Transforming Tourism Through Education and Youth Empowerment: UNWTO Ministers Summit

The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) convened its largest-ever Ministers Summit during the World Travel Market in London. The summit united leaders from the tourism industry to focus on education and skills development, addressing the crucial need to invest in these areas.

With an unprecedented attendance of 40 Ministers of Tourism, representing regions worldwide and destinations of all sizes, UNWTO Executive Director Natalia Bayona emphasized the vital role of education. The summit, hosted at the World Travel Market for the 17th time, featured contributions from key private sector stakeholders and co-organizer, the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).

Education for Empowering Youth

UNWTO highlighted the potential of the tourism sector to become a leading employer of youth and a driver of youth empowerment, considering that 1.2 billion people worldwide are aged between 15 to 24. However, according to the Office for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), approximately 10% of this demographic are unemployed, and 14% have only basic qualifications.

Executive Director Bayona underscored UNWTO’s role in promoting tourism education and the imperative of supporting education and skills development at all levels. UNWTO launched its Education Toolkit in October 2023, enabling countries to introduce tourism as a high school subject. The Bachelors Degree in Sustainable Tourism Management, offered by UNWTO and the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts, is set to welcome its first students in 2024. Moreover, 30 universities worldwide contribute content to the UNWTO Online Academy, while on-site institutions like the Riyadh School of Hospitality and Tourism in Saudi Arabia and the Tourism Academy in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, provide training for thousands of tourism professionals.

Ministerial Insights on Education Policies

Ministers from various countries shared their insights on the role of education in the future of Tourism. The United Kingdom’s Minister for Tourism, Sir John Whittingdale, emphasized the importance of platforms like the Ministers Summit in facilitating a dialogue on how different nations are addressing common challenges in advancing Tourism education. With over double the number of Ministerial-level participants compared to 2022, participants discussed the place of education in the tourism sector’s future.

Ministers from South Africa, Egypt, the Philippines, and Jordan stressed the importance of supporting education at all stages. For instance, South Africa introduced a tourism equity fund to bridge the skills gap between students and employer requirements, while the Philippines extended tourism education from high school to vocational degrees. Jordan focused on enhancing the skills of tourism workers, including language proficiency.

Ministers from Mauritius, Malta, and Indonesia highlighted the need to upskill both new and existing tourism workers. Mauritius recognized the challenges faced by Least Developed Countries and their efforts to improve literacy and numeracy rates with potential bilateral and multilateral support. Malta unveiled a Skills Card to elevate professional standards in the sector, and Indonesia prioritized innovation and adaptation to create five million tourism jobs in the next decade.

Colombia’s Minister underlined the role of education in promoting peace, job opportunities, and youth empowerment in areas affected by insecurity, while Ethiopia highlighted its investments in both young people and tourism infrastructure.

Private sector representatives from Riyadh Air and JTB (Japan Tourism Bureau) Corp stressed the importance of public-private partnerships and the need for governments to collaborate with businesses to ensure that training meets the needs of employers.

Key Takeaways for Ministers

Following insights from tourism leaders across the globe, Ministers at the London Summit recognized the shared challenges faced by destinations worldwide, particularly the need for a larger and better-skilled workforce. UNWTO Executive Director Natalia Bayona concluded by emphasizing the urgent need to make tourism an aspirational sector for young people everywhere and to establish public-private partnerships to address the current skills gap in the industry.

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