The growth in tourism is leading to greater job insecurity in this sector

The SMARTDEST project, led by the URV, has studied the conditions of the workforce in the tourism sector in Barcelona to determine the social consequences of intensive tourism in cities

People who work in the tourism sector have significantly greater job insecurity than those in other sectors of the Barcelona economy. This is one of the findings of a study by the URV’s research group Territorial Analysis and Tourist Studies (GRATET), which has analysed the demographic characteristics, working conditions and residential trajectories of workers in the tourism sector in the capital of Catalonia. With Antonio Russo, a professor from the Department of Geography, in charge, the URV has led a European research consortium that has made eight case studies across the continent. The results of the research, which have been published in open access in the journal Tourism Geographies, also point to a tendency for working conditions to get steadily worse over time.

The SMARTDEST study focused on two reference periods: the first, between 2008 and 2013, analyses the consequences of the employment reforms resulting from the global financial crisis; the second, between 2014 and 2019, is a period of economic growth in the city of Barcelona. Since the beginning of the research, the tourism sector has not stopped growing and in recent years new pressures have been detected in the housing market which, in conjunction with the pressure exerted by tourism, have had an impact on the ability of some sectors of the population to remain in their habitual residence. The research team used data from the Social Security system on working life, working conditions – wages, temporary employment, contractual conditions, accumulation of jobs, etc. – and other demographic data. They also carried out a qualitative analysis through in-depth interviews with workers from the tourism sector, and representatives of social organizations, charities, neighbourhood associations and civic movements about their life stories and perceptions of the future.

The results of the study show that tourism workers in Barcelona have greater job insecurity than other sectors (9.2% versus 7.2). Low wages, high temporariness and job discontinuity have been associated with a greater likelihood of moving residence from within the city to outside. Proportionally, people working in tourism have been “expelled” from the city more than those of any other sector. It has also been detected that single-parent families are more likely to be displaced, as are those individuals who are older or who have recently become parents. In contrast, younger immigrant workers are more likely to respond to the increased pressure in the housing market by lowering their residential expectations so that they can live “closer to work”. The study also finds that, although long journeys to work are associated with a more difficult work-life balance, worse housing conditions generate insecurity and physical and mental stress. The researchers point out that “all of this can hinder emancipation and personal stability.”

The final stage of the project consists of a participatory process, the same in all case studies, in which the results of the research are shared with social, economic and political agents so that they can suggest solutions or ways to mitigate the social exclusion resulting from intensive tourism in cities. The so-called SMARTDEST CityLab in Barcelona will study the lack of data on residential exclusion and the role of tourism and temporary residences in this process. “The aim is to design scenarios for change and improve access to data on residential exclusion,” explains Antonio Russo. The results of this process will be presented at the final SMARTDEST conference, scheduled for September this year in Barcelona.

Bibliographical reference: Labour precarity in the visitor economy and decisions to move out. Riccardo Valente, Benito Zaragozí and Antonio Paolo Russo. Tourism Geographies. 24 Jan 2022. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/14616688.2023.2172603.

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