Brave new world opens up for Young Tourism Ambassadors in Jaffna

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The Jaffna edition of the Young Tourism Ambassadors Initiative ended successfully on Tuesday, December 11. Fifteen young men and women from the Jaffna area were exposed to everything from flambé cooking to waste management. This pilot program was held by the private sector Tourism Skills Committee (TSC) in partnership with Jetwing Hotels Jaffna and supported by YouLead, a project funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

The Jaffna program had a unique strength in Sakila Panchatcharam who is one of the initial 35 YouLead youth leaders and spokespersons supported by USAID. Sakila was both a role model and success story whose life was transformed by the opportunity to build a livelihood and career at Jetwing Jaffna. She played a pivotal role as a mentor to the Jaffna batch of Young Tourism Ambassadors, particularly demonstrating the excellent career opportunities available in the rapidly-growing sector to the 9 women from the Northern Province participating.

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“It was a miracle when Jetwing opened up in Jaffna,” Sakila said, “I have achieved so much and risen up fast. I am so proud to see other youngsters given such a thorough and hands-on introduction to the industry. There is so much commitment and trouble taken to ensure the young people get a true flavor of the type of job and the exciting people and places one can work in. It is a job like no other. It is an amazing field. I strongly recommend it.”

Shiromal Cooray, Deputy Chair of the TSC and Managing Director of Jetwing Travels, said, “Jetwing is one of the strongest players in inclusivity having already developed five General Managers and has a threefold higher representation of women than most of the others in the industry.” She explained, “This is one industry that globally has a skew to women averaging at least 60%. It is sad that Sri Lanka with its high level of education and gender equity has not surmounted the inclusion of women into hospitality with a dismal figure of 8% average for women in tourism. We can and must do better.”

The Young Tourism Ambassadors Initiative program follows the recent release of the TSC’s Sri Lanka Tourism and Hospitality Workforce Competitive Roadmap 2018-2023 developed to enhance the competitiveness of Sri Lanka’s tourism and hospitality workforce. The Young Ambassadors were given the opportunity to explore a variety of career paths available in the tourism and hospitality sector. Topics covered not only included hotel operations but tour guiding, waste management, and sustainable tourism as well.

The Ambassadors observed how to conserve Sri Lanka’s natural heritage and promote nature – not just how to engage and entertain a visitor.

A.M. Lourdeshanah, 19, who took part in the program said, “This program helps me to gain more knowledge, not only about the hospitality management and tourism, but also the other skills. Our thinking about the hospitality sector is more different than before we came here I think it’s a blessing to get this opportunity.”

The initiative also introduced the parents to the modern tourism industry, inviting them for an overview of both the hotel and the program. One of the key challenges to the industry has been the prevailing perception that tourism and hospitality is not a desirable field to enter especially for females. Parent participation allows them to see first-hand the jobs available to their children and the working environment.

The Jaffna program was the TSC’s final following successful programs in Hambantota and Nuwara Eliya that resulted in most of the youth expressing an interest to seek careers in tourism. As those before it, the program was specifically tailored to the location and facilities of the Jetwing Jaffna. Thirteen of the Young Ambassadors, 8 young women and 5 young men, were absorbed to the Jetwing Jaffna after the program.

Jaffna’s youth are still emerging from the horrors of a 30-year civil war and a lack of access to television, radio, and electricity for a large part of their formative years. The young ambassadors knew little about what Jaffna and the north offered in terms of tourism. It was an entire new world of opportunity that had never been part of their choice set. “It was indeed a very rich and rewarding experience to interact with these youngsters for the past 8 days,” said Srilal Miththapala, the lead trainer and chief architect of the program and regular eTN contributor.

The Young Tourism Ambassador Initiative is a key deliverable in the recently-launched Roadmap which was prepared by the TSC with the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA), Sri Lanka Institute for Tourism and Hotel Management (SLITHM), and the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce (CCC). It is the result of inputs and recommendations made by Srilal Miththapala and James MacGregor, a YouLead international tourism expert. The Human Resources Advisory Subcommittee was led by Kanchana Nanayakkara and supported by Ishara Naufal, Irandi Wijegunawardane, Naradha Jayasinghe, Sujeeva Cooray, Kusalitha Devruwan, Ruwan Punchihewa, Asoka Jayawardena, Ranjan Amarasinghe, and Gemunu Jinasena.

The core 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. Abbas Esufally, and Prema Cooray also gave graciously of their time.

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).