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What is the tourism skills gap like in Africa?

The global travel and tourism industry is experiencing significant service delivery issues across the board as it grapples with a post-pandemic skills shortage – and South Africa is not immune. One such example? The loss of senior consultants who were retrenched or furloughed during lockdown and whose customer service skills, knowledge and high levels of professionalism have made it relatively easy for them to slip into other roles in other sectors – leaving a noticeable gap in their wake. 

This was an important topic at a recent event hosted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) with their implementation partner SATSA, where travel professionals met to discuss how to rebuild the tourism sector.  

Delegates at the ILO Small Enterprise Training launch cited the following challenges hobbling the industry currently and slowing the recovery of the sector:  

  • A massive loss of institutional memory and intellectual property (IP) as people, employees and entrepreneurs moved out of the tourism industry. 
  • More effort and time are required to mentor/explain when dealing with new and underqualified newcomers to the industry. 
  • A need for more HR tourism specialists that can identify the gaps and plug them. 
  • Scarcity of skills entering the job market and associated lack of work experience.  

One way to solve this issue and bring back the skillset currently missing from the industry is to re-evaluate the roles and structures of travel consulting organisations. There is potential for automating certain operations, which would free up skilled senior staff to focus on upselling and providing more value – justifying their expense to the company. 

According to the African Journal of Hospitality, Tourism and Leisure, there is a disconnect between the skills learned by students and those required by the hospitality industry, leading to a shortage of high-level management workers. Some of the solutions proposed include: 

  • Educators and businesses collaborate to better understand each other’s operating environments and needs to bridge the gap between what learning providers deliver and what the industry actually requires.  
  • There needs to be an increased focus on developing tourism educators rather than relying on Western models of tourism education which are unlikely to meet the needs of developing countries.  
  • Improving the accreditation of courses in tourism education to ensure that they provide the skills and knowledge required by the industry. 

And what about our youth? Rob Hetem, Co-Vice Chair of the SATSA board and the AID committee (Access, Inclusivity and Diversity), believes that the answer to solving the tourism skills gap in South Africa lies with the upcoming generations.  

“Our tourism sector is filled with a skilled and knowledgeable but ageing population. We need to work hard now to find ways to make the tourism industry attractive, accessible and inclusive of our youth, and there are many scalable programme opportunities which can offer them support like mentorship, coaching and training initiatives to assist them in preparing for the job market,” says Rob. 

“Furthermore, because so many businesses in our sector are small and micro enterprises which are often under the radar, they receive little to no support or guidance. These businesses often form an important part of the developing supply chain. This is where sustainable job creation, ownership and growth start, and SATSA AID actively work to include this segment by providing access to information through organised and mobilised tourism communities. We all have a part to play.” 

Africa Travel Week

Africa Travel Week (ATW) focuses on inbound and outbound markets for general leisure tourism, luxury travel, LGBTQ+ travel and the MICE/business travel sector as well as travel technology. Shows include: ILTM Africa, WTM Africa, EQUAL Africa, ibtm AFRICA, Travel Forward, Sports & Events Tourism Exchange and African Tourism Investment Summit.