Future of tourism: Is India ready to supply quality talent?

Published: October 25, 2019 2:48 AM

If India is to become the third-largest tourism economy by 2028, the country must focus on offering opportunities that allow talent to work on new and innovative projects—with a promise of continued learning and growth.

What is needed is a holistic initiative that brings together the entire ecosystem in driving gender mainstreaming across levels.

By Rajesh Magow  

This year, for the first time in the history of India’s travel and tourism sector, we were named the host country for the official celebration of the World Tourism Day on September 27. Themed ‘Tourism and Jobs: A Better Future for All’, the honour is well-timed as the sector’s contributions to the country’s economy get recognised. Benefiting the larger ecosystem with its direct and indirect advantages, the sector today enjoys the status of being one of the key generators of employment in the country. In 2017-18, over 81.1 million Indians, accounting to 12.38% of the total workforce, were employed by the sector, and this number is expected to grow manifold in the coming years.

As tourism diversifies, it has opened new avenues for employment for the skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled talent across the length and breadth of the country. Currently, while a large percentage of the talent comes from the urban areas, there has been a definite increase in the number of talent from the rural areas joining the workforce. In parallel, as growth flows in from new sub-sectors such as alternate accommodations, experiences, intracity cabs and more, new offbeat jobs are being created every day—with many finding opportunities as wine connoisseurs in the vineyards of Nashik, adventure sports trainers in Leh and Ladakh, entertainers and performers at the cultural and music festivals in Rann of Kutch, among others. Some of these opportunities, up until the past few years, were unheard of—and if there were, they existed in meagre counts.

With a sea of employment opportunities on one side, the industry, unfortunately, faces a talent supply-and-demand mismatch, on the other side. And if we are to unleash the potential of the sector as a ‘job creator’, we must focus on creating a talent pool that meets the requirements of 40 million new jobs that will be created in the next five years (according to PHD Chamber Report, March 2019).

One of the major factors contributing to the growth of employment in the sector is rapid adoption of technology—which has resulted into an increase in the demand for tech-skilled talent. From programming, machine learning, data science, Internet of Things, robotics, security analysts, blockchain, middleware technology to design and user interface—new tech-centric jobs are now available for the 3.7 million tech-rich Indian workforce. While there is a definite promise of growth in the technology domain, the hard reality is that the tech-talent supply-and-demand gap remains wide. This gap prevails due to the magnitude of difference between theoretical and practical technology and domain knowledge, which, often, our educational institutions fail to offer our tech graduates. And this demands immediate correction in the curriculum—if we are to prepare our next-in-line talent for the jobs that shall become available in the next three to five years. What is also important is the need for instilling a culture that focuses on applied learning—moving away from the practice of rote learning. Futuristic technologies demand ‘practical knowledge of using intelligent tech applications and problem-solving capabilities’, which can only be imparted by introducing students to practical problems relevant to the industry.

On the other hand, as upgrades to technology stacks become more frequent, there is a quintessential need for employers to upskill their talent—through on-the-job training modules and access to global professional certifications (which are usually exorbitantly priced for an average salaried employee). Specific to the travel and tourism industry, upskilling talent on advanced technologies can train them to work in tandem and in harmony with intelligent tech solutions deployed at the company level. For instance, practical know-how of the functionalities of machine learning can help talent predict seasonal demand for services based on previous buying behaviours of travellers, develop pricing strategies through predictive models, and classifying and extending personalised services through deep learning applications, among others. Globally, travel companies have recognised the need for steadily moving towards upskilling their talent and are already moving in that direction—we must do so in India, too.

Another area that can help bridge the talent gap is by driving inclusivity within the sector in India. Globally, travel and tourism stands out with a strong representation of women than the labour market as whole. Whereas, in India, going by the numbers, only 12% of women are employed by the sector. A recent survey by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) indicates that countries which have witnessed consistent growth in travel and tourism, over the years, have also seen higher employment of female workers (vis-a-vis others) in the sector.

However, unfortunately, in India, despite the growth in the sector, we have shown up poorly in employing the women force (as against the global pattern). What is needed is a holistic initiative that brings together the entire ecosystem in driving gender mainstreaming across levels. Some of these measures could focus on improving access to professional training for mid-level jobs, promoting women entrepreneurship and equal access to start-up grants and more.

While the sector grapples with matching talent supply with the demand, there is another challenge that the industry faces today, i.e. retaining existing, skilled and trained talent. Globally, countries are fighting with high attrition in the travel and tourism sector, with many choosing to opt out of the sector within the first decade of their career. And if India is on its way to becoming the third-largest tourism economy by 2028, it’s time we focus on offering opportunities that allow talent to work on new and innovative projects—with a promise of continued learning and growth. It is an area that the country can definitely address, given the pace at which the sector is diversifying.

India’s travel and tourism industry is undergoing rapid transformation, and if we are to capitalise on the sector’s growth to stimulate job creation, we must invest in building an ecosystem that provides opportunities for specialised training and education, gender inclusivity, entrepreneurship—with a focus on helping talent succeed in the ever-evolving travel world.

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