The private sector must become more actively involved in the needs of future tourism skills and training that will be required to support the growth and changes in the sector so that young people are directed into the requisite fields of study in tourism.
This was highlighted by Minister of Tourism, Patricia de Lille, at the WTM London Global Ministers’ Summit earlier this week. The summit, now in its 17th year, is one of the largest annual gatherings of tourism ministers, with 40 ministers present for 2023.
This year’s session, in association with the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), was titled ‘Transforming Tourism through Youth and Education’.
De Lille said: “There is a misalignment between the skills currently being taught and what is needed in the sector. The skills gap for the future of tourism can only be filled with a partnership between the public and private sector.”
She added that it was important to look ahead to the skills needed five to 10 years from now and to overlay tourism decisions with technology.
The Minister also shared information on the Department of Tourism’s skills and training opportunities provided to young people from across South Africa. These programmes targeting unemployed youth represent multimillion-rand investments into empowering young people to enter the tourism sector.
Julia Simpson, President, and CEO of the WTTC, pointed out that tourism was growing at double the rate of the global economy and could “put food on the table, [and] break people out of the informal into the formal economy”.
She said young people’s association of travel with poor sustainability was a barrier to entry into the sector and needed to be addressed.
Executive Director of UNWTO, Natalia Bayona, pointed out that, despite being a high youth employer globally, only in Senegal did tourism appear among the top-three most popular university subjects.
Furthermore, the countries where tourism and travel are studied most – Switzerland, the US, UK, France, the Netherlands, Spain and China – are all in the Northern hemisphere.
‘Tourism is more than hotel administration’
Bayona added: “Tourism is more than hotel administration,” stating that 80% of relevant degrees were focused on this subject, and she praised Lucerne University for introducing a BA in sustainable tourism.
UK Tourism Minister Sir John Whittingdale pointed out that the country’s tourism job vacancies had outstripped supply since COVID-19. But, he said, the prospect of good social mobility should be an enticement. “[In the travel industry] there are no ceilings, so you can go in at the bottom and reach right to the top… start on a hotel reception and end up running a group of hotels.”
The summit also covered how the African continent’s ‘youth bulge’ could be used better, including perhaps by exporting tourism workers abroad.
Simpson concluded by saying that tourism had the power to heal after conflicts. “Our sector is the very essence of soft power. We build bridges and bring understanding.”