Youthfulness and digital transformation: A Powerful Combination!

During these challenging times with some travel restrictions, we have seen that the world is becoming more digital. For me, digital transformation is gaining more power and is becoming the most efficient way to gain new skills, to stay connected with others and for me, the most important, to revive creativity to bring strong solutions for tourism sustainable development.

Internet has been connected to the tourism sector since 1960. We can say that tourism is one of the most innovative, human and resilient economic sectors. Tourism has faced the boom of the website creation, then the boom of Online Travel Agencies and finally the boom of the startup ecosystem: my favourite because is the one that I had to live and help to improve in my daily job at World Tourism Organization(UNWTO).

It has been only two years where we have been empowering innovation, digital transformation and investments at UNWTO.
I am more than committed with this amazing global challenge and I truly believe that youth empowerment and innovation have to be together and is the force we need to scale up our innovation ecosystem.

Thanks to those active years, we have included innovation as part of our Africa agenda.

I can say that hundreds of African startups have applied to our startup competitions, and the more innovative, have been working actively with IE University Africa Center to improve their business plans and scale up their business solutions in the region.

This of course with the leadership of our Secretary General-Zurab Pololikashvili, our Regional Department for Africa and our Member States: cooperation has been crucial to have quick wins spreading the voice of our initiatives.

As you may know, Africa has the youngest population in the world with more than 400 million young people between 15 and 35 years. On the other hand, digital economy represents more than 5% of gross domestic product (GDP) in some African nations: ¿Why not challenging ourselves to increase that percentage to 10%-20%? We are on the right moment. We are facing a tipping point to do it and I have some suggestions on the matter to help from UNWTO side to African tourism to grow:

1. Improve tourism skills via digital platforms.
UNWTO Tourism Online Academy powered by IE University.

Education is crucial in Africa. The more prepared youth are, the more sustainable the tourism sector will be.

This is a unique digital platform with high quality content that gives the opportunity to African youth community to involve for free and access to tourism management skills: marketing, finance, leadership, digital transformation among others.

This high-quality learning experience is available for everyone and caters to those who are looking to improve or supplement their current skillset in order to adapt to this fast-growing and evolving sector.

On the other hand, during this year, digital learning has become a priority for governments, universities, schools... In summary, the education ecosystem: students that are not able to school in times of COVID-19, have to replace traditional classes into digital orientation and teaching to keep going on their education journey.

This type of cases you can see it all around the world: China, USA, France, Spain have been pioneers on delivering online courses. For the tourism sector, engaging the UNWTO Tourism Online Academy is a must in Africa to empower the young population that are getting prepared for their future career path.

The Ghanaian Continent at the UNWTO Acceleration program in Madrid in January 2020

Enroll the courses here: https://www.unwto-tourismacademy.ie.edu/

2. The power of ideas that come to live!

Nothing is more efficient than a startup call, an innovation challenge or a tourism hackathon to empower youth: I remember the first time we launched the UNWTO global startup competition: the first week we received 100 applications from young entrepreneurs full of energy and decided to scale up their projects. This year, on the second edition, we finalized with more than 3.000 applications, 100% youth ideas from people less than 35 years old and from 150 countries.

I'm absolutely convinced that my generation: millennials and centennials, are fully supportive on building communities, bringing disruptive solutions to our global challenges and we care about sustainability and equal conditions for everyone.

During this calls, I have to say that countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Kenya, Morocco, Côte d´Ivoire have been on the top regarding the number of solutions presented by young innovators. Only in Nigeria we got 50 applications focused on social impact, women empowerment, gastronomy, sustainability and the use of tech for good.

Natalia Bayona- head of Innovation, Digital Transformation and Investments Strategy at the UNWTO

I encourage all the African young innovators to apply to our recent UNWTO gastronomy tourism startup competition: this unique opportunity will give you an acceleration program hosted by Basque Culinary Center in Spain.

More info: https://www.gastronomytourismventures.org/en/

.Stay tuned because this is our innovation year!

We will open two additional challenges: one will be focused on Healing Solutions for tourism in times of COVID-19 that will be launched next week by the leadership of our Secretary General. It would have the aim to bring innovative solutions to our Ministers for tourism recovery (people, economic, destinations prosperity). We will give once again the opportunity to young entrepreneurs with existing technologies, to present their top solutions to our UNWTO Ministers and our innovation network.

Finally, we will develop a global call for sustainable development goals and a climate change challenge to bring solutions for tourism.

3. Connection between existing technologies and sustainable development goals for tourism. Africa has been developing strong efforts in sustainable development goals as: no poverty, no hunger, gender equality, quality education, clean water among others.

By the governments lead, Africa can benchmark existing solutions on those goals and that can be applied to the tourism sector in order to gain time and scale the existing technologies from one country to the other by sharing the solutions, startups in a booklet or on innovation forums where tourism can bring opportunities to young people that are working on technologies in other economic sectors but that can easily applied them to tourism.

4. Innovation is not only tech! We need an innovative mindset in the tourism traditional chain.

It's important to create during the whole year workshops, seminars and bootcamps for traditional tour operators, airlines, travel agencies with the leadership of youth managers in the sector that have been developing new tourism products to promote Africa in a different way: storytelling, social impact programs, music tourism, unique experiences among others. Sharing knowledge is crucial to mentor others and help them to create an innovative way of thinking.

5. Developing the tourism startup ecosystem.

Creating innovation forums as UNWTO #TourismTechAdventures is one of our most effective program to join startups, investors, corporates, governments, academia and institutions. Thank to this forums, we have helped our finalists to reach EUR45 million in venture capital investment.

This is the moment to develop either a digital or a presential forum for the second semester. We are joining efforts to make it within the framework of our Regional Commission in Seychelles but the more forums we do, the more impact we will have,

I hope in the near future, we can develop this 5 key elements into a regional strategy that can help us to strengthen public private partnerships in Africa and commit our youth community to be part of the solution of tourism sustainable development.

Remember, during this challenging times: #Stayathome to #traveltomorrow !

The Author Natalia Bayona is the head of Innovation, Digital Transformation and Investments Strategy at the UNWTO

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