Tourism is a very complex industry made up of a number of different businesses and economic activities. It can be defined with reference to the goods and services tourists consume, where a tourist might be defined as a person who is travelling or visiting a place for a variety of purposes. This includes a range of different activities such as taxi operation, passenger transport, accommodation, restaurants, food services, cultural, entertainment and recreation activities. Most of these activities provide services to both tourists and local residents, in many cases tourism accounts for a substantial share of activity especially when it comes to accommodation and services of travel agencies and tour operators as well as sea, coastal and air passenger transport[1].


Please cite this document as: Cedefop (2020). Skills developments and trends in the tourism sector. Skills Panorama Analytical Highlights.

Employment in tourism

Since 2000, the tourism sector has become one of the strongest pillars of the EU economy. The job growth in tourism – 16 per cent since 2000 – was more than 3 times as high as compared to overall job growth of the EU economy. Between 2000 and 2017, more than 1.8 million of new jobs were created in the sector in the EU and increased the total employment to about 13 million people (see Figure 1). In addition, the sector contributes to substantial spill-over employment effects in other sectors, especially in construction, retail and health care[2].

Figure 1: Employment structure and change in tourism, 2000 to 2017

Source:  Eurostat National Accounts and Structural business statistics. Own calculations.

The estimated share of tourism employment in the EU is about 5%; with Cyprus, Malta, Ireland, Greece and Spain displaying the highest employment shares (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Share of tourism in employment, 2018

Source:  Eurostat National Accounts, Structural business statistics and Cedefop Skills Forecast. Own calculations.

While elements of self-service have crept into the tourism over recent years with, for example, breakfast dispensed by vending machines in budget hotels, and the diffusion of the use of the internet to book holidays and travel online, tourism remains a labour-intensive sector including many activities that can be hardly automated.

Personal services workers – waiters, cooks, bartenders and travel attendants and guides – represent almost half of jobs within the sector. Another third of the jobs regards food preparation assistants, hospitality & retail managers, sales workers, cleaners & helpers and customer clerks (see Figure 3). Employment in almost all occupations within the sector grew between 2010 and 2020. Food preparation assistants, food processing workers, drivers and business managers grew the fastest, at least by 30% in that period.

Figure 3:              Employment share of occupations in tourism (2020) and their employment growth since 2010

Source:  Cedefop Skills Forecast. Own calculations.

The sector also largely relies on workers with lower levels of education. For example, in the accommodation and food service sector, which represents over 90% of tourism employment, only 1 in 7 people is a tertiary education graduate, which is the second lowest share across EU economy sectors.

Tourism is not only an employment intensive sector. Its labour force bears characteristics that underline implications in terms of skills developments, as well as challenges in the Covid-19 era. Almost one quarter of its workforce are seasonal and temporary workers, with the respective share reaching even 45% in Greece[3]. As the sector also attracts young workers (37% is less than 35 years old[4] and 13% are under 25), it can be considered as a first entry point to the labour market also for a significant number of recent graduates; as well as a response to youth unemployment[5]. Moreover, the sector offers easy access to employment to vulnerable groups, such as migrants, and women who represent almost two thirds of the workers in the sector.

Depending on the type of touristic services offered, developments in tourism may have severe impact on specific regions and locations (e.g. islands), where job opportunities are limited. Given that the sector employs a high share of low-skilled workers, timely and relevant skills development, especially in times of crisis as currently with Covid-19, can positively affect employment and well-being of vulnerable groups and specific geographical areas.

Job and skills demand in tourism

Peer-to-peer tourism (private accommodation offers via online platforms) has become one of the fastest-growing parts of the sector, though Its effect on employment can only be measured indirectly via the incidence of self-employment within the accommodation and food service sub-sectors.[6] The share of self-employment in these two sub-sectors reached 14% in 2018, while in some countries, such as Belgium, Greece, and Italy, it equalled to one quarter (see Figure 4).

Figure 4:             Self-employment in accommodation and food as a share of total employment in Member States, 2018

Source:  Skills Panorama. Own calculations.

The analysis of skills demand in the tourism sector is based on Cedefop’s work on mapping of online job advertisements.[7] Between July 2018 and December 2019 Cedefop’s system has stored and analysed more than 1.2 million online job ads in the tourism sector: 1.13 million in accommodation and food; 93 thousand in travel agencies and tour operator services and just under 5 thousand in passenger air and water transport.

It is worth noting that for highly specialised occupations, such as ship’s captains or aircraft pilots the online job portals may not be the sole advertisement method. The same goes for jobs in hotels and restaurants where significant part of job advertisements takes the form of word of mouth or a simple notice placed in the establishment’s premises.[8]

The Cedefop’s Skills OVATE database records 17 tourism occupations with more than 10 thousand job ads captured between July 2018 and December 2019. Most of these occupations are related to catering and food service, such as waiters, cooks, chefs or bartenders. Medium skilled and elementary occupations are mostly offered while job ads for high skilled occupations, such as managers, software developers or marketing specialists also appear in the top list (see Figure 5).

Figure 5:              Demand for selected jobs in tourism, 2018-2019 (in thousands)

Source:  Cedefop Skills OVATE. Own calculations.

Transversal skills – such as teamwork, adaptability, being able to prioritise, communication or problem solving - dominate employers’ demand in online job ads. Basic ICT skills appear high in the list (use a computer, use of office software) as well as a wide range of technical skills from cooking and serving to administration, accounting, budgeting or marketing (see Figure 6).

Figure 6:             Demand for skills in tourism, 2018-2019

Source:  Cedefop Skills OVATE. Own calculations. Note: The percentage means share of job ads in the sector that request a specific skill.

It is important to note though that job-specific technical skills may not be explicitly mentioned in many tourism job ads. Simple “bartender needed. Experience welcome” may be sufficient for attracting candidates. High level jobs tend to have more detailed vacancy notices as well as those advertised by large enterprises and multinational companies. However, significant part of tourism jobs regards employment in micro-sized establishments (less than 10 employees) whose job ads tend to be shorter and less descriptive[9].

Covid-19 pandemic and future of tourism

After a period of sustained growth in recent years, tourism now faces significant challenges as the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted both leisure and business travels. The impact of the pandemic may bring profound changes in people’s habits and business operations with which tourism businesses may struggle to cope with for a possibly long time.

Cedefop’s recent analysis[10], based on online job ads, explored the social distancing risk to which different occupations are exposed to in the workplace. Using a skills-based approach, it has measured occupations’ social distancing risk based on balance of skills that require personal social interaction and those that can be done remotely.

Employing a high share of people exposed to high social distancing risk increases the chances that key business or organisational activities may be severely disrupted. For example, while an accounting clerk in a restaurant has a very low exposure risk as compared to a waiter, disruption of the main activity of the restaurant represents a danger for both employees, who may experience reduced pay or even be laid off if the establishment shuts down.

With a high employment share of people whose jobs depend on personal proximity (waiters, receptionists, travel guides) and at the same time low share of people whose jobs can be done remotely (such as ICT professionals), the tourism sector, especially its main part of accommodation and food service, is exposed to very high risk of disruption (see Figure 7).

Figure 7:             Covid-19 potential risk of disruption by sectors, 2020

Source:  “Covid-19 and jobs: Which skills make a difference?” Available at:

The respective implications for employment in the sector could differ among Member States. To assess where tourism jobs face the highest risks, Cedefop’s analysis identified two relevant factors of vulnerability, namely: (i) importance of international arrivals for country’s tourism sector and (ii) share of small enterprises on employment in tourism.

(i) European countries are depending on international tourism on different degrees. Malta, country with less than half a million people hosted over 2.5 million foreign tourists in 2018, or 5.3 per capita; while Slovakia with almost 5.5 million people welcomed 2.3 million foreign tourists or 0.4 per capita in the same year.

Attractiveness for foreign tourists represent a further factor of vulnerability in times of pandemic: in the summer of 2020 local businesses may end up relying on domestic tourists (only or mostly) which in countries like Malta, Croatia and Cyprus, may not be enough to offset for the drop of international demand.

(ii) The period ahead will be challenging for all tourism businesses, but small enterprises with fewer resources are particularly vulnerable. Micro enterprises contribute significantly to the employment of the sector in some Member States such as Italy Poland, Belgium and Croatia.

The combination of these two important factors shows the high level of potential risk for the tourism sector in five European countries: Malta, Croatia, Cyprus, Austria and Greece. (see Figure 8).

Figure 8:             Covid-19 disruption risk in tourism, 2020

Source:  WorldBank, Eurostat Population database and Structural business statistics. Own calculations.

The European Commission’s Tourism and Transport Package[11] addresses, among others, the need to support SMEs in the sector. Access to finance and resources can alleviate the caveats of the pandemic and the pressure on employment levels for millions of EU workers.

Tourism establishments hope for a recovery during the summer of 2020, as the pandemic abates in Europe and Covid-19 countermeasures are being gradually lifted by governments. At the same time, the pandemic accelerated some trends that are expected to significantly impact jobs and skills demand.

Digitalisation of services hampers employment but also increases the demand for digital skills

In the EU, 15% of international tourist arrivals are linked to work purposes[12]. Lockdowns and restrictions in traveling boosted the use of online tools to host business meetings and events. Web-based events are increasingly seen as a safer, cheaper and more flexible option and rising investments in the supporting technology improve users’ experience in video conferencing.  This trend is expected to hamper business tourism.

The same holds for the organisation and hosting of sports events, which is one of the fastest growing segments of tourism, contributing to international travels by an estimated 10%.[13] The Covid-19 pandemic led to cancellation of all major sports events, such as the Olympic Games, tennis tournaments etc. Although events will gradually resume, their organisation could face challenges in the future, affecting the type and number of jobs offered, as well as the relevant skills. As events are planned years ahead and a risk of major disruptive incident (such as a pandemic or a terrorist attack)  can appear in a matter of days or weeks, it is likely that two trends will emerge here with consequences for skills and jobs demand: (a) further digitalisation to allow more remote participation and reduce needs for personal interaction (e.g. only digital tickets, contactless services at events); (b) higher stress on hygiene, sanitation and cleanliness.

Automation risk. Social distancing measures have increased the demand for automated processes and web-based tools and customer service across sectors. In tourism, this trend led among others to an increase in web-based solutions to business meetings and events.

Cedefop explores how digital technologies affect job prospects and skill requirements.[14] Based on the European Skills and Jobs Survey data and related reports on automation[15] and social distancing risks[16], it is possible to assess which occupations within the tourism sector are likely to be impacted most.

Figure 9: Covid-19 disruption risk and automation risk by occupation, 2020

Source: “Automation risk in the EU labour market” and “EU jobs at highest risk of Covid-19 social distancing”. Own calculations.

Figure 9 confirms most jobs in tourism are highly affected by Covid-19 and social distancing measures. Many tasks performed in these jobs can also be automated to a certain degree and the pandemic is likely to accelerate the process. For example, food processing workers are affected by the increase in food and beverages offered via vending machines in hotels. It is expected that demand for digital skills will go up as especially hotels will switch to online and remote check-in and check-out. In restaurants, digital menus and remote ordering will also contribute to rising demand for digital skills, both on user level (waiters, cooks) but on professional level too (development and maintenance of the online tools).

Complying with Covid-19 relevant hygiene measures is and will continue to be demanded by national rules; but it is also a key factor in gaining clients’ trust. Cleaners’ role in the sector will probably rise as their tasks can be automated only to a certain extent. In addition, demand for workers who are responsible for maintaining and improving a facility’s cleanliness and hygiene standards is expected to be on the rise.

How can skill needs in tourism be met?

Given the importance of tourism in the EU economy, the rebound of the sector is intrinsic to the economic recovery of the EU[17] and in particular of some Member States. The key role of the sector in the EU economy underlines the need for skilled human capital in order to bolster EU Member States as competitive and sustainable touristic destinations.

Research reveals that EU employers and particular SMEs in the tourism sector face challenges in recruiting workers, particular graduates. Corroborating the findings of Cedefop’s research based on online job advertisements, transversal skills play a significant role: skill gaps and shortages reported by employers mostly regard such skills, as well as language, interpersonal skills and ICT skills rather than job/tourism-specific skills[18].

The sector also suffers from negative perceptions regarding working conditions and career prospects. Offering targeted and high-quality training opportunities could be a way to attract more and better prepared candidates. In addition, re-skilling and up-skilling of existing employees is necessary to respond to the emerging and persisting new trends in the sector, such as provision of services to targeted groups of visitors (for example, elderly or with disabilities; visitors seeking specific experiences such as sustainable/green tourism, cultural tourism, adventure tourism etc[19]).

Digital skills have increased in importance in the past years, augmenting the interest in policy responses and training provision[20]; the Covid-19 countermeasures already boost their use and importance. Tasks in particular occupations can be expected to become redundant due to the use of technology, while new occupations have emerged (e.g. e-marketing specialist). Depending on the occupation, the level and type of digital skills vary; but it can be inferred that the upgrade of these skills is necessary across all tourism occupations. Digital skills are also necessary for tourism entrepreneurs and managers, particularly in SMEs and family-run businesses[21].

The increased interest in sustainability of all commercial activities, the change in consumers’/tourists’ preferences, and types of tourism as agri-tourism also stress the importance for green skills.

To identify skill trends and respective training needs, education and VET systems linked to tourism should benefit from skills anticipation mechanisms. Involving early on all relevant stakeholders, including parents whose perceptions and expectations from the sector affect participation of young graduates in relevant learning pathways, would allow for better understanding of the needs and challenges faced both by the education/training world and employers. Perspectives at national and regional trends are always important for planning education and training; but characteristic of touristic services also place importance to the local level, as well as to sub-sectors (for example, accommodation has different skill needs and challenges than touristic guides; it is actually recognised as the sub-sector with some of the most pressing skills challenges in sector[22]). However, having a skills anticipation mechanism in place is not sufficient. Skills anticipation needs to be systematically linked through feedback loops to education and VET provision; and also, be agile enough to adjust to changes in the demand, such as the Covid-19 pandemic repercussions. As all well-designed skills governance systems, developing and planning of VET provision for tourism should be synchronised with other policy areas that affect supply or demand, such as policies regarding working conditions, improved access to vulnerable groups etc.

Understanding the business and societal challenges and opportunities that affect employment levels, tasks in occupations and thus skill profiles in tourism and its sub-sectors is paramount for designing and offering relevant and high-quality VET. In this context, tourism has been one of the sectors selected by the European Commission under the ERASMUS+ Blueprint for Sectoral Cooperation on Skills[23]. The project aims at developing a targeted strategy and concrete action plan to close the skills gap in the sector, through the collaboration of all relevant stakeholders (businesses, education and training providers, professional associations, chambers of commerce, social partners, as well as others).

The agility of the education and VET systems to offer updated or even new qualifications relevant to tourism occupations; as well as the need for provision of tailored adult and continuing education, is clearly importance in order to efficiently respond not only to the recovery following the Covid-19 impact, but also to the trends of change that have been shaping the sector in the past years.

The Covid-19 pandemic may offer an opportunity for rethinking policies relevant to tourism, both as short-term reactions to the adverse effects of the pandemic; but also as a more long-term approach to boosting the sector’s potential. Sustainable tourism, for example, has been included in Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 8, 12 and 14, which underlines the sector’s possible contribution to job creation and subsequently to benefits for the economy and the society[24].


[1] For the purpose of this analysis, and with regard to classification of economic activities, the following NACE sectors are used:

  • accommodation and food services (NACE divisions 55 and 56);
  • sea and coastal passenger transport (NACE division 50.1), which includes mainly ferries and cruise ships;
  • air transport (NACE division 51) given that many flights are taken by tourists;
  • travel agencies and tour operators (NACE division 79).

[2] Vrinda Kadiyali and Renáta Kosová: Inter-industry employment spill-overs from tourism inflows. Accessed from:



[4] Ibid.


[6] World Bank (2019) Tourism and the Sharing Economy: Policy and potential of sustainable peer-to-peer accommodation. Washington DC: World Bank Group

[8] The Online job vacancy market in the EU. Available at:

[9] The Online job vacancy market in the EU. Available at:

[10] Covid-19 and jobs: Which skills make a difference? Available at:


[12] European Union Tourism Trends. Available at:

[13] The Remarkable Growth Of Sport Tourism. Available at:

[18] European Commission (2016). Mapping and Performance check of the supply side of tourism education and training.; and European Commission (2017) BLUEPRINT FOR SECTORAL COOPERATION ON SKILLS. Tourism

[19] European Commission (2017) BLUEPRINT FOR SECTORAL COOPERATION ON SKILLS. Tourism

[21] European Commission (2016). Mapping and Performance check of the supply side of tourism education and training.

[22] European Commission (2016). Mapping and Performance check of the supply side of tourism education and training.

[24] ILO (2017). ILO guidelines on decent work and socially responsible tourism / International Labour Office, Sectoral Policies Department.