Empowering youth and women: UNWTO Regional Director’s call for inclusive African tourism

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In address to delegates on the final day of the 6th Africa Tourism Leadership Forum in Gaborone, Botswana, Elcia Grandcourt, UNWTO Regional Director for Africa, championed the pivotal role of youth and women in shaping the African tourism sector. The theme of her address, “Youth and Women Inclusivity: A strategic consideration for tourism value chain development,” underscored the critical need for concerted efforts to empower and integrate these demographics into the industry.

Elcia began by applauding the collaborative efforts of Botswana and Africa Tourism Partners in hosting the annual forum. She described the event as an invaluable platform for industry leaders and stakeholders to exchange insights, share experiences and promote best practices that drive progress in the tourism sector.

Highlighting the economic significance of tourism, Mrs Grandcourt emphasised that it stands as the third-largest global export category, generating a staggering $1.7 trillion, equivalent to approximately 4% of the world’s GDP. She characterized the tourism sector as dynamic and resilient, possessing immense potential to foster socio-economic development.

Key statistics she shared included the fact that women constitute 54% of the global tourism workforce, a percentage that escalates to 69% in the African region. Moreover, Grandcourt noted a growing trend of women ascending to leadership positions within the tourism, travel and hospitality industry. Despite these strides, she pointed out that persistent challenges such as salary gaps, limited leadership opportunities, and societal norms continue to obstruct women’s full participation in the sector.

“Despite these strides, persistent challenges such as salary gaps, limited leadership opportunities, and societal norms continue to obstruct women’s full participation in the sector,” she stressed.

Acknowledging Africa’s youthful population, with 70% under the age of 25, Grandcourt underscored the importance of engaging young people in decision-making processes. She emphasized that while the continent’s youthful demographic presents an opportunity for growth, empowering these young individuals is essential to unlocking their potential.
The Regional Director maintained, “Our young population represents an opportunity for growth, but their empowerment is vital to unlocking this potential.”

The Director highlighted the necessity of upskilling, capacity building, and training for the next generation of tourism professionals, particularly given the challenges posed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Regarding UNWTO’s commitment to gender equality in the tourism sector, Grandcourt cited several initiatives. These included the creation of the Women in Tourism Leadership for Africa Committee (WITLAC), aimed at strategising and implementing actions to empower women in African tourism.

“UNWTO is strongly committed towards women and youth empowerment, which are also enclosed as core priorities in the UNWTO Agenda for Africa – Tourism for Inclusive Growth,” Grandcourt emphasised.

She also mentioned the UNWTO Women in Tourism Pilot Project in South Africa’s Limpopo province, which seeks to foster women’s entrepreneurship by providing guidance, mentorship and technical assistance. Additionally, Grandcourt spotlighted the Centre Stage program, which, with the support of GIZ, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development of Germany, and UN Women, endeavours to advance gender equality in tourism by enhancing training, legal frameworks and data collection.

Turning her attention to youth empowerment, Grandcourt outlined various UNWTO initiatives. These included the UNWTO Academy’s comprehensive portfolio of online and in-person courses, the UNWTO Jobs Factory, which collaborates with Hosco to connect young talent with employers worldwide, and the UNWTO Students League, designed to encourage students to propose innovative solutions for tourism aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The Director also highlighted the Global Youth Tourism Summit (GYTS), conceived as a platform for harnessing the potential of young generations for development and social change. The inaugural GYTS, held in Sorrento, Italy, in 2022, provided young delegates with valuable insights and skills for future leadership in tourism.

The African Department Head also underscored the crucial roles of governments and private sector stakeholders in implementing policies aimed at overcoming gender and youth-related barriers in tourism. She cited two key UNWTO publications from 2022, the Gender Mainstreaming Guidelines for the Public Sector in Tourism and the Tourism Education Guidelines, as valuable resources to promote gender equality and improve access to tourism education for young people.

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