Regional Seminar on Responsible Tourism: Opportunities for Women and Youth (Nigeria, June 2012)

Regional Seminar on Responsible Tourism: Opportunities for Women and Youth (Nigeria, June 2012)

The UNWTO Regional Seminar on Responsible Tourism: Opportunities for Women and Youth, held in Calabar, Nigeria, on the 26th of June 2012, in conjunction with the 53rd UNWTO Regional Commission meeting for Africa, explored the ways in which the tourism sector can improve conditions for women and young persons throughout the region, and, in so doing, benefit the tourism trade at large, view towards enhancing tourism’s positive effects on the economic and social development of Africa. The Seminar gathered policy makers, representatives of the tourism industry, communities engaged in/interested in tourism development, women’s cooperatives, educational institutions, NGOs and civil society organisations.

A full list of participants is available in the event's Programme. A Report of the Seminar and the event's Final Conclusions may also be accessed at the links provided at the bottom of this page.

The principle objectives of the Seminar were to:

  • Raise awareness of the opportunities that tourism offers to women and youth through panel discussions in the context of capacity building, community development, entrepreneurship and leadership; 
  • Determine ways of overcoming obstacles to the empowerment and equality of women and youth in the tourism sector; and
  • Call for enhanced cooperation and coordination between governments, regional and international organizations, the private sector, and civil society actors, to tap the potential of women and youth in tourism.

Background information

One of the fastest growing and most dynamic spheres of the global economy, tourism is not only ideally poised to ensure prosperity, but also to promote women’s empowerment, gender equality, youth employment and children’s rights. Moreover, women and young persons are exceptionally well-placed to plan and establish tourism products based on the wealth of cultural heritage across Africa, whether in the form of handicrafts, folklore, dances, or gastronomy, towards inclusion in lucrative tourism value chains. Since more equal and diversified businesses and organisations produce better results in terms of productivity, sustainability and overall quality, the entire sector stands to profit from the active and equitable participation of women and youth.

To date, the tourism sector has played a significant role in empowering women politically, socially and economically. However, decisive action on behalf of both men and women, at all levels, remains vital in order to close the gender gap, particularly by ensuring equal pay for equal work, raising the quality of women’s employment and ending all forms of discrimination.

Similarly, while as an “entry point”, tourism offers young persons an excellent opportunity to enter the labour market, pressing challenges still remain. Special attention must be paid to improving the vulnerable situation in which young workers often find themselves, particularly due to issues of precarious work and the seasonality of the tourism sector, which may precipitate forms of exploitation.

Report of the Seminar (Download a pdf version here)


The seminar was opened by His Excellency Chief Edem Duke, who welcomed the participants and introduced UNWTO Secretary General Dr Taleb Rifai. Dr Rifai began by setting out how the concept of responsible tourism is complementary to sustainability, and goes beyond environmental aspects of tourism. Responsible tourism should improve people’s quality of life, particularly women’s lives, as women are the future of Africa. It is also important to be aware of the negative impacts that tourism can have on women and youth, for example when tourism infrastructure is used to facilitate the sexual exploitation of women and children. The Secretary General reiterated Executive Director of UN Women Michelle Bachelet’s support for tourism as a vehicle for the empowerment of women. He pointed out that tourism is not merely a business, but should improve quality of life for many people. Also, tourism is not just about large hotels and resorts – it includes small-scale tourism enterprises which are particularly relevant in the African context.

Introduction to seminar themes
UNWTO Consultant Dr Lucy Ferguson began by setting out the benefits of focussing on women and youth, both for the tourism sector and for African development. She highlighted in particular the widely acknowledged point that African tourism will only be sustainable if it addresses social and cultural factors and ensure the fair inclusion of women and youth. Next, Dr Ferguson outlined the African policy framework relevant to these issues in the tourism sector, such as the AU/NEPAD Tourism Action Plan, the AU Gender Policy and the AU Youth Charter. The presentation went on to outline the findings of the Global Report on Women in Tourism specific to Africa. Women make up a high proportion of workers in the sector, but earn on average 10% less than men and occupy only one third of all professional level positions. However, women are more likely to be own-account workers and employers in tourism in Africa than in other sectors. While the proportion of women tourism ministers is high, women leaders in other areas the sector are scarce. Women carry out a high amount of unpaid work in family tourism businesses which limits the potential for empowerment in the sector. Unfortunately, equivalent data on youth participation in African tourism is not currently available.

Dr Ferguson presented UNWTO’s three main activities in the area of women in tourism. The Second Global Report on Women in Tourism will offer a more comprehensive review of the participation and status of women in tourism. The terms of reference for the report are ready and work will start as soon as we secure the resources necessary to conduct this study. The Women in Tourism Empowerment Programme is made up for components: Employment Skills Training; Supply Chain; Advancement Programme; and Gender Training. UNWTO is currently seeking countries to serve as pilots for the first stage of the project and funding partners to collaborate on one or a combination of these components. The Gender Mainstreaming in Tourism Strategy is a broad over-arching programme which aims to provide NTAs with the necessary tools and guidelines for enhancing women’s participation in tourism, developed specifically for the tourism sector. Dr Ferguson concluded the presentation by setting out some of the possibilities for collaboration between UNWTO and African institutions on women and youth in tourism.

Panel 1: Forging women leaders in African tourism

This panel discussed the main opportunities for and barriers to women’s leadership in the tourism sector in Africa. Ms Rosalie Balima, Director of Tourism for Burkina Faso explained the ways in which cultural stereotypes that originate in communities can constrain women’s aspirations. Ms. Emuobo Ibru of Ikeja Hotels Nigeria pointed out that there are very few women in high level leadership positions in African tourism. Although many women attend seminars such as this one, men tend not to even though they are in the highest level posts. During the discussion, it was suggested that women’s leadership should be supported at all levels, paying particular attention to grassroots leadership in communities as this is where most African tourism products are based.

The panel then looked at the public sector, private sector and community level in order to explore these issues and proposed practical steps and activities that could be carried out in order to promote and support women’s leadership in the tourism sector. Ms. Ibru pointed out that there are a large number of women’s cooperatives and enterprises poised to take leadership in the tourism sector. However, women must be made aware of the opportunities available in the sector in order to be able to advance. There is also a need to promote favourable conditions for women’s access to finance. In terms of the public sector, there is a need to consider carefully the impact of tourism policies on women. Current policies tend to focus on support for large tourism businesses. However, the majority of opportunities for women are found in rural tourism and ecotourism.

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Panel 2: Strengthening entrepreneurship in Africa’s tourism sector

The second panel discussed the challenges involved in promoting entrepreneurship in the tourism sector. Ms. Nyanya Jagne, President of the Association of Small Scale Enterprises in Tourism, The Gambia highlighted market access in tourism as one of the most serious problems facing all entrepreneurs, including women and youth. Chief Sally Ukpo, Executive Director at Suffy Travels Ltd, Nigeria set out a number of challenges to growth for entrepreneurs in African tourism, such as a lack of infrastructure in terms of power and communications. Security issues and instability are also important, as they give a negative image to countries such as Nigeria. Those who want to be entrepreneurs in Nigeria have to deal with a broad range of organisations and face a wide range of obstacles, of which finance is a major issue. A point repeatedly raised in the discussions was the issue of access to land and property. As African women normally do not own land setting up a tourism enterprise is particularly challenging. Often, women entrepreneurs rely on rented land which affects the long terms stability and sustainability of their businesses.

The panel then explored what concrete measures need to be taken in order to support entrepreneurship by women and youth, and a number of suggestions were made. In terms of the public sector, governments should facilitate the application process for loans and business permits and simplify the bureaucratic procedures required by different institutions by centralising such processes. They should also consider tax incentives for tourism entrepreneurs and provide a framework for sustainable tourism policies at the national and regional level. Also important is the need for governments to develop bids for international donors in order to promote women entrepreneurs in tourism. In terms of the private sector, tourism companies need to introduce and comply with their own codes of conduct in order to ensure decent work and prevent any form of exploitation. At the community level, Chief Ukpo highlighted the need to promote cooperation between women entrepreneurs and the forming of associations in order to be able to create sustainable products and services for local and global markets. It was also suggested that in order to combat the volatility of tourism seasonality women and youth should be encouraged to combine handicraft production during the low season with the reception of tourists in the high season. In addition, there should be a gradual shift of emphasis from microenterprises to small and medium-sized enterprises for women and youth, as these are more likely to be profitable on a long-term basis.

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Panel 3: Capacity Building and community development

In the final panel, the discussion considered how capacity building in the tourism sector can benefit women and young people. The issue of quotas for women’s participation was discussed. For example, 40% of participants in GIZ projects must be women. However, this is not enough to ensure that a gender approach is mainstreamed and much more decisive actions are needed. Both Mr Akinropo Omoware of GIZ Nigeria and Mr Sina Adefolahan of the Women Consortium of Nigeria stressed the importance of wide-reaching gender training at all levels of the tourism sector – from ministerial to community level. The challenge of how to construct shared meaning on gender was raised, in order to ensure that local people are engaged in these projects. Several presenters outlined how the stereotyping of young people – particularly young men - hinders their opportunities for advancement in the tourism sector. Mr Adefolahan discussed the potential of tourism to combat human trafficking by working with women’s cooperatives, addressing the gender division of labour in the household and reducing the intergenerational cycle of poverty.

The panel also explored how women and young people can acquire skills to harness their intangible cultural heritage assets through tourism development. Ms. Laetitia Yei Adou of the Tourism Division of West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) discussed how UEMOA’s common tourism policy incorporates intangible cultural heritage and funds young entrepreneurs to access training in activities such as handicrafts through microcredit schemes. Mr Adefolahan pointed out that intangible cultural heritage has to be accepted and taken on by young people – it is not something that can be identified or imposed from above or outside. The panel discussion concluded with a reflection on how increased capacity building for women and young people can benefit the tourism sector as a whole. Mr Munzali Dantata of the National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism, Nigeria explained that women and young people have to be well trained in order to be able to take advantage of the opportunities presented by tourism. He argued that the sector could benefit significantly from more systematic and formalised education and training. Mr Omoware and Mr Sina Adefolahan stressed the importance of including young people in decision-making in the tourism sector. When young people feel ownership for projects through meaningful participation the results are more likely to be positive and enhance the overall sustainability of the sector.

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Conclusions and recommendations

In the concluding comments, Dr Lucy Ferguson outlined the key challenges and opportunities that were identified during the seminar. In terms of challenges, she first noted the lack of systematic information on women and youth in the tourism sector. She went on to identify some of the barriers to participation and leadership by women and youth in the sector, such as: the lack of equal opportunities in employment markets; women’s economic literacy; barriers to inclusion into tourism supply chains; lack of vocational training opportunities; and cultural stereotyping of women and young men. In terms of leadership, cultural stereotypes that originate in communities can constrain women’s aspirations. Moreover, there is often a gap between women’s ambitions for leadership in the sector and the level of training, capacity building and overall knowledge of tourism. The presentation then highlighted some of the opportunities for the sector in focussing on women and youth, such as a supportive and complementary African policy framework, the importance of grassroots leadership programmes at the community level, and the significant potential of intangible cultural heritage for involving young people and women in a proactive way in the tourism sector.

Three broad sets of recommendations were given. In terms of information, the recommendations focussed on the need for more systematic data collection, the sharing of best practices and the establishment of an African Network of Women in Tourism, to be facilitated by UNWTO. The recommendations for economic empowerment involve promoting economic literary programmes, support for cooperatives and widespread vocational training and skills development for women and youth. In terms of institutional aspects, Dr Ferguson identified a need to forge cooperation between the tourism private sector and women’s and youth organisations and the importance of gender training across all sectors. She then set out a number of suggestions for collaboration between UNWTO, NTAs, private sector actors and NGOs on these issues, focussing specifically on an Empowerment Programme for Women and Youth in African Tourism. The presentation concluded with a call to ensure that Africa is at the forefront of the contribution of the tourism sector to global development.

Closing ceremony

Mr Frédéric Pierret, UNWTO Executive Director for Programme and Coordination, reinforced UNWTO’s commitment to gender equality and women’s rights, stating that these are fundamental components of responsible and sustainable tourism. The seminar was closed by Chief Duke, who thanked all the participants and expressed a desire to work together on these issues.

Final Conclusions of the Seminar (Download a pdf version here)

These conclusions set out the key challenges and opportunities that were identified during the seminar. They also provide general recommendations and suggest specific steps for moving in this area.


There are three main challenges for the fair inclusion of women and youth in the African tourism sector.

First, we lack systematic information on women and youth in the tourism sector. While we have some preliminary data on women’s participation from the Global Report, we are still short of detailed studies and current data. Moreover, while we have general data on youth labour market participation and unemployment, we are missing any substantive data on youth in tourism. As identified by the presenters, there is also a gap between available funding opportunities and the capacity of women and youth to access information on these.

Second, there are some strong barriers to women and youth participation in the sector. For women, there are both participation and leadership barriers. Women’s participation in the tourism sector is limited by the lack of equal opportunities in employment markets, shortcomings in women’s economic literacy, challenges in forming profitable and sustainable cooperatives, and lack of inclusion into tourism supply chains. Women’s leadership can be constrained by cultural stereotypes that originate in communities that limit women’s aspirations. There is also often a gap between women’s ambitions for leadership in the sector and the level of training, capacity building and overall knowledge of tourism. The issue of land is also important to highlight, as African women are not usually the title holders of land and property, making it difficult to guarantee long term stability and sustainability of women’s tourism businesses. Youth also face barriers to full participation in the tourism sector. Many of the issues are the same – in particular in terms of cultural stereotyping - but the need for appropriate vocational training and skills development training are particularly pertinent in the African youth context.

Third, the high proportion of contributing family workers is an issue to be addressed. As highlighted in the ILO’s Global Trends for Youth report, a large proportion of young people are performing unpaid work in family businesses. We know that for women, there are more contributing family workers in tourism than in other sectors, in Africa and in most world regions. We need to look in more detail about how women and youth’s status as contributing family workers may be limiting their fair inclusion into the tourism sector.


As well as a number of challenges, the opportunities for women and youth in the tourism sector are significant. Women already make up the majority of workers in the hotel and restaurant sector and are more likely to be employers, own-account workers and ministers in this sector than in other sectors. At the same time, an average of 2.1 million young people will be entering the labour market in sub Saharan Africa between 2012 and 2015.

The tourism private sector is poised to harness the significant potential of women and youth and to stem youth migration from rural to urban areas, both for the sustainability of the sector and African development as a whole. In addition to this potential, a complementary African policy framework is in place to support these goals. The Africa Action Plan, Tourism Action Plan, Gender Policy and Youth Charter all affirm their strong commitment to the fair inclusion of women and youth in Africa’s economic development. The seminar identified a number of opportunities each thematic area.

In leadership, women and youth leadership should be considered at all levels starting with the community level, developing grassroots leadership programmes and working upwards from there. In entrepreneurship, a suggestion was made to combat the volatility of tourism seasonality – by encouraging handicraft production during the low season with the reception of tourists in the high season. In capacity building, an interesting case was mentioned in Botswana of the training levy for tourism which is systematically included in tourism pricing, establishing a fund to ensure resources are generated for this area. Intangible cultural heritage also offers significant opportunities for women and young people, and we need to think about how to involve young people in a positive and empowered way in this process.

General Recommendations


  • Collect data and information in the form of statistics and qualitative research such as interview and in-depth case studies – particularly important in the area of youth as we simply do not have the necessary information to proceed in this area
  • Identify more best practices, including in-depth engagement with potential best practices to see what works and why
  • Create an African Network of Women in Tourism in order to share best practices and provide support to women’s business
  • Establish a focal point for information on funding activities and facilitate the dissemination of these opportunities among women and young people

Economic empowerment

  • Promote economic literacy programmes for women and youth
  • Support women’s and youth cooperatives
  • Conduct interventions to overcome the constraints to the entry of women’s cooperatives in tourism supply chains
  • Provide training to access funding and use this in an optimal way in order to produce long term and sustainable results
  • Promote a gradual shift from microenterprises to small and medium-sized enterprises for women and youth in order to ensure greater profitability in the long-term
  • Secure women’s access to land, credit and property to promote the sustainability of women’s tourism businesses

Institutional aspects

  • Forge cooperation between tourism private sector and women and youth organisations
  • Work together to eliminate barriers to women and youth’s fair and sustainable inclusion
  • Develop gender training across all levels in order to work on these issues
  • Include women and youth as active participants in the formulation of policy and projects
  • Encourage tourism companies to introduce and comply with their own codes of conduct in order to ensure decent work and prevent any form of exploitative practices in the tourism sector

Moving forward and next steps

This seminar should help to set in motion a combination of macro (gender mainstreaming strategy, national policies and coordination by UNWTO, WITEP pilot programme) and micro (specific policies, programmes and projects, for example collaboration on one or more components of WITEP) activities. A focal point/means of communication should be established – a Gender and Tourism Portal could be a potential tool for this, as well as the proposed African Network of Women in Tourism. In addition to the practical aspects of collaboration, it wilI be helpful to consider the different priority areas in current funding streams which might offering opportunities: for example, MDG3, women’s economic empowerment, decent work, vocational training and youth participation. New funding streams will also open up as the development policy agenda is reformulated post-2015, presenting an opportunity to ensure that Africa is at the forefront of the contribution of the tourism sector to global development.

Based on the overall conclusions of the presentations and debates of the seminar, it is evident that NTAs need substantive assistance in order to promote the fair inclusion of women and youth in African tourism. UNWTO should provide ongoing technical support and establish itself as a reference point for communication, exchange and information in this area.

Proposal for Collaboration

Based on these conclusions, UNWTO recommends the development of an Empowerment Programme for African Women and Youth in Tourism. This will be a regional level project developed with the support of UNWTO’s Commission for Africa and the Ethics and Social Dimensions of Tourism Programme. Based on the blueprint for the UNWTO Women in Tourism Empowerment Programme, this will be further developed by drawing on the specific challenges and opportunities presented in African countries, as highlighted by the Calabar seminar. A draft proposal will be drawn up by UNWTO in collaboration with the Commission for Africa in order to be presented to bilateral or multilateral donors.

Relevant Materials

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