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"Unlocking the Potential: Exploring the Dynamic Youth Workforce in Tourism"

In the face of contemporary global challenges, young people's dynamic energy, creativity, and fresh perspectives present an untapped wealth for societies worldwide. In South Africa, the youth population, defined as individuals aged 15 to 34, constitutes 36% of the total population, according to the National Youth Policy 2020-2030.

This demographic bears the brunt of high unemployment with youth unemployment at an alarming 51.4% as per StatsSA’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey for the first Quarter of 2023. Thus, recognising the diverse landscape of the youth population in South Africa, along with their challenges and aspirations, is crucial for developing effective policies, programmes, and initiatives geared towards unlocking the country’s full potential. One industry where the potential of the youth is particularly evident and yet, needs to be leveraged more effectively, is tourism.

The South African Tourism Survey conducted by the Insights Unit between May and June 2023 provides crucial insights into the views of the youth employed in the tourism industry. The survey aimed to explore three primary aspects integral to the youth workforce within South Africa's tourism industry. The first objective was to capture a comprehensive understanding of the tourism sector from the viewpoint of the youth. This step is instrumental in understanding their experiences, aspirations, and concerns within the industry.

Secondly, the survey focused on identifying the opportunities available to the youth in the tourism sector and the challenges that might be stalling their career progression. The insights gathered here are vital in formulating interventions to seize these opportunities and alleviate the identified challenges.

The final aspect the survey uncovered was the youth's viewpoints on the potential future course of South Africa's tourism industry. The perspectives gathered, shaped by their unique position as both industry insiders and the leaders of tomorrow, could help pinpoint key trends and possibilities that can inform the future trajectory of the sector. The survey reached respondents across all nine provinces of South Africa and it sought to understand the young workforce's specific needs for training, professional development, inclusion, and career advancement in the tourism industry.

Furthermore, it intended to gain clarity on their current working conditions and their opinions about the industry's opportunities and challenges. Analysing the responses from this survey provides invaluable insights into how the industry can address the unique needs of the youth in tourism. A well-considered action plan. Informed by these perspectives, it could consequently equip the tourism industry with a competitive advantage by attracting and retaining talented young professionals. Regarding demographics and employment, most respondents fell within the 24 to 35 age group. Most respondents (52%) worked more than 40 hours per week a standard 40-hour workweek, and a third (31%) were employed in the tour operator space with accommodation establishments (15%) and travel agents (14%) being the second and third prominent employment categories. Most respondents (30%) held junior positions, while 28% held executive roles, with a significant portion (29%) also engaging in self-employment.

Despite a substantial number of young individuals possessing postgraduate qualifications, about 43% earned a monthly income of less than R10,000. This income discrepancy indicates a dire need for fair wage policies aligning with qualifications and job responsibilities.

Regarding training and professional development, many self-employed youth revealed that they had not received any industry training from the government. While a slightly higher proportion of employed youth had received training from their employers, many still depended on government-led initiatives for industry-specific training. This fact highlights the vital role of the government and the private sector in providing relevant training and skill-enhancement opportunities.

Interestingly, the youth in the tourism industry expressed satisfactory job satisfaction and work-life balance despite working longer hours. They found their employers supportive when dealing with work-related stressors. Only 8% reported difficulties maintaining a work-life balance, showcasing the youth's resilience and dedication to their roles.

Most of the youth interviewed expressed advocacy for a career in the tourism industry. However, a notable portion reported instances of discrimination or harassment in the workplace, originating from either a manager or a customer/client. This trend was also observed among self-employed youth (who experienced discrimination or harassment mostly from patrons/clients). Additionally, 80% of the surveyed youth felt a lack of youth representation in the tourism industry. The youth's aspiration for better pay is evident in their willingness to work long hours and strive for improved financial opportunities.

While the picture seems quite positive regarding job satisfaction, the industry's view from the youth's perspective presents a different image. Young people are seeking job opportunities in the tourism industry, armed with qualifications and a willingness to contribute their innovative ideas. They perceive the tourism industry as a burgeoning sector ripe with opportunities but feel there is a low awareness of government support and training programmes.

These young aspirants desire a platform to voice their opinions, seek practical training that complements their qualifications, and yearn for initiatives encouraging leadership. Based on the perspectives of the youth in tourism, the report makes a number of recommendations focusing on the following key areas:

  1. Enriching Tourism Education: To establish a robust foundation for future tourism professionals, it is essential to bolster the perception and depth of tourism subjects at school level. This can be achieved by underscoring the significance of these subjects and enlightening students about the abundant career opportunities within the industry. It is also necessary to dispel the stereotype of tourism studies as an "easy" subject and introduce a comprehensive curriculum that reveals the diverse and exciting facets of the industry.
  2. Specialised Tourism Degrees: As we aim to foster expertise in the tourism industry, increasing the availability of specialised tourism degrees at universities is paramount. By offering a broad spectrum of options and specialisations, we can enable students to follow their passion and build proficiency in distinct areas within the tourism sector.
  3. Digital Skills Training: The modern tourism industry is increasingly dependent on digital technologies, making it crucial to invest in programmes and initiatives that empower young people with essential digital skills. From social media management and digital marketing to data analytics, website development, and mastering online booking systems, these competencies prepare young professionals to navigate and contribute to the evolving digital landscape of the industry.
  4. Business Training and Support: Aspiring youth entrepreneurs in the tourism sector would greatly benefit from more opportunities for business skills training. It is crucial to address pressing issues such as intellectual property protection and business model theft to ensure that young entrepreneurs receive adequate support and can flourish in their endeavours.
  5. Promoting Career Opportunities: Educating young individuals about diverse career opportunities in cruise ships and cabin crew sectors, as an example, can effectively broaden their perspective. By establishing learnerships and providing bursaries to matriculants who might not have the chance to pursue higher education, we can ensure more inclusive access to these fields.
  6. Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development: By encouraging and aiding young entrepreneurs to start their own tourism-related businesses, be it guesthouses, restaurants, adventure tourism operations, or niche tourism services, we can catalyse innovation and local economic growth. Offering mentorship programmes, financial access, and business development resources can significantly enhance their chances of success.
  7. Innovation and Unique Offerings: The South African tourism industry has immense potential for creativity and innovation. Young entrepreneurs should be inspired to think outside the box and develop unique services and experiences that can draw larger domestic and international audiences.
  8. Improved Salaries and Career Prospects: The issue of low salaries, particularly for lower-level employees in the tourism industry, needs urgent attention. By enhancing remuneration and benefits, tourism careers can be more sustainable and attractive. Exploring retirement savings and pension options could further ensure long-term financial security for those working in the industry.

The findings from the survey underscore the intricate fabric of the employment landscape and the hurdles that our youth encounter in the tourism industry. To attract, retain, and empower young talent in this sector, addressing pressing issues such as access to training opportunities, equitable remuneration, work-life balance, diversity, and discrimination is crucial.

Our youth, brimming with innovative ideas and a strong belief in their potential, seek recognition for their creativity and ability to make substantial contributions. They yearn for a platform where their voices echo loud and clear, where their potential is acknowledged and nurtured.

We must answer this call by recognising these concerns and taking action to address them. Through such action we can transform the tourism industry into a more inclusive and supportive environment where young talent thrives, thus contributing to the industry's evolution and progress.



Issued by South African Tourism

For further information, contact:

Thandiwe Mathibela

Tel: +2711 895 3177 




Note to editors

South African Tourism is the national tourism agency responsible for the marketing of South Africa as a preferred tourist destination, headed by Acting Chief Executive Officer, Nomasonto Ndlovu. 

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