The devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the tourism sector cannot be over-underscored. 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 a commercial activity that has 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 an inquest on how to change tact on best practices to ensure sustainability, hence improving livelihoods.
The youths were left out from the agenda who could be a pillar that defines the sustenance if not buffer the sector. 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 unknown environment that is different from their everyday surroundings. According to UNWTO forecasts, the year 2020 was to see 300 million young people travel in a year estimated at about 320 billion dollars in market value.
This begs the question, why aren’t we engaging the youth?
Fact checks estimate the planet to be 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% of the world’s population by 2030. The clock is ticking and world leaders ought to mince their words and put into action the next steps to place the youth in a position which 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 centered 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 pillars that the future of their countries revolve. This in many cases has been seen as a mere talk shop than any concerted efforts to drive that agenda.
The Secretary General of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Zurab Pololikashvili 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 among others have unearthed some of the finest brains whose projects can make tourism a better sector with a plethora of job opportunities.
The Global Youth Tourism Summit organised by the World Tourism Organization (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 task by answering tough questions from teenagers on thorny issues such as mass tourism, biodiversity, and equality, culture, and policies around the future of travel and tourism.
The summit placed the youth people 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 also serve as an advocacy platform for youth to be heard.
The Secretary General of UNWTO throughout his administration has rallied member states to recognize the importance of youth participation in tourism and thus creating platforms and avenues for the industry to harness its 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’s even greater to be factored in the present discourse and planning.
Understanding the needs of youth help the industry and policymakers develop a robust and agile plan. The attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) requires a commitment to the consideration of youth in realizing 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 makes the youth active participants in the design of tourism should be the way to go.
This assertion was buttressed by the United Nations Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth, Jayathma Wickramanayake 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 youth in the affairs of tourism. The Call-to-Action states that “decision-makers must empower the youth, providing them with opportunities to voice their concerns” while also working to “stimulate education to ensure responsible travelers 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, organizers of Africa Youth in Tourism Innovation have through numerous events championed youth participation in tourism and they need support to actualize some of the outcomes which portent well for the industry. The latest being the 4th edition of the event in Namibia’s capital Windhoek was another giant step in integrating youth into 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.