An inclusive Response for Vulnerable Groups

COVID-19: Sociocultural Impact

Just as the tourism sector is affected more than others by the current COVID-19 pandemic, vulnerable groups within the sector are among the hardest hit.



In its intent to provide guidance to our sector, the UN Tourism Ethics, Culture and Social Responsibility Department is issuing a series of thematic inclusive recovery guides reflecting the sociocultural impacts of COVID-19

These guides result from collaboration with our relevant partners to help governments and businesses design measures geared towards an inclusive response to COVID-19. They build up on provisional recommendations issued past spring (see below), which focused on risks of exclusion of different population groups, whose livelihoods are interconnected with the tourism sector.

Launched on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, 3 December 2020, the first UN Tourism Inclusive Recovery Guide - Sociocultural Impacts of COVID-19, Issue I: Persons with Disabilities, outlines steps that the tourism sector should take to build back better, becoming more accessible and more competitive. (Also available in Spanish)


In February 2021, UN Tourism launched the UN Tourism Inclusive Recovery Guide - Sociocultural Impacts of COVID-19, Issue II: Cultural Tourism. UN Tourism invited UNESCO to contribute to this second set of guidelines relating to the sociocultural impacts of COVID-19. The publication draws on the insights of the two UN agencies to analyse the impact of the pandemic and suggests solutions for cultural tourism to prosper again, under the principles of shared responsibilities and greater inclusion.


On the occasion of the International Women's Day, UN Tourism released on 8 March 2021, the UN Tourism Inclusive Recovery Guide - Sociocultural Impacts of COVID-19, Issue III: Women in Tourism. UN Tourism collaborated with UN Women to produce guidelines aimed at achieving gender equality and providing equal opportunities to women at all levels in the tourism sector. Both agencies call for more inclusive and resilient societies and economies in order to be able to better respond to adverse economic shocks affecting women.


UN Tourism, the World Indigenous Tourism Alliance (WINTA) and OECD have joined efforts to contribute to the UN Tourism Inclusive Recovery Guide, Issue 4: Indigenous Communities, the fourth set of guidelines relating to the socio-cultural impacts of COVID-19 on tourism.  This set of guidelines has been developed by the UN Tourism Ethics, Culture and Social Responsibility Department, in collaboration with Indigenous leaders, while also benefitting from inputs provided by OECD. The recommendations suggest specific solutions for the socio-economic empowerment of Indigenous Peoples through tourism. These include transitioning from “assisting” towards “enabling” indigenous entrepreneurship, strengthening skills and building capacities, fostering digital literacy for running indigenous tourism businesses, and, acknowledging the relevance of indigenous peoples and their cultural capital by destination authorities and the tourism sector, at large. (Also available in Spanish)

These Guides, as well as other recommendations to follow in this series, will be periodically revised in the course of 2021, as the health situation evolves. 




The UN Tourism Framework Convention on Tourism Ethics call upon its signatories to promote the rights of the most vulnerable groups such as women, youth, indigenous people and persons with disabilities, among others.

“Tourism activities should respect the equality of men and women; they should promote human rights and, more particularly, the individual rights of the most vulnerable groups, notably children, the elderly, persons with disabilities, ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples.”

UN Tourism Framework Convention on Tourism Ethics
Article 5, paragraph 2


In May 2020, UN Tourism has developed the following measures in collaboration with relevant international, national and local partners to help governments, destinations and companies craft an inclusive response to COVID-19, ensuring that no one is left behind.


As a sector with a majority female workforce worldwide (54%) and most women in low-skilled or informal work, women will feel the economic shock to tourism caused by COVID-19 quickest and hardest. These women must be included in immediate mitigation measures.

Looking ahead, the recovery of the sector presents a golden opportunity for tourism to build on the huge strides forward it has taken in women’s empowerment by reducing barriers to entry, elevating female employees recovery efforts, increasing protections and reporting how the effects of the pandemic are affecting men and women in tourism differently.


Aid for informal workers: Women’s employment in tourism is dominated by informality. The instability and lack of legal protections inherent to informal employment therefore leave women particularly exposed to the sharp downturn in tourism trade and receipts. Stimulus and aid packages must ensure that people in informal employment are eligible for relief and support measures to avoid adversely disadvantaging the female workforce.

WomanGender balance at the top tables of crisis management: The tourism sectors workforce and public authorities are characterised by a lack of women in positions of power. To ensure that women are an integral and equal part of the recovery, they must be an equal part of shaping the sector’s response. Female inclusion in decision-making processes and visibility in communicating the response are therefore vital to ensuring a gender-inclusive sector-wide response.

Access to healthcare: Many women in tourism form part of the vulnerable groups such as migrants or seasonal workers and have precarious working conditions which impede their access to healthcare. Governments must ensure women in tourism’s access to affordable, quality and equitable healthcare, including sexual and reproductive healthcare, in particular for the most vulnerable groups.

Equal access to information: The internet user gender gap stands at 17% worldwide, with many women’s access limited due to illiteracy, financial or domestic concerns. Information and material on COVID-19 and response efforts should be disseminated through a varied spectrum of communication channels with a focus on formulating messages targeted at mothers and youth.


Protection against gender-based violence: Sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based violence (GBV) are prevalent in the tourism sector. The increased visibility of GBV that has arisen as a result of COVID-19 must be met with increased legal protections not only for cases of domestic violence but also other forms of GBV that will make tourism a safer-space for women workers as the sector recovers.

GuiaFlexible working conditions: Three quarters of all unpaid care work is performed by women. As COVID-19 increases the need for unpaid care with higher illness rates and many dependents at home, it is also forcing businesses to offer more flexible working conditions and increase teleworking capacities. The continuation of flexible working conditions in the recovery would remove barriers for women wanting to get back to or begin work in tourism.

Boost entrepreneurship and career progression: Tourism’s economic recovery will provide a unique opportunity to have more women in leadership positions. Governments should reduce legal barriers and increase access to finance to boost women’s entrepreneurship. Meanwhile in businesses more women should be designing and implementing recovery programmes which offer opportunities for career progression as the recovery gathers pace.

Sex-disaggregated data: Understanding and analysing women’s participation in tourism is made difficult by the lack of tourism data that is disaggregated by sex, also hampering the sector’s ability to formulate a gender-inclusive response. Member States and tourism businesses should prioritize disaggregation by sex in their data collection and increase reporting to give policymakers, CEOs and entrepreneurs the tools they need to ensure that recovery measures boost women’s empowerment.

UN Tourism has developed these measures in collaboration with international, national and local partners to help governments and businesses craft an inclusive response to COVID-19, ensuring that no one is left behind. 

If you would like to share how women in tourism are responding to the COVID-19, please send us an email at This information can help the sector and other women in tourism face the impacts of COVID-19. #TravelTomorrow; #GenderEquality

The content is updated regularly with new information and resources.
For further information about gender and tourism, please click here
For further information about tourism and COVID-19, please click here
For further information about gender equality and COVID-19, please click here
To consult the statement by Mr. Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary General of UN Tourism on Tourism and COVID-19, please click here
To consult the statement by the Executive Director of UN Women on COVID-19, please click here

People with disabilities and seniors are heavily affected by COVID19. They are often excluded from communications on public health and travel updates, decision-making and information on accessibility of basic services.

Their health conditions and social isolation can expose them to serious risks. The pandemic outbreak, coinciding with the offseason in many destinations, also caught many people with access requirements travelling or “about to board”.

The recovery should include accessibility as a central pillar in measures to improve destinations’ offer and competitiveness, contributing to inclusive environments, services and employment.


Tourism DisabilitiesRepatriation without delays: Accessibility measures are important during repatriation, so everyone can benefit (accessible transport, routes, information, communication). Compromising accessibility entails safety risks and unwanted injuries.

Courtesy accessible accommodation: The provided assistance should observe specific access needs. People with disabilities often travel accompanied, which implies extending the assistance to companions or “essential staff”.

Peer-support among DMOs and DPOs: Destinations should engage disabled peoples’ organizations (DPOs) to support immediate actions. They are mediators in understanding specific needs, existent barriers and the ways to bridge them.

Accessible Communication and Technology: New technologies can make products and services user-friendly. Making technology and communication channels disability-friendly, during and post-COVID19, will benefit all.

“Tourism for All” more than ever in 2020: “Tourism for All” is to be encouraged throughout the year, especially in the forthcoming 2020 high season. People with access needs and seniors can contribute to tourism recovery.


“Tourism for All” policies: People with disabilities and seniors represent an immense market opportunity, notably in off/mid - season periods. Destinations should harness this potential and make accessibility a reality.

BrailleImproved customer service: Tourism professionals usually lack basic training on attending to customers with disabilities. A quality service implies employees anticipating their clients’ needs, regardless of customers’ abilities.

Equal opportunities in employment: The employment policies in tourism companies should be driven by equal opportunity principles. Proper job adaptations and skill matching enable everyone to access the labour market in our sector.

Use of innovative technology: Technologies should be a lever in making travel easier and more inclusive for all. Alternative formats. i.e. sign language, easy reading, subtitles, audio descriptions and Braille, should be incorporated by developers.

Application of international standards: Tourists need the same accessibility conditions, wherever they travel. Applying international standards can ensure the same level of accessibility for tourism products and services worldwide.

UNWTO has developed these measures in collaboration with international, national and local partners to help governments and businesses craft an inclusive response to COVID-19, ensuring that no one is left behind. 

If you would like to share how tourism and people with disabilities are responding to the COVID-19, please send us an email at information can help the tourism sector and other Indigenous communities to face the impacts of COVID-19. #TravelTomorrow; #TourismForAll 

The content is updated regularly with new resources.
For further information about tourism and COVID-19, please click here
For further information about accessible tourism, please click here
For further information about people with disabilities and COVID-19, please click here
To consult the statement by Mr. Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary General of UNWTO on Tourism and COVID-19, please click here

UNWTO Recommendations on Accessible Tourism for All
UNWTO Recommendations on Accessible Information in Tourism
World Tourism Day 2016: Tourism for All - promoting universal accessibility
Accessible Tourism for All: An opportunity within our Reach
Manual on Accessible Tourism for All: Principles, Tools and Good Practices
Manual on Accessible Tourism for All: Public-Private Partnerships and Good Practices
Highlights of the 1st UNWTO Conference on Accessible Tourism in Europe

You can also visit the websites of some of our partners and international organizations:
ONCE Foundation
European Network for Accessible Tourism
International Standardization Organization (ISO)
UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs: Disability and UN Convention
European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights

The cultural expressions of Indigenous peoples are among the most distinctive features of tourism destinations, making them key players within the sector. Despite their global relevance, Indigenous peoples have historically been among the most marginalized of population groups. As the pandemic impacts heavily on the tourism industry, those disadvantaged Indigenous communities will be affected first and most severely.

The recovery process gives the sector a chance to learn and uphold the commitments of the international community, particularly the call for the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous people in all decisions that affect their lives and livelihoods. In this reconstruction, inclusive management systems shall become the new normal in tourism.


RCOVID-19 and Indigenous Communitiesespect communities’ own tourism measures: In the face of the current crisis, Indigenous communities’ decisions on self-isolation or exposure to tourism must be respected in line with the communities’ views and relationship with nature.

Use established communication channels: Access to relevant information may be compromised by linguistic and physical obstacles, or scarce external contacts. Previous work with the communities, allows some tourism operators to facilitate information flow between community focal points and crisis-management entities.

Use tourism’s infrastructure for humanitarian aid: Tourism’s infrastructure and equipment can enable communities to benefit from mitigation initiatives. The solidarity can create bonds and better understanding between tourism operators and indigenous communities.

Include cultural mediators in the response: Cultural differences and perceptions may compromise the effectiveness of the recovery measures. Cultural mediators, such as NGO's, enable mutual agreements and effective response actions.


Inclusive tourism recovery plans: The active engagement of Indigenous communities in defining their interaction with tourism reduces the negative impacts on their well-being. The close relationship between Indigenous populations and the natural world, as well as the transmission of their cultures, must be integrated into any tourism recovery plan.

Indigenous peoplesDiversify economic, social and cultural retributions: Tourism often represents the only source of income for Indigenous peoples and their communities. Developing additional services and products, especially in relation to agriculture and traditional land uses, supports their economic diversification. Retribution to the communities should also include social and cultural benefits.

Use partnerships to prioritize Indigenous tourism: Indigenous tourism operators should speak as a single voice to better mobilize support. Private and public partnerships, particularly those involving companies specialized in responsible tourism with Indigenous communities, can prioritize indigenous peoples in the recovery process.

Capacity building: The COVID-19 crisis has raised the need to build more resilient communities. Increased human capacities would reinforce hygiene standards, crisis management, communication and tourism management skills. Training should enable access to online markets, new consumption channels and accelerating their economic recovery.

UNWTO has developed these measures in collaboration with international, national and local partners and aim to help governments and businesses craft an inclusive response to COVID-19, ensuring that no one is left behind.

If you would like to share how tourism and Indigenous communities are responding to the COVID-19, please send us an email at This information can help the tourism sector and other Indigenous communities to face the impacts of COVID-19. #TravelTomorrow; #WeAreIndigenous 

The content is updated regularly with new resources. 
For further information about culture and tourism, please click here
For further information about tourism and COVID-19, please click here
For further information about Indigenous peoples and COVID-19, please click here
To consult the statement by Mr. Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary General of UNWTO on Tourism and COVID-19, please click here
To consult the statement by the Chair of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues on COVID-19, please click here

For the definition and implementation of responsible tourism practices in and with Indigenous communities, please consult the UNWTO Recommendations on Sustainable Development of Indigenous Tourism

Youth and post-COVID-19 tourism recovery

The COVID-19 pandemic has put youth in the spotlight, particularly given the potential social and economic consequences for this demographic, both in emerging and mature destinations. As a sector, tourism is labour-intensive, and young people are a dominant part of the workforce. At the same time, young travellers are a big market and how they travel has long shaped the sector and will have a considerable influence on its future.

The current standstill provides an unexpected opportunity to rethink tourism and to make it more inclusive. In particular, it offers the chance to use tourism to empower the most vulnerable youth, often found amongst women, indigenous people, persons with disability, migrants and the LGBT community. Alongside young people living in rural areas and developing regions that are economically reliant on tourism, they are among the worst affected by the global tourism shutdown. As such, they need the most support.  

Our sector needs to inspire youth to actively engage in shaping tourism’s recovery. Millennials’ creativity and their eagerness to innovate and acquire hands-on experience can help drive employment and create opportunities. In turn, this can alleviate poverty and curb migration, while millennials are also well-placed to empower their peers and contribute to making tourism more diverse, both in terms of demographics and the products on offer. Empowered youth, whether in leadership positions or running small-scale family businesses, nurture a sense of pride and belonging to their communities.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development identifies youth as critical agents of change. Every one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is reliant on youth action. This challenging period is the moment for young people to do what they do best: self -organise, self-mobilize and pull their resources together for actions of global solidarity.

Through these COVID-19-specific actions, the tourism sector can play a key role in advancing youth empowerment:

Foster youth leadership in redefining post-COVID19-tourism 
Bringing young voices to the forefront of citizens’ platforms is crucial if we are to hear new and innovative ideas. Without this, the global youth cannot be expected to be the torchbearers of the sector’s vision for post-COVID-19 recovery. Such meaningful engagement is equally important in remote rural areas and urban centers. In both, local platforms are already debating what the ‘new normal’ will look like. The post-pandemic leaders will influence their peers to commit to societal changes, untapping youth’s immense potential. Solidarity is set to increase as different platforms spark calls for social activism, volunteerism and the reshaping of economies, showcasing youthful resilience and civic responsibility. Young bloggers, “influencers” and artists can play an important role in communicating societal changes.

Stimulate youth entrepreneurship and youth-led research
Making youth the drivers of ethically-minded tourismEntrepreneurship offers financial independence for youth and allows them to shift from job seekers to job creators. The use of new technologies and bridging the digital divide will be crucial for boosting tourism start-ups and SMEs. Young entrepreneurs in developing countries will need post-COVID-19 assistance to access the technology, e-learning and stimulus packages necessary to compete in the global market. Retaining skilled IT workers will be a priority in other destinations, as will ensuring youth are able to access digital financing and banking in order to obtain seed funding or scale up their businesses. The use of big data to better understand tourism flows will help promote less visited areas, craft new experiences and monitor recovery impacts. Skilful young professionals, destinations and institutions can work together to collect key market data and put forward creative, youth-driven solutions.

Engage young travellers as advocates of responsible tourism
Governments, the private sector and youth associations should agree on subsidy schemes and investments to help destinations connect with younger audiences. These travellers spend locally, travel off-the beaten-track and travel during the off- and mid-seasons, often enjoying longer stays.  A digital dialogue and user-generated content will make destinations youth-friendly by speaking to millennials in their language. Young travellers’ quests for new experiences with local communities or for unique and authentic adventures contribute to economic and cultural revival and environmental protection.  These travellers should advocate for mindful and more responsible tourism through social media, insisting on mutual respect and the conservation of resources for future generations. Young travellers can also advocate for minimum footprint, for fair trade and for the protection of endangered species.

Adopt youth-focused CSR strategies
The private sector is able to engage young travelers in rural and remote areas or marginalized urban settings.  Through their CSR agendas, tourism businesses can improve the livelihoods of youth facing social exclusion after COVID-19. Measuring CSR impact through decent youth employment and entrepreneurship records will help companies readjust their strategies and make societies more resilient. Tourism companies can also help entrepreneurs create youth-to-youth networks and assist them with pitching to investors.  At the same time, creating decent work for youth, in contrast to precarious employment, needs to be a priority across the sector. 

Redefine skills for youth to improve rural tourism
Rural development brings opportunities for youth empowerment. With skills matched to market needs and with updated qualifications, young people can promote responsible tourism in their own communities. Up-to-date skills will also help them retain their communities’ relationship with their land, catering not only to the market needs but also to the survival of rural traditions. In communities boasting a wealth of cultural assets, youth and elders can jointly establish the limits of tourism development and determine private vs. public spaces.

Make young people the frontrunners of indigenous development 
The economic slowdown is a chance to learn about the priorities of indigenous youth , including their relation to the environment and their culture. Incentivizing young people to pursue a career in tourism would provide jobs and discourage economic migration. Young indigenous people relating their experiences of both traditional and contemporary lifestyles, and their insights into indigenous culture, can build bridges and enrich the tourism experience. Some may decide not to focus on tourism but to combine it with other activities, including awareness-raising on community’s health and wellbeing, arts and craftsmanship, medicinal herbs or traditional crops farming. The role of youth will also be key in disseminating information about the virus in indigenous languages.

Advance young women’s livelihoods through tourism Youth and post-COVID-19 tourism recovery
Advancing decent work, entrepreneurship and managerial leadership for young women will create more and better jobs, challenge gender stereotypes and improve their economic independence. Converting informal employment into formal employment and recognizing the time spent on caregiving is another challenge. All these measures will not just benefit women but will also benefit their communities and the whole of the tourism sector. Women’s economic engagement brings competitiveness and new skills to the supply chain. Achieving work-life balance will be essential since many young women have dependants or need to combine work with academic studies.

Include youth with disabilities in the tourism work force
Persons with disabilities, notably young people, face serious disadvantages when trying to access jobs in travel and tourism.  Businesses can address this by redesigning jobs and redefining necessary skills. This way they can employ people with disabilities beyond just offering apprenticeships which do not lead to professional growth or steady employment. Having young staff with disabilities will also reflect the readiness of tourism establishments to embrace customers with disabilities, making the sector more open and inclusive to all.

Make tourism the force of good for children and youth
Our sector cannot deny that tourism infrastructure is at times misused for the illegal purposes of trafficking, labour exploitation and even prostitution involving minors. Destinations and tourism professionals want tourism to be a force of good and should therefore report any suspicious and illicit activity to the authorities. Post-COVID-19 tourism should support vocational training and tailored mentorships, reducing adolescents’ vulnerability and enhancing their social inclusion. Former victims can become new leaders and such roles can be a life-changer for them if they are given the opportunity.

Provide young migrants with new opportunities
Young migrants are often the backbone of their family’s financial wellbeing but remittances from tourism and hospitality jobs have plummeted.  The sector’s standstill will cause new migrant flows, with South-North economic migration likely to intensify. The private sector and social agents should identify opportunities within the hospitality and catering services, as some , lower qualified positions require relatively little on-site learning and  so ease labour inclusion. National employment will undoubtedly be prioritized, but no one should be left behind at this turning point. 

Useful links

In partnership with the ONCE Foundation of Spain and the European Network for Accessible Tourism (ENAT), UNWTO has prepared a new set of recommendations to ensure accessibility for all and inclusivity, as the responsible restart of tourism gets underway, in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic. The “Reopening Tourism for Travellers with Disabilities” guide notes the opportunities available to destinations and companies that take practical steps to accommodate the specific needs of persons with disabilities, those with specific access requirements and seniors, in particular.