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Inclusive response during the COVID recovery - Union for the Mediterranean

Updated: Jun 9, 2023

Last Friday, 2nd of October 2020 at 12.30 - 14.00 hrs, took place the UfM Webinar on COVID-19 and the Tourism Sector: “Inclusive response to vulnerable groups in the Euro-Mediterranean Region”.

“The pandemic crisis has taken its toll on our society, our lives, and the economy. On a global level, many countries decided to close their borders, and international and national travel institutions decided to put people first by imposing travel restrictions due to health measures. Tourism, being one of the fastest-growing economic sectors has been the most affected one, with a current decline of 60% which could potentially increase to 80%, if recovery is delayed until December 2020 (OECD). The worst affected countries during the COVID-19 crisis are those particularly positioned on both shores of the Mediterranean Sea, accounting for 1/3 of the income of international tourism.

  • Vulnerable groups such as senior citizens, those with underlying and chronic health issues, women at risk of social exclusion, emarginated, people with different needs, will hesitate to travel the way we used to.

  • This may be a time for reflecting, redefining, and redeveloping tourism as a sustainable quality activity rather than the quantitative industry incorporating inclusive policy in rebuilding plans and budgets.

The discussion brought together stakeholders from the public sector national and international tourism organizations, as well as stakeholders from the private sector, including representatives from the hospitality and leisure industry. The participant’s list was:

  • Ambassador Marisa Farrugia, Deputy Secretary-General, Social and Civil Affairs Division of the Secretariat of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM);

  • Mr. Paudie Healy, Member of the Board of Directors of the European Network for Accessible Tourism (ENAT) & CEO and Owner of Universal Access;

  • Mr. Igor Stefanovic, Technical Coordinator, Programme for Ethics, Culture and Social Responsibility of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO);

  • Mr. Javier Güemes, Director of International Relations of the ONCE Social Group;

  • Mr. Roberto Castiglioni, Director of Reduced Mobility Rights Limited, UK Member of Access to Air Travel Advisory Group at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, accompanied ;

  • Mr. Martyn Sibley, Founder of Disability Horizons;

  • Dr. Muhannad Alazzeh, Secretary-General of the Higher Council for the Rights of Person with Disabilities, Jordan;

  • Dr. Julian Zarb, International Tourism Expert, Malta, Mr. Andrew Funk, President of Homeless Entrepreneur, Spain. Ms. Maribel Esparcia Pérez, Chapter Leader of Barcelona of Women in Hospitality and Travel - Tech (WHTT) & Founding Partner at European Sustainable Hospitality Club (ESHC);

  • Ms. Sonia Gil-Gibernau, General Manager NOVOTEL Barcelona City & Spokesperson of the Board of Directors of the Barcelona Forum District;

  • Ms. Beatriz Rubio, Responsible for Accessibly of Ilunion Hotels;

  • Mr. Samir Kheldouni, Founder and Director General of the Cabinet Chorus Consulting and Former Director-General of the Moroccan National Tourist Office, Morocco.

In the recovery processes, we have to focus also on the vulnerable groups so we can have an inclusive response to the pandemic. This includes women, the elderly, and citizens with disabilities. Thus, as we recover from the current downturn and global health crises, we have to be able to work for a qualitative tourism experience rather than a quantitative one. If we want to talk in tourism about social justice, we must include vulnerable groups and equality for accessible tourism. Public entities and policymakers need to understand that tourism is a key part of our economy and society's development. Thus, policymakers now have an opportunity to include in the recovery plans, tourism and policies, and investment to make tourism more accessible and inclusive. We are all customers, we are all people, we are all the same. Furthermore, the spending power of this market (people with different needs) needs to be considered. It is key that stakeholders clear out preconceptions and invest in accessible and inclusive tourism. It is not that costly, and it is highly beneficial for countries and tourist destinations.

To take real action, we need an inclusive environment, the right attitudes (above all education, training staff), and policymakers adding the right inputs and listening to people with different needs. The response has to consider a holistic approach, piggyback current initiatives as an opportunity to have tourism for all, make stakeholders aware of this opportunity, create a universal approach with better products and services.

From the fact that using words such as vulnerable groups creates an unwanted association - with marginalized groups, intrinsic vulnerability. There are just people- remove special needs/ special assistance terms used are old, out of touch, eradicate labels. Focus on an inclusive language such as people with different needs - let's talk about people. - To policy change, improved law frameworks, and international standards homogenization. Travel companies could offer staff training to focus on inclusive customer service, a customer with different needs - service for all approaches. Automatic check-in, bar, and restaurant accessibility, accessible contactless technology, etc.

The intention is to have a global value chain holistic approach and make from the reopening process accessible tourism from policymaking, sop’s, and procedures (website, building, etc.) to current issues an opportunity to rethink, redefine processes, include protocols on safety measures. The key is to let people be independent and innovate by reflecting on our current practices and developing those that will help us to include vulnerable groups as a pivotal part of society to build back together and stronger.

As a member of the second session, my contribution made emphasis on two main words as the north star, empathy, and significance. We have to bet on collaborations as we come out of this pandemic to count on vulnerable groups to rebuild back better and have more resilient businesses. The volunteer work is great, but we can not rely on volunteer actions for systemic change and meaningful advancement. We need all stakeholders together. Beyond WTTC recommendations, we also have to consider south Mediterranean countries' difficulties and challenges. There are regions where there are issues such as one hospital bed for a hundred thousand citizens, and it makes it harder to consider other priorities, being health issues a threat for local citizens. Also, all the population affected with lost jobs directly and indirectly employed by tourism is massively affecting the population. As my input on initiatives done during the pandemic, from the Women in Hospitality and Travel Tech. Using the current situation for:

WHTT - Upskilling Program for women

  • Developing a 5000+ open community / 2000 members community;

  • #Iamremarkable training workshops (self-confidence, self-promotion at the workplace);

  • Open-content access (Masterclass, revenue hacks, weekly, diversity & inclusion talks);

  • Mentorship;

  • Education in tech skills for women;

  • Education in sustainability for hospitality professionals;

  • Support to connect startups and create synergies (improve community wellbeing);

  • Open education: skills for furloughed /unemployed hospitality professionals due to the pandemic;

  • Improve the industry professional’s visibility and recognition.

ESHClub IMPACT - Sustainability (SDG)

  • UN Partners to support human rights survey for the 75th anniversary ( )

  • Open online education on sustainability for hospitality professionals & certification;

  • Work to support initiatives such as tourism reset/future of tourism;

  • Create awareness through social media about social & environmental issues in hospitality.

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