Hacking the future by understanding young people and tourism

The folks that work in various tourism boards across East Africa and Africa in general spend hot afternoons grappling with a host of challenges.

Some are tasked with growing the number of visitors to countries that churn out so much bad news on the political front while others are troubled by the rampant poaching that is literally killing off what they have to showcase in alarming numbers.

Others are bent over their pricey laptops trying to figure out how the tourism sector is changing and how they can remain relevant in the future. Without a doubt, I can assure you that these are the ones who harvest the most troublesome headaches. Trying to hack the future will always be one of the hardest things to do for you are basically trying to put a moving target in the crosshairs.

One of the biggest challenges at the moment is young people. Some prefer to call them millennials but I prefer simpler language on here. Young people are not just future travellers, they are actually a huge demographic when it comes to tourism in this age.

The problem here is that many in the sector do not know how to meet the needs of these younger travellers given that a lot of what is on the ground is designed for older and mostly western world tourists.

That aside, the hospitality and tourism sector has continued to grow and therefore create opportunities for young people as future employees or business people in the sector. It is therefore important that young people understand more about the sector as well as the sector understanding them. This is why I believe the recently launched report by the great folks at the Mastercard Foundation and Restless Development; a youth led development agency is something very commendable.

The 2017 – 2018 Youth Think Tank Report: “Harnessing the Potential of Hospitality and Tourism for Young People’s Employment” is an interesting read and I urge all those in the hospitality and tourism sector to look for it. The report captures the perspective of young people and employers working in the hospitality and tourism sector. In there you will also find recommendations on how to ease entry barriers and attract more young people as well as how to retain those already employed.

Going through the report, it is obvious that some young people still have negative or rather unserious perceptions about the sector. For example one respondent studying tourism at an institute of higherlearning said: “I fear to tell my friends that I do tourism because they will laugh. People always chose this course as a last alternative… most people don’t really wish to be here”.

However with increased awareness the perception some young people have about the sector greatly improved, according to the report. This implies that there is a clear knowledge gap that needs to be filled if we are to lure more young people and retain them in this sector. My major take away from all this is the need for research if we are to improve our understanding of the tourism sector and young people in general.

What the Mastercard Foundation and Restless Development did by hearing out young people from Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia is a what more industry players need to do as well. If you really believe in young people and their future then you engage them and find out what they think about the things that affect them. Find young people, engage them, collect data about them, analyse it and use it in policy formulation.

I am still going through this report but if I am to let you in on a little more about it, it does stress that self-control, social skills and positive self-concept are the most important soft skills sets that young people need in the hospitality and tourism sector. In short, when equipping young people to pursue roles in the hospitality and tourism sector, priority should go to those soft skills. For a start one needs to work on their work ethic, interpersonal skills and a positive attitude if they are to thrive in this business.

It has become quite common for employers to complain that young people do not have the right skills, knowledge and attitude for the demands of today’s work environment and yet few are willing to get to the bottom of this and find out from the young people themselves and then using the findings to solve the problem. Inclusive research is the way to go.

Email: ssenyonga@gmail.com

Blog: www.ssenyonga.wordpress.com

Twitter: @ssojo81

The views expressed in this article are of the author.