30 August 2022

Giving a global overview of the challenges the tourism industry faced in the past two years, Professor Fehlner said the pandemic caused unprecedented destruction and there was a massive fall in international demand due to lockdowns and the travel restrictions that were put in place to contain the spread of the virus.

“This resulted in over one million tourism jobs at risk. These were mostly small to medium-sized enterprises, which make up most of the sector. A high share of women and young people were impacted by this,” she said.

“In 2019 we were doing well and in 2020 we took an enormous hit. International travel plunged by 72% in 2020 and it was the worst year on record for tourism; it put tourism back almost 30 years, with only a very slight improvement experienced in 2021,” said Professor Fehlner.

The good news she shared was that the tourism industry is slowly recovering, and the 2022 figures look positive. However, there are lessons that institutions of higher learning and businesses should note, and these mainly include investigating the skill sets required to turn the situation around for the tourism industry.

New skill sets needed

Professor Fehlner noted that new skill sets were required of students, and that universities, in conjunction with the tourism industry, must investigate updating the curriculum, research, and topics of study.

She highlighted that a study by UNWTO, which focused on students and working professionals, found that customer orientated service was a vital aspect for future work and that looking at developing new skills training for tourism was important.

“Some variation saw creativity and innovation and digital skills areas as the most important skill. It recommended to advance research skills mismatch to ensure that their training programmes are responsive to the labour market, to maximise digital skill development, focus on skill development, communications, customer focus and marketing and promotion.

Another study exposed digital skills gap due to Covid that has accelerated the availability of information, and the changing structure of the tourism industry.

“Lately, it’s easier to compare prices online and tourism has the largest products sold on the internet. This requires that employee skills need to keep up with these changes. Another finding is that basic skills such as  online marketing, communication skills, social media and office and operating skills were seen as important.

Educating for sustainable tourism in Sub-Saharan Africa

Professor Fehlner further said the tourism industry is robust even after Covid-19. Europe has an expanding workforce, due to lack of employment in Africa, and as their department has become increasingly involved in tourism projects and several universities from Sub-Saharan Africa have also expressed an interest in the dual system.

UMP Head of the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, Professor July Sibanyoni. 

“The main objective was to investigate the current status and effectiveness of sustainable tourism (ST) education in universities across this continent.”

Professor Fehlner then conducted a study titled: Educating for Sustainable Tourism in Sub-Saharan Africa, which was to assess the current educational needs of the tourism industry in view of global socio-economical, environmental and technological trends, and, furthermore, to develop practicable and effective responses.

“Firstly, tourism education in the region of Sub Saharan Africa was analysed through the lens of sustainability. In a second step, digitalisation in the tourism industry was examined and strategies for improvements identified.

The study addressed important research gaps. It contributed to the research on the integration of sustainability into tourism curricula and on conceptual frameworks designed specifically for ST education.

“It found that sustainability concepts have yet to be fully integrated into tourism curricula in the region and argued for a broader and more inclusive approach to tourism education.

The implementation of digital learning technologies in the classroom was found to be particularly relevant for developing countries. It was also viewed as the basis for building collaborations between educational institutions on an international level," she explained. 

Developing and nurturing future skills 

Professor Fehlner said all studies conducted in Germany have identified the need for defined future skills as cross-industry, ability skills and attributes that will become more important in all areas of working life and beyond.

“Future skills are then conditioned and supplemented by specific knowledge and correspondent by the willingness to act. This emphasises that it’s not about knowing, it’s about putting that information into action. The real focus of future skills is digitalisation and the development of a sustainable economy."

She went on to unpack the competencies that could lead to solutions in improving these areas which are grouped into four aspects that which they identified as: Technological, Digital, Classic and Transformative competencies.

“Technological competencies were particularly important in the design, and the efficient use of technology and new software for the development for new types of knowledge. Examples of technological competencies are data analytics, software development, hardware or robot development and many more.

Digital competencies are also vital. These include digital literacy, digital ethics, and digital learning such as Zoom and Moodle.”

Professor Fehlner referred to how Covid-19 has shown the world the importance of digital skills when people had to find their way around when they had to work from home offices.

“The classic competencies, also known as traditional competencies, include problem-solving, creativity, entrepreneurial skills, adaptability, intercultural communication and resilience, which are the building blocks for individual and organisational success, and still very relevant though transformative competencies are necessary to address the social problems, and challenges of our time," she added..

“The focus is on developing these competencies so that an individual can take up a leadership role and identify values at hand, be innovative in finding a solution, and unite people. Examples will be value, judgement and innovative competence, change competence, dialogue and conflict resolutions."

In conclusion, Professor Fehlner said all skills competencies will be necessary for dealing with the current challenges the world is facing today and what will be encountered in future. Transformative skills are needed to address social problems, and we need to start developing individuals who are innovative and will find solutions to future problems. Universities need to collaborate more so that we can fulfil the skills gap.

"There will be a need for collaboration in international capacity building projects with a focus on the Dual Studies model and the integration of sustainable tourism concepts.”

@ Story by Cleopatra Makhaga. Pictures Supplied.