Securing the future of tourism with youth at the centre of gravity

The devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the tourism sector cannot be over emphasized. As the world stopped and the industry hit rock bottom, it triggered a serious conversation about the true meaning of resilience for a sector that plays an important role as commercial activities that have a multiplier effect for many industries within an economy.

The silver lining from the grim of Covid-19 was the attention the sector got from governments and the recognition of its impact on national economies.

This provoked inquest on how to change tact on best practices to ensure sustainability, hence improving livelihoods.

But the youths, who could be the pillar that defines the sustenance if not buffer the sector, were left out of the agenda. The World Youth Student and Educational (WISE) defines youth tourism as a form of tourism that includes independent travellers(unaccompanied by either parents or guardians) for periods of less than a year. The youth seek to experience a new culture and benefit from new learning opportunities in an environment that is different from their everyday surroundings. According to UNWTO forecast, the year 2020 was to see 300 million young people travel in a year estimated at about $USD320 billion in market value.

This begs the question, why aren’t we engaging the youth?

Fact checks estimate the planet is home to around 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10-24— the largest generation of youth in human history. The young population is also predicted to be over 50 percent of the world’s population by 2030. The clock is ticking and the world leaders ought to mince their words and put into action the next steps to place the youth in a position that guarantees the economic safety of many sectors.

It was understandable that with the novel Coronavirus inflicting pains on many and wrecking livelihoods, the conversation was centred around resilience, sustainability and perhaps, product diversity. The youth discussion never came to the party.

The participation of youth in national and international affairs has been mentioned on many occasions by governments as the pillar that the future of their countries revolves on. This in many cases has been seen as a mere talk shop with no concerted effort to drive that agenda.

Zurab Pololikashvili, secretary general, World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), since the start of his mandate in 2018 has made matters of youth a cardinal pillar in which his administration revolves. The introduction of the UNWTO Students League, which empowers and motivates tourism students to get involved within the sector and participate, is one of the many projects earmarked to make youth the present and future of the sector. The students league affords participants to get real-time experience from the sector by creating and presenting innovative solutions for the challenges that the sector is facing currently.

Other initiatives such as the Job Factory and innovative challenges have unearthed some of the finest brains whose projects can make tourism a better sector with a plethora of job opportunities.

Read also: UN report underscores importance of tourism for economic recovery in 2022

The Global Youth Tourism Summit organised by the UNWTO in collaboration with other strategic partners is the latest addition to the growing youth dedicated event to advance the power of tourism for young people. Taunted as a game changer, the event had over 120 youngsters who put Tourism Ministers, business leaders and industry echelons to the task of answering tough questions on thorny issues such as mass tourism, biodiversity, equality, culture, and policies around the future of travel and tourism.

The summit placed the youth in the driving seat and offered them a unique opportunity to engage and understand the issues in the tourism sector.

Events such as this need to be replicated around the world to not only nurture the next talents of tourism professionals but to also serve as an advocacy platform for youth to be heard.

The Secretary General of UNWTO throughout his administration has rallied member states to recognise the importance of youth participation in tourism and thus creating platforms and avenues for the industry to harness their potential.

At the closing ceremony of the historic GYTS event, the UNWTO Scribe Zurab Pololikashvili said, “The Global Youth Tourism Summit is a hugely important first, for UNWTO and for our sector, and that young talent from every region will be supported to give them a stage to voice their ideas about tourism’s future.”

As the delegate from Spain stated on a podcast conversation, “It is good to make the youth the future but it is even greater to be factored in the present discourse and planning”.

Understanding the needs of youth will help the industry and policy makers to develop a robust and agile plan. The attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) requires commitments on the consideration of youth in realising this agenda.

Mere appointments of youngsters in positions of influence are not enough to benchmark the success of youth engagements but deliberate efforts to promulgate policies, which make youths active participants in the design of tourism should be the way to go.

This assertion was buttressed by Jayathma Wickramanayake, United Nations Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth, when she underscored the importance of promoting the active engagement of young people as agents of transformational change, challenging the status quo, and realizing the Agenda 2030.

The Sorrento Call to Action succinctly makes the case for the active involvement of youths in the affairs of tourism. The Call-to-Action states that “decision-makers must empower the youths, providing them with opportunities to voice their concerns” while also working to “stimulate education to ensure responsible travellers and professionals.” At the same time, it recognizes the historic significance of the first Global Youth Tourism Summit and calls on UNWTO to hold annual summits and to work with its Member States on national events.

Africa Tourism Partners, organisers of Africa Youth in Tourism Innovation, have through numerous events championed the youth participation in tourism and they need support to actualise some of the outcomes, which portent well for the industry. The latest being the 4th edition of the event in Windhoek, Namibia’s capital, and it was another giant step in integrating youth in the tourism sector and harnessing their potential to build a resilient and buoyant tourism sector.

As we mark World Youth Day, let’s continue to give youth a meaningful place in the wider tourism space and ensure that they are equipped with the requisite skills and support to remain relevant to the sector.