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 Organisation (UNWTO) and World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), was entitled Transforming Tourism Through Youth and Education.
Natalia Bayona, Executive Director of UNWTO pointed out that despite being a high youth employer globally, only in Senegal did tourism appear amongst the top three most popular university subjects. Also, the countries where it is studied most; Switzerland, the US, UK, France, the Netherlands, Spain and China, are all in the Northern hemisphere.
She 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.
Julia Simpson, president, and CEO of the WTTC, pointed out that tourism was growing at double the rate of the global economy as a whole and had the ability to “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 needed addressing so that this was not a barrier. She stressed out that the growth in travel was ‘decoupling’ from the growth in carbon emissions because of efforts made in the sector and by some destinations.
UK Tourism Minister Sir John Whittingdale pointed out that the country’s tourism job vacancies had outstripped supply since covid. 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.”
South Africa’s Minister Patricia de Lille said it was important to look ahead to the skills needed five to 10 years from now and to overlay tourism decisions with technology.
The summit also heard how from Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco how the Philippines has tourism entry level qualifications as part of high school syllabuses and how its government is in “constant contact with the private sector in order to ensure the needs of the industry are matched.”
Meanwhile, Malta is giving young people in tourism the skills to be able to talk about local products. “It all boils down to being proud of our country. We want to offer a better, quality experience,” said Minister Clayton Bartolo. “I’m not talking about luxury, it’s about quality and value for money.”
‘Quality not quantity’ was also the message from Jordan, where tourism contributes 14.6% of GDP and despite a shortage of tour guides with varied language skills the tourism office still uses organisations in the UK, France, Germany and Russia to test their fluency. Minister Makram Mustafa A Queisi added that most tourism workers were temporary: “We need to have a career path for them.”
Jamaica’s Minister Edmund Bartlett admitted: “We have not been great stewards of employment and creating an ecosystem conducive to retaining good quality workers,” but he said a programme in 33 high schools was now covering customer service and hotel management. He said it was important to “certify, classify then renumerate” people accordingly.
Tourism jobs make up about 12% of the workforce for Indonesia and with over 60% of the population under 45 there’s a big educational opportunity said Minister Sandiaga Salahuddin. In the past the destination has concentrated too much on huge resorts, particularly for MICE but it is now taking a smaller, more personalised and sustainable approach, he said, adding: “One of our big opportunities is village tourism.”
The summit also covered how the African continent’s ‘youth bulge’ could be put to better use, including perhaps by exporting tourism workers abroad.
The WTTC’s Simpson concluded with the thought that tourism has the power to heal after conflicts. “Our sector is the very essence of soft power. We build bridges and bring understanding,” she said.