SDG 10: Reducing Inequality | The Agenda 2030 and Tourism
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    || The 2030 Agenda and Tourism > SDG 10: Reducing Inequality


    By Christina Kamp

    2023 marks the mid-term of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals which were adopted by United Nations member states in 2015 and are to be achieved by 2030. On this occasion, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warns that “Halfway to the deadline for the 2030 Agenda, we are leaving more than half the world behind”. There have been setbacks also with regard to SDG 10, the goal of reducing inequality. ”Inequalities are at a record high, and growing”, Guterres said.

    Inequality in the distribution of resources and opportunities can be found in different spheres of life. The dimension most commonly measured is inequality in income. SDG 10 calls for a significant reduction of inequality both within countries and between countries. It is one of the most synergistic SDGs, as inequality has serious consequences for the achievement of many other SDGs. Unequal societies tend to be less environmentally sustainable and may experience higher social tensions.


    Income inequality between countries

    Over the past twenty years, global inequalities between countries have generally declined. However, the pandemic has caused the largest rise in between-country inequality in three decades. In some countries with low income, especially some island developing states, tourism from richer countries has contributed to an upward trend. However, the more a country relied on tourism, the more vulnerable it was during the pandemic when tourism almost came to a standstill.

    Post-Covid recovery has been uneven. High-income countries with generally higher rates of vaccination and effective relief measures found it easier to recover. In many poor countries, a slow recovery is now compounded by increasing debt burdens. In addition, the global impacts of the war in Ukraine and price increases for energy and food affect different countries and different groups differently.

    According to data by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), Europe recorded 585 million international tourist arrivals in 2022, amounting to nearly 80 percent of pre-pandemic levels (-21percent over 2019). The Middle East enjoyed the strongest relative increase across regions in 2022 with arrivals climbing to 83 percent of pre-pandemic numbers (-17 percent versus 2019). Africa and the Americas both recovered about 65 percent of its pre-pandemic visitors, while Asia and the Pacific reached only 23 percent, due to stronger pandemic-related restrictions. By subregions, Western Europe (87 percent) and the Caribbean (84 percent) came closest to their pre-pandemic levels.

    Potentially, tourism would contribute more to reducing inequality between countries if more segments of the touristic value chain were in national and local hands, if leakages were lower and multiplier effects higher. For tourism to reduce inequality between countries, these factors need to be addressed through policy interventions in a target manner. Individual players in the tourism sector contribute at the micro-economic level. As many low-income countries are in fragile situations, facing high inflation and debt distress, there is a danger that inequality between countries will widen further.

    Income inequality within countries

    According to the “Sustainable Development Goals Report 2023”, post-2019 data on inequality are still sparse and inconclusive. However, emerging evidence indicates that inequality within countries may have worsened as a result of the pandemic, with surveys in 2021 showing that poorer households lost incomes and jobs at slightly higher rates than richer households. Before the COVID-19 crisis, the trend had been positive, with incomes of the poorest people rising faster than national averages. Now the impacts of the pandemic and uneven recoveries threaten to reverse the trend.

    Economic disparities increased and tourism was one of the sectors most affected during the pandemic. The impacts were greatest on small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and on the many women and temporary workers they employ. During lockdowns, migrants who faced more restrictions and had less access to relief measures were among the most affected workers.

    As tourism is a sector that has spatial distribution effects, the benefits during good times turned into disadvantages during the Covid-19 crisis, badly affecting tourist destinations. Many service industries such as tourism and restaurants have a high proportion of low-paid workers. These workers and many others in the informal sector have little cover from social protection. Once out of jobs, they were forced to leave the tourism sector which is facing difficulties in attracting new staff now that tourists are coming back.

    Inequalities in access to travel and immigration processes

    According to the United Nations' “Sustainable Development Goals Report 2022”, "The pandemic has also exacerbated structural and systemic discrimination". Roughly one in five people have experienced discrimination because of their ethnicity, age, gender, disability, religion or sexual orientation.

    In travel and tourism, persistent inequalities remain in access to travel. The international arrivals counted by the World Tourism Organization do not mean that these are the numbers of people who actually travel internationally. Many of those who do are repeat travellers who cross international borders more than once a year, while the large majority of the world’s population does not travel, or does not travel internationally. Crossing borders often requires a "good passport" that facilitates immigration, discriminating against people of less fortunate nationalities – often from low-income countries – who have to undergo tedious, bureaucratic and expensive visa application processes if they want to travel abroad.

    Ways forward

    According to the “Sustainable Development Goals Report 2023”, reducing both within- and between-country inequality requires equitable resource distribution, investing in education and skills development, implementing social protection measures, combating discrimination, supporting marginalized groups and fostering international cooperation for fair trade and financial systems. Many of these key areas of action are highly relevant to the tourism sector, opening up major opportunities for tourism players to help reduce inequality through targeted measures.

    To reduce inequality, the concept of "inclusive growth" – economic development coupled with equal opportunities – is frequently advocated. It entails the need to create employment opportunities specifically for disadvantaged and marginalised individuals and groups. While to some degree, discrimination is entrenched and systemic, a good fraction of it can be overcome through pro-active interventions at the business level – provided that businesses are aware of the need for change and are willing to do things differently.

    Haven, a social enterprise in Siem Reap, Cambodia, provides an example of how this can be done. As a restaurant set up for training purposes, Haven prepares socially disadvantaged young people for the labour market. With a solid 16-month vocational training, it enables young adults who grew up as orphans to start their careers as qualified service or kitchen staff in the hospitality sector.

    Relying on strengths, ensuring market access

    For the non-governmental organisations Sasane in Nepal and !Khwa ttu in South Africa, too, training is the key to the much-needed career opportunities for people who would otherwise hardly get a chance, because of their fate, adverse circumstances beyond their control, or as members of an indigenous group. The NGOs specifically focus on their trainees’ strengths. As survivors of human trafficking, the women working with Sasane have been through terrible ordeals. However, they are very familiar with the region where they grew up and as tour guides they are well equipped to share the culture and nature of their mountain villages. The indigenous San working with !Khwa ttu use their skills and knowledge of their cultural heritage to design the products and services they want to offer to tourists.

    In India, the social enterprise Open Eyes works with the NAB India Centre for Blind Women & Disability Studies, which trains blind women as massage therapists, relying on their well-developed sense of touch. As a tourism company, Open Eyes secures placements for these qualified women with tourism providers, thus improving their market access and raising their income. Open Eyes also cooperates with the Chhanv Foundation, an NGO working for the rehabilitation of acid attack survivors. The Chhanv Foundation runs "Hangout Cafés" in Lucknow and Agra, which also provide space to raise awareness of their "Stop Acid Attacks" campaign. In Agra, tourists mainly come to admire the beauty of the Taj Mahal. When visiting the café on a Solidarity Action Tour organised by Open Eyes, they also get confronted with the ugly reality of violence against women in Indian society.

    Raising awareness

    Survivors of acid attacks often suffer from social exclusion. The sluggish judiciary and lack of actual punishment of the offenders prevent many women from taking action against the perpetrators and from raising their voices in public. Open Eyes calls their café a "space of hope and self-improvement". "In the programme, these women are presented as strong survivors and not as victims, which is also how the women see themselves," expert Dietmar Quist wrote in his award rationale for the TO DO Award Socially Responsible Tourism which Open Eyes received in 2019 from the Institute for Tourism and Development.

    Open Eyes makes use of the opportunities offered by tourism as an interface to build contact between tourists and people who successfully assert their legitimate claim to social participation against all odds. The guests not only ensure employment and income for marginalised people, but will also find that touristic programmes can raise their awareness of social issues. They do not just receive a simple service, but also learn a lot about problems and solutions in the society they visit. And what's more: Like the companies, they, too, become part of the solution.

    Turning the tide

    However, to turn the tide and get the world "back on track" with regard to SDG 10, much more effort is needed, also in tourism. Governments must ensure the protection of vulnerable and marginalised groups through adequate policies and legislation. For example, this includes social security for workers in both the formal and informal sector, and progressive tax systems that adequately tax profitable tourism enterprises and make government revenues available for the benefit of disadvantaged groups of the population, including those who might suffer from the impacts of tourism. Governments need to introduce adequate policy frameworks to ensure companies’ due diligence related to possible adverse effects of their business activities.

    NGOs and social enterprises provide good examples of how to facilitate social participation in tourism. However, in order to achieve a broader reduction of social inequality, such initiatives need to be scaled up, replicated and used as inspiration. Many more initiatives of this kind are needed in all sub-sectors of tourism. This also applies to companies that have so far not considered promoting inclusiveness and social change in line with the 2030 Agenda to be one of their main tasks. Some companies are already taking steps in terms of corporate social responsibility (CSR). They, too, could and should significantly strengthen their commitment to the common good, making social impact an integral part of their business models and contributing to SDG 10 on a larger scale.