Informal Workers Programme

Learn about PATA’s initiatives to support communities 

Tourism and informal workers

The Informal Workers Programme was created as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic to support one of tourism most important – but often overlooked – stakeholders in the tourism industry: the informal workers.

While tourism promotes iconic destinations and sites, it is the people we meet there that bring to life the local experiences that we cherish and remember for years to come. The tourism supply chain is therefore dependent on the people living and working in the host communities.

Many of the people making their living through tourism are, in fact, informal workers. They include street food sellers, souvenir sellers, drivers, freelance tour guides, activity providers, artists, and artisans.

Informal workers make up a majority of tourism employment and provide entrepreneurial opportunities to women, youth and the elderly. Despite this, this vital sector lacks voice and is too often excluded from industry discussions.

COVID-19 impacts

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been countless studies and discussions on the impacts of lockdowns on the tourism industry with staggering statistics on loss to GDP and employment. Yet these statistics do not include informal workers.

Lacking formal government registration, informal workers can fall through the cracks of social protection and employment benefit schemes. Further, given the informal nature of their livelihoods, it is also more difficult to assess how the pandemic has impacted them, thus limiting relief efforts. Informal workers, no matter how crucial to a destination’s tourism success, are often forgotten and bear a disproportionate burden during times of crisis.

What did we do?

PATA and the Roundtable Human Rights in Tourism asked the question: how has the pandemic affected informal workers within the Thai tourism supply chain? PATA’s research found (to no one’s surprise) that the impacts have indeed been devastating. 

Upwards of 94% of informal workers in Thai tourism have experienced severe employment impacts, resulting in 86% of respondents falling into extreme financial hardship.

To meet the challenge of providing a voice for informal workers, as well as to enable a safer, more successful reopening to international visitors, PATA and the Roundtable Human Rights in Tourism have launched a programme to assist informal workers. This programme aims to reconnect the informal workers with the new traveller mindset and train the informal workers to be prepared for safe, welcoming international reopening. It includes many practical aspects of running a sustainable micro-business given the ‘new normal’ that COVID has created.

Informal workers in Thailand

Bangkok, December 2021

Designed to spread as many benefits to the community as possible, PATA hired unemployed freelance tour guides and under-employed tourism professionals to work with PATA staff and civil society organisations to deliver community-based training to fellow informal workers across the streets and markets of Bangkok, Thailand.

This programme, which builds upon the research that PATA conducted with focusright between December 2020 and March 2021, assisted 500 informal workers in 15 communities of Bangkok to meet health standards and operating safety procedures; provide community-based tourism product re-development; and understand the new needs & wants of tourists in the post COVID-19 era.

Training topics

Specific topics of the training in Thailand included:

Google Maps for Businesses

New for most informal workers, they learned how to add their business to Google Maps and add information and photos. They appreciated this marketing tool that does not impose any costs.

Google Translate

Informal workers learned how to use Google Translate to communicate with international visitors more effectively and be able to explain their products and services to tourists.

Cashless payments

Cashless payments and QR code payments were also important topics, and most informal workers quickly adapted to using their mobile phones for this type of payment.

Health and safety

Registering for social security benefits and learning how to self-administer a COVID-19 Antigen Test Kit (ATK) were the most popular topics among informal workers.

Child safety

Another very important part of the capacity building was familiarising informal workers with child safety standards. The training focused on showing how everyone in a community can protect children.

Supporting Partner for Thailand Informal Workers Programme

Informal Workers in Indonesia

Following the successful implementation of the Informal Workers Programme in Thailand, PATA extended the initiative in Indonesia with the support of Visa. The Informal Workers Programme in Indonesia was facilitated by PATA member Wise Steps Consulting from March to June 2023 and welcomed a total of 502 informal workers, with 284 participants attending the training in Bali and 218 in Jakarta.  

Bali, March-April 2023

The training in Bali was spread out over 10 sessions of 3 to 4 hours each per day over a period of one month. The session schedule was specifically created keeping in mind the local calendar as well as informal workers’ availability and work timetable and was conducted in the local language, Bahasa Indonesia.

The training took place in the south part of the island, which is considered to be the centre of most tourism activities happening in Bali, therefore, having easier access to and for informal workers. The sessions were hosted in the districts of Kuta, Jimbaran, Kelan, Tanjung Benoa and Peminge, with participants coming from different community groups. 

Prior to the training, an informal research had been conducted to assess the needs and wants of the informal workers to create a connection with the communities. This step was deemed vital, as Bali is the hub of tourism in Indonesia, which leads to several training sessions being conducted throughout the year by different stakeholders. This makes it crucial to adapt the sessions according to the true needs of the informal workers and make the sessions coherent.

The training sessions in Bali covered three main topics: 

  1. Photography, focussing on the enhancement of their photography skills, in order to take better product pictures for their business or other related activities.

  2. Cross-cultural communication training, which dealt with surface-oriented skills and provided informal workers with a better awareness and understanding of their potential clients and their culture, as to how to communicate with them efficiently.

  3. Financial Management, the most solicited training topic by the informal worker communities in Bali, was centred around learning about profit and loss, profit management and debt management.

Jakarta, May-June 2023

The training in Jakarta consisted of 14 sessions within 7 non-consecutive days (morning and afternoon sessions) spread out over three weeks. They took place in two different locations in northern Jakarta: Kota Tua, the old city of Jakarta and the Chinatown area.

The Old Town was specifically requested by the informal workers as that lies close to most of their workplaces and is therefore easy to reach. In Kota Tua and the Old Town, the majority of informal workers were local photographers, musicians, local vendors and souvenir sellers, whereas most of the informal workers in Chinatown were food sellers.

The topics of training sessions in Jakarta were also based on the pre-implementation survey with local informal workers, yet their needs and wants were very different than those of Bali:

  1. Digitalisation, which included training about Google applications such as Google Maps, Google Translate (specially requested by the participants and considered extremely helpful in communicating with tourists) and also Indonesian digital payment methods.

  2. Sapta Pesona, which underlines the basic principles of tourism regarded as the benchmark for improving the tourism quality in Indonesia. The essence of Sapta Pesona can be encapsulated within seven elements: security, order, cleanliness, freshness, beauty, hospitality and memorability. This session focussed on the importance of each of these principles. An introduction to the history and heritage of the area was also deemed important for the informal workers to know why and how to protect the city’s cultural and historical assets.

  3. Hygiene and food safety for food sellers, which emphasised the importance of practicing safe food handling and sanitary practices, including personal hygiene, cleaning, safe food storage and avoidance of cross-contamination.

Watch the highlights video

Learn more

To know more about the Informal Workers Programme in Indonesia, read this interview with Ayu Masita, Co-founder and COO of Wise Steps Group. Ayu explains how the training topics were selected for each destination, the main challenges faced by the informal workers in Indonesia and how the programme was developed to assist them.

Supporting Partner for Indonesia Informal Workers Programme

Informal Workers at your destination?

The Informal Workers Programme can be implemented in different national and subnational destinations, with contents and structure tailored to the needs of the local community and informal workers.

Leave a message below to know more about the Informal Workers Programme in your destination. Alternatively, send us an email at [email protected].

Check out our other initiatives

PATA also has initiatives for destinations, such as the Tourism Destination Resilience (TDR) Programme, and for tourism businesses, such as online courses, guidelines and toolkits for plastic and food waste reduction, finance skills, digital skills and cybersecurity. Check these below:

For destinations

For businesses

Learn How a PATA Membership Can Help You Achieve Your Organisational Goals

We help support the growth of our members’ businesses in both public and private sectors by expanding their networks regionally and globally, while strengthening the tourism industry through trade events, industry research, professional development programs, and targeted channels for brand exposure.