-time or complementary activity.
- Recognition of qualifications and skills acquired outside the formal education system e.g. in private academies.
- Increased use of online/digital learning platforms.
- A legal framework that allows public and private education establishments to offer such training with adequate funding. This is a challenge but also a chance for VET schools and universities to expand the scope of their programmes and offerings to future students.