Foreign nationals camping outside the UN High Commission for Refugees in Brooklyn in protest against the recent xenophobic attacks in the country. The writer says a burden of despondency has weighed heavily on South Africa recently, with concerns ranging from gender violence to the recent xenophobic disgrace. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)
JOHANNESBURG – A burden of despondency has weighed heavily on South Africa recently, with concerns ranging from coffee shop hysteria on emigration, to gender violence and the recent xenophobic disgrace.

Running contrary to this, a fully-fledged tourism app built in just six weeks by a Youth Employment Service (Yes) participant completing his first coding course at the Yes Tembisa Hub dropped into my updates.

Likewise, a report from partners at Wildtrust showed Nedbank’s Yes youth at Wild Oceans educating tourists on whale-watching, acting as guides and hosting visitor tours which explore the history of whales in Durban.

Indulging in pessimism is a dangerous pastime. It risks overlooking the sheer wealth of potential underlying the powerful combination of our country's youth and the tourism sector for addressing economic growth and unemployment.

The theme for September’s World Tourism Month was Tourism and jobs: A better future for all. This is particularly significant since drawing the country's youth into work means targeting high growth sectors that, as Finance Minister Tito Mboweni emphasised in his economic policy paper, can also act as “conduits of labour-intensive growth”.

Research by the World Travel and Tourism Council reveals that the female share of employment in travel and tourism in South Africa (53.7percent) is higher than the proportion of total female employment in our economy (43.7percent) – a trend echoed in 10 other G20 countries.

Given our youth unemployment crisis, these stats demand attention.

Also, it requires less formal education and training, offers flexible work opportunities and needs only minimal financing for entrepreneurs. This has enabled Yes and our implementation partners to see great potential in the sector.

To date, Yes has secured 21000 work experiences with our partners in the private sector, and 60 percent of placements are female. Of these, more than 1000 paid work opportunities have been created for youth, specifically in the tourism and hospitality sector in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal.

An additional 120 Yes youth will soon be trained to fill various positions within the aviation industry, embarking on a work opportunity at an African airline this month.

Technology and tourism further open access to local communities, stimulating small businesses and local economies through the multiplier effect.

The Yes Mpumalanga Hub, launching in April next year, will bridge the Kruger National Park economy with youth from Bushbuckridge and surrounding communities.

By providing these young adults with the skills and experience necessary to become entrepreneurs, incubated SMMEs will then absorb youth labour as they service the sector.

Agriculture tunnels at the hub will grow organic produce within reach of numerous hotels and lodges, while artisanal maker-spaces will train youth in solar installation, handyman tasks and plumbing to maintain the infrastructure of the park properties and bring them into the 21st century.

This approach, brought to scale, may finally blur the lines between South Africa's first and second economies, which has been such a devastating characteristic of our society, and which still today compounds high unemployment. 

And it is for this reason that Mboweni’s recent call for greater support and regulatory reforms for the tourism industry should be given the greatest urgency.

Dr Tashmia Ismail-Saville is the chief executive of Yes.