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Digital skills gaps in the Bulgarian tourism industry

This paper analyses policies and practices designed to support digital transformation in the tourism workforce in six OECD countries, namely Germany, Greece, Iceland, New Zealand, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Data for the project were gathered via a questionnaire survey, interviews with key informants and examination of various policy documents in 2021. Contrasting practice in relation to digital skills development is revealed. Significant deficiencies are evident in relation to the availability of high-quality data, evaluation, understanding, leadership, and infrastructure among the six countries. One of the most striking findings from this study is the poor quality of sector-specific national evidence available to tourism policymakers in several of the countries studied. Policy responses in five relied on broadly based tourism workforce data with any specific content on digital skills supply and demand coming from largely informal liaison or insight from trade or industry groupings, sometimes mediated through DMOs. Where policy responses on current workforce digital skills gaps were said by policy-leads to have been evidence-based, the supporting intelligence was found usually to be limited to largely anecdotal information, often from a small number of contributors. Public policy responses to digital transformation in tourism are not widespread, at least not in OECD countries. The quality of policy innovation in each of the targted countries remains constrained. Even among developed economies where tourism is a structurally important part of the economy, the actions undertaken generally lack cohesion and are commonly fragmented, not long established and often small in scale. Although details varied depending upon the individual political and economic circumstances and traditions of each country, there was a remarkable amount of similarity of key dimensions. Perhaps most conspicuous among these was the poor quality of national data on emerging skills needs commonly available to tourism policymakers. Deficiencies of data were compounded by weaknesses in how policies for digital transformation in tourism were conceived and implemented. Each country revealed an array of actors, often with conflicting agenda, intervening to influence business behaviour in a manner that lacked the coherence and integration advocated in the policymaking literature. Many of the policy responses, moreover, were not targeted specifically at tourism businesses, causing a particular impediment for skills adjustment support reaching tourism SMEs who were characteristically the most lagging in digitalisation uptake, understanding or capacity to transform. Ineffective institutional structures, fragmented funding regimes and poor infrastructure also collide to limit digital progress.