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The digital skills divide: evidence from the European tourism industry

This research paper examines the digital skills gaps in the tourism and hospitality industry in Europe. The study utilizes a mixed methods research approach, incorporating both surveys and interviews. The sample consists of 1,668 respondents, including 1,404 survey participants and 264 interviewees, representing five sectors within the tourism industry: accommodation establishments, tour operators and travel agents, food and beverage, visitor attractions, and destination management organizations. The research was conducted in eight European countries: the United Kingdom, Italy, Ireland, Spain, Hungary, Germany, the Netherlands, and Bulgaria. The findings highlight the most crucial digital skills required for the future, as reported by the respondents. These skills include online marketing and communication, social media, MS Office, operating systems use, and online review monitoring. The study identifies the largest gaps between the current and future skill levels for artificial intelligence and robotics skills, as well as augmented reality and virtual reality skills. However, these skills, along with computer programming, were considered the least important digital skills for tourism and hospitality employees in the future. Furthermore, the research identifies three clusters based on the reported gaps between the current skill levels and future skill needs. The study also examines the influence of country of registration, sector, and organization size on the digital skills gaps and proficiency levels reported by the respondents. The research contributes to the existing knowledge by addressing the digital skills gaps in the tourism and hospitality industry through mixed methods research. The paper provides valuable insights into the digital skills requirements for managers and executives across various sectors and countries in Europe. The managerial implications highlight the need for digital fluency, self-learning capacities, e-business skills, AI and VR knowledge, experience creation skills, and profession-specific knowledge in the future workforce of the tourism industry. The findings also raise challenges for tourism education in adapting to the increasing demand for technical skills while maintaining a focus on the socio-economic, managerial, and human aspects of the industry. Overall, this research enhances the understanding of the digital skills landscape in the tourism and hospitality sector and offers practical implications for workforce development and education in the field.