The Tourism Section Conference launched a new approach for an increasingly ambitious part of the ITF family. The work programme we approved and the discussions in the room both point to one key idea: the tourism industry rests on a service supply chain which crosses boundaries between sectors, transport modes and countries. That means that unions need to work together, building knowledge and union power, so that they can leverage strength in specific parts of the industry for the benefit of all tourism workers.

Within the ITF this requires coordination between the tourism aspects of other sections’ work, such as sea cruises, bus and coach, river cruises, airlines and others. The hub approach can also help build membership density in key locations. We must also maintain and strengthen our joint actions with our fellow unions and global union federations who represent other workers in tourism such as hotel and catering staff. 

Tourism is a growing sector that creates ever more jobs, employing 1 in 10 workers. This growth means that many workers are joining the tourism workforce. Unions must act to reach, educate and organise them. This is especially important considering that tourism employs an above-average number of women and young workers, and that workers in the sector face precarious contracts, sexual harassment or even human trafficking.

Remarks from delegates highlighted the many trends affecting workers in tourism. Globalisation means that tourism is ever more accessible, and a growing middle class in the global south brings greater demand. However, the vulnerability of the sector to sudden events has been seen after natural disasters in Japan and terrorist attacks in some European countries. Climate change and sea level rises are a threat to many regions with high concentrations of tourism employment. The tourism sector is increasingly dominated by massive vertically-integrated firms. “In some cases, cruise ship companies now own entire islands,” Eoin Coates, Assistant Secretary for Tourism Services, reminded us. 

Josef Maurer, from the European Transport Workers’ Federation, presented work in Europe. He highlighted the ETF’s cooperation with other sectoral union federations and the need to defend collective bargaining agreements in the face of the digital and sharing economy.

Finally the conference thanked the outgoing chair, Tsuneyaso Goto (Service-Rengo, Japan), and elected David Massiah (AWU, Antigua and Barbuda) as the section chair for the next inter-congress period.