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Service sector re-orientation: transferring skills from the tourism sector

The tourism sector has recently entered onto the road to recovery following a devastating year whereby pandemic-related border closures and lockdown brought travel to a near halt. Indeed, while 2020 was “the worst year on record for the sector” and the first quarter of 2021 was still bad, with international arrivals dropping by 83% globally and by 78% in the MENA region compared to the same period the year before, experts believe that the prospects for the sector are slowly improving (UNWTO, 2021c). In the MENA region, two-thirds of experts interviewed by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) expected the rebound by the last quarter of 2021, with the remaining being more sceptical and pointing to 2022 (UNWTO, 2021c).

The economies of Morocco and Tunisia, two countries of particular interest to the present study, have for a long time heavily depended on the tourism sector. In the former, tourism contributed 12% to the country’s GDP and represented 12.4% of the total employment – when accounting for both direct and indirect jobs, over 2 million people were employed in the sector (WTTC, 2020; Moroccan Secretary of State for Tourism). As a result of the 92% decline in the number of foreign tourists that arrived in the country in 2020 compared to 2019 (Treasury and External Finance Directorate, Ministry of Economy, Finance and Administration Reform), the approximate number of jobs lost in the tourism sector exceeded 500,000 (DFTE, 2021).

In Tunisia, in turn, before the pandemic (in 2019), the travel and tourism sector contributed 13.9% to GDP and 10.8% of total employment (WTTC, 2020). In 2020, those numbers went down to 7.3% and 7.5%, respectively; travel and tourism GDP decreased by 52.1% (compared to 8.6% in the real economy) and 118,500 jobs in the sector were lost (WTTC, 2021). The exact number of persons employed in the sector is, however, difficult to estimate; while the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) assesses pre-pandemic direct employment at 234,000 and overall employment at 478,500 jobs, according to the National Institute of Statistics of Tunisia only about 158,000 direct jobs in the sector existed in 2019.


This report was written by Robert Lanquar, Aleksandra Teliszewska, Katarzyna Sidło.

The report was prepared for the European Union and the Committee of the Regions.


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