It’s the beginning of another decade and as the phenomenon has been for some time now, global tourism trends are fast changing. Travelers are becoming more choosy and smarter about the kind of experience they want to have at destinations; their tastes and preferences are gradually shifting and at the heart of it all, technology is playing a significant role in simplifying traveller’s choices.

Beyond this, however, the human component that ensures that the traveller gets real experiences at their destination of interest cannot be overlooked. It’s good to have information about destinations and sites online which can be accessed by anyone who wishes to visit these attractions. However, once they are on the ground, they require human interactions to fully enjoy the experiences and appreciate the stories and history around them. The latest estimates published on International Youth Day by the UN last year puts the population of youth in Sub-Saharan Africa at 211 million, a figure expected to increase by more than 89% by 2050.

The World Travel and Tourism Council asserts that tourism is responsible for one out of ten jobs globally, and with the increasing numbers in the youth population, the sector is surely the continent’s trump card for economic transformation.  When all the oil is dried up, the mines depleted and other resources exhausted, with its high multiplier effect, this sector will create millions of additional jobs in other sectors like agriculture, logistics, ICT, and banking.

The challenges of today’s Africa, especially within the employment space, can be resolved by actively engaging the teeming youth in the sector that guarantees an inexhaustible source of livelihood.  

While the bigger goal is to rope in as many as possible into the tourism sector, the few who are engaged in tourism need to empower themselves with skills and build their capacities to ensure they remain relevant. In these times, when conversations on sustainable tourism have become rife and highly pertinent, it is important that young people engaged in tourism are drawn into these discussions to solicit their input; given that they are the future – they make sustainability germane in the first place.  

Goal one and eight of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) seek to eliminate poverty and ensure decent work and economic growth respectively by 2030. These are goals that will require the expertise of the youth in Africa to achieve.  These goals can only be realized with a youth population that is empowered, gainfully employed, financially secure and knowledgeable about their environment well enough to contribute to its growth and sustainability. Again, tourism provides a fertile ground for all these to thrive. With various developments over the past year in the various segments of the tourism sector, especially within MICE (Meetings Incentives Conferences, Exhibitions), there is an armada of opportunities for employment in this sub-sector alone and is one the youth can take advantage of. Lately, there are many programmes out there to help upgrade one’s knowledge and capacity in the tourism sector.

Notable among them is the unique platform the UNWTO World Tourism Students League for human capital development. According to the organization, The UNWTO World Tourism Students League, run within the UNWTO Academy, seeks to create an innovative environment to empower and motivate travel & tourism students to get involved with happenings within the industry.

Participants in this programme will get real-time experience from the tourism industry by creating and presenting innovative solutions for the challenges that the sector is facing nowadays. Challenges will be aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals, placing an emphasis on Goals 8, 12 and 14, in which tourism is featured and will match the SDGs requirements. The ultimate goal of this initiative is to bring young people together and build their capacities in the tourism sector as they go through monthly challenges to determine a winner. Nonetheless, a myriad of opportunities exist in other fields whether one has acquired formal education or not.

Whether one is  involved in the clean environment campaign, making souvenirs or providing informal tour or sight guide services by virtue of one’s acquaintance with the destination, one is a part of the larger circle of youth who are helping shape Africa’s tourism

The challenge this year is to double efforts in whatever field one finds oneself as a young person to push the worthy agenda of promoting tourism and encouraging travel on the continent. Current efforts will not just benefit the present-day generation, but also create a more livable and vibrant Africa for the younger generation who will come after the current generation.