Young Tourism Ambassadors: Opening doors to their futures
A transformational program is introducing young men and women to the tourism sector.
Tourism consultant Srilal Miththapala, a regular eTN contributor from Sri Lanka, is the livewire of an eight-day program designed to familiarize post A/L students from the Nuwara Eliya area on the modern tourist industry.
The Private Sector Tourism Skills Committee (TSC) in partnership with The Grand Hotel Nuwara Eliya and YouLead held a second program under the Young Tourism Ambassadors Initiative pilot. This transformational program introduced 16 young men and women to the sector through an intensive one-week internship exposing them to the many diverse career opportunities available in the industry.
The individual sessions were led by over 10 different external industry experts and internal resource persons from the hotel. The young tourism ambassadors studied everything from housekeeping to horticulture. They observed how to conserve Sri Lanka’s natural heritage and promote nature tourism as well as how to engage a visitor and to entertain them. Other modules under the internship included chauffeur and tour guiding as well as CSR. Evidence shows that young people with practical experience often find more secure and better paid jobs, easier and more quickly than their peers.
Parents too are brought in and given an overview of hotel and the training the youth will get. At the end of the two weeks parents were brought in again and the youth presented some of their newly acquired knowledge and skills. A key challenge of ensuring parental perceptions and mindsets were addressed with feedback that many parents were totally won over to the idea of allowing their children to take up jobs in the hospitality and leisure sector.
The program was specifically tailored to the location and facilities of The Grand Hotel and its success was largely due to the enthusiasm of the staff who exposed the young students to the unique qualities of their hotel and shared their own passion for their careers in tourism.
Srilal spoke emotionally of the pleasure of transcending existing cookie cutter programs for something as intense and customized as the internship initiative has turned out to be. “It is game changing,” he said with a noticeable break in his voice. “I’m delighted that the TSC is taking aim at changing youth perceptions and attitudes through this unique, innovative program. These kids are really pumped up with a desire to come into the industry. They can really soar high with this level of motivation and attention.”
The Grand Hotel General Manager Refhan Razeen, speaking on behalf of the management and staff of The Grand Hotel said, “I wish to profoundly thank you for conducting the YouLead program in such an exemplary manner. I am confident that the youth who attended this program would have received wide exposure in the arena of the hospitality industry. Programs such as these give fresh, talented and multi-skilled youngsters, get exposure into the gamut of career choices in the industry and in turn the industry benefits from going back to their communities and schools and discussing this curated experience.”
YouLead Youth Ambassador Praneepa Pereira who took part in the Nuwara Eliya program said, “You can join this program and learn different perspectives that you didn’t know about this field. Actually, when I came here, I knew nothing about this field. I didn’t know what tourism was. I didn’t know what hotel management was. But here they teach us everything. Each and every thing. So, according to me, this is one of the best fields which a youth can succeed in their lives … when you come to this field you will know how to succeed!”
Sri Lanka’s tourism industry is at a crossroad. It is well situated to take advantage of the dramatic growth in tourism from Asian markets; it has a wealth of natural and cultural assets that that are well aligned with the fastest growth segments in the industry (e.g. health and wellness, sustainable cultural and nature-based travel); its people are hospitable and the climate is suitable for year-round travel. Industry analyses all highlight the fact that the 21st century traveler is seeking authentic experiences rather than just beautiful sights and sandy beaches. The takeaway for the TSC, therefore, is that our workforce is the most important asset we have. This is because quality visitor experiences come from interacting with local people.
Chaired by Resplendent Ceylon Managing Director Malik Fernando, the TSC is an informal association of 10 private sector tourism leaders from the hotel and travel sector. These leaders came together based on a mutual desire to take action on an issue that endangers the growth of their industry- the lack of youth taking up jobs in tourism. The TSC launched an eight-point plan on 25 June and has proceeded to implement those initiatives one-by-one. Already the group has developed or revised eight vocational curricula to make it more relevant to the needs of the industry, and circulated a short documentary showing the impact of Sri Lankan women in tourism.
The Young Tourism Ambassadors Initiative is a key deliverable in the recently launched ‘Sri Lanka Tourism and Hospitality Workforce Competitiveness Roadmap’ which was prepared by the Private Sector Tourism Skills Committee (TSC) with the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA), Sri Lanka Institute for Tourism and Hotel Management (SLITHM), Ceylon Chamber of Commerce (CCC), and YouLead – a project funded by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by International Executive Service Corps (IESC).
The members of the TSC include Malik J. Fernando, Shiromal Cooray, Angeline Ondaatjie, Jayantissa Kehelpannala, Sanath Ukwatte, Chamin Wickramasinghe, Dileep Mudadeniya, Timothy Wright, Steven Bradie-Miles, and Preshan Dissanayake. Ex-officio members included nominees from the Ceylon Chamber, Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA), Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management (SLITHM), and the Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission (TVEC).