CULTOUR research shows the need for improving the intercultral competences of tourism staff


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The Business Foundation for Education hosted the second partner meeting of the European project Cultour, which took place in Sofia on April 14-15. The initiative is directed to teachers and trainers in tourism sector and aims to help overcome the skills gap and foster mobility in tourism through the recognition, validation and up-skilling of intercultural competences for tourism jobs.

Tourism is very important for the European economy, accounting for over 5% of EU GDP and employing an estimated 15,2 million persons. The high mobility of personnel, which is also a typical feature of tourism, provides diverse employment opportunities, as well as challenges, due to the lack of specific skills. Among them are the intercultural competencies, which are of particular importance for the employees, directly involved in customer service, but also for the effective communication of the employees within the organizations with growing cultural diversity.

Having in mind that the main part of the tourism staff has no specific education, it becomes evident that the recognition of knowledge and skills, obtained informally is quite necessary and would facilitate the training and employment opportunities abroad.

Cultour partner meeting in Sofia 140416

Cultour synergizes the efforts of partners organizations from France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Turkey and Bulgaria. The intercultural skills are of key importance in the six European countries, in which one in ten people is employed in tourism. In the first months of the project the partners have implemented a desktop and field research among tourism sector managers, trainers and employees, which aims to highlight the key challenges and needs related to intercultural competences.

Summary of main findings

Full report

The research shows that the lack of qualification is among the main challenges in tourism sector in the partners’ countries. This reflects on the quality of customer service, especially in the context of the efforts to diversify tourism offers in order to attract customers from new markets and niches. This requires from tourism staff to broaden their knowledge in dealing with clients from different cultures, which are currently developed from personal experience on the job.

There is a high demand for skilled staff in middle management and a lack of specialized staff for new/ emerging or rare jobs, such as gourmet and wine, golf, spa and wellness, tourism. But above this, there is a lack of qualified staff at all levels in the partners’ countries. The unfavorable working conditions – low wages, long working hours, vulnerable employment, and the lack of opportunity for training and career development lead to lack of motivation and outflow of trained staff.

The majority of the interviewees in the six countries have regular cross-cultural interaction with tourists, clients, colleagues and partners, who have different culture, and most of them share they have experienced situations, in which the lack of well-developed intercultural skills has led to miscommunication or embarrassment.

Above all, the employees in tourism need to improve their intercultural communication skills (foreign languages and non-verbal communication), to increase their awareness of the importance of the cultural specifics and to obtain practical knowledge and experience with representatives of diverse cultures.

The mobility and direct work experience in intercultural context are considered by the survey participants as most effective methods for mastering such competencies; moreover currently in the tourism curricula there are no dedicated subjects, which lead to them. At present the intercultural courses and staff trainings in intercultural competences are scarce and only a limited number of employees are aware of the training and mobility opportunities.

The existing national data shows that intercultural competences need to be integrated in the training and education of the tourism staff, in order to guarantee the quality of services.

The Cultour project will address the identified bottlenecks through a methodological and qualification framework, a handbook and toolbox for teachers and trainers, which will be developed to help foster the intercultural competences of the employees in tourism.

These products will be ready and piloted in the partners ‘countries this autumn. All the collected data and elaborated materials will be available on the CULTOUR Open Online Center


This project has been funded with support from the European Commission, though the ERASMUS+ programme. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein. Project number: 2015-1-FR01_KA202-015290.