The Slovenia Times

Tourism panel finds staff vital for sector's development

Bled Strategic Forum
Bled Strategic Forum panel entitled The Knowledge Society and the Future Tourism Professions. Photo: Boštjan Podlogar/STA
The tourism sector is grappling with multiple challenges, and addressing them effectively will rely heavily on tourism workers, who are hard to come by, speakers at the tourism panel at the Bled Strategic Forum said. The panellists also called for accelerated digitisation to allow the industry to grow.

Opening the discussion on 29 August, Slovenian Tourist Board (STO) director Maja Pak painted a picture of the current state of affairs. "Hotels are severely understaffed, restaurants are closed on certain days, and the best tourist guides are booked well in advance. The question arises - where have they all gone, what have we done wrong?"

While the Covid-19 pandemic worsened conditions, Pak noted that labour shortages are not a new issue. "However, the situation has never been as acute," she said. Some of the root causes she identified are changing demographics, an ageing workforce, limitations on hiring foreign workers, unmet demands for better wages and more flexible working hours.

"The tourism industry has become a sector where employees often look for better opportunities in other fields," she told the panel debate entitled The Knowledge Society and the Future Tourism Professions.

The pandemic-induced chaos and the backdrop of climate change have ushered in Generation Z into the labour market, Pak said.

"Studies suggest that by 2030, Gen Z and millennials will make up two-thirds of the workforce," she explained, noting that the industry will not only be influenced by their digital skills but also by the values of these generations. Pak also stressed the need to consider those above the age of 50.

State Secretary at the Slovenian Economy Ministry of Economic Development, Tourism and Sport Matevž Frangež also highlighted the vital role of individuals in tourism. He described working in tourism as "one of the most rewarding missions one can imagine".

While speaking of the national strategy aimed at increasing the industry's added value, Frangež also noted the sector had faced devastating floods this month. Still, the industry has seen record numbers with 3.5 million tourist arrivals and 2.9 million overnight stays.

Alessandra Priante, director of the Regional Department for Europe at the World Tourism Organisation, stressed Slovenia remained a safe destination for tourists post-floods.

Highlighting the importance of continuity in the tourism sector, Priante also addressed the issue of personnel and suggested that it is foremost communication that needs to be improved.

Development in tourism must occur hand-in-hand with local communities, Priante added. She illustrated the situation in Italy, where tourists expect romantic experiences during their city visits, but often discover that the local population has vanished. She commended Slovenia in this aspect.

Dubravka Kalin, director general of the Tourism Directorate at the Ministry of Economic Development, acknowledged the challenges of working in tourism. "Being part of the tourism industry is like being a gladiator. It's demanding work, and you need to truly love the sector not just to survive, but to feel good about one's work."

The ministry is attempting to address labour shortages through various measures, including motivating young people to not just work short-term in tourism but to stay in the field.

The importance of education was stressed by Ulrika Björklund, executive director of the Swiss Education Group, and Danica Purg, founder and director of the IEDC - Bled School of Management.

Björklund noted the importance of balancing theoretical and practical knowledge and of sharing success stories, so that young people can understand the immense potential within the industry.

Purg also spoke of the need to help those working in tourism to become more innovative, creative, and equipped with digital skills.

Rodney Dunn, culinary expert and founder of The Agrarian Kitchen in Australia, highlighted that the challenges facing tourism are global, not exclusive to Europe or Australia.

Slovenian Minister of Digital Transformation Emilija Stojmenova Duh also touched on digitalisation. She said the ministry is focusing on securing adequate infrastructure that benefits tourism as well. "It's a challenge, as it's quite expensive to provide internet access to every mountain and valley," she said.

Marie Audren, director general of the European Hotel, Restaurant, Cafe, and Nightclub Association, echoed the theme of digitalisation, agreeing that while digitalisation can contribute to tourism development, it won't be a complete solution. Jobs won't disappear, but they will change, she said.


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