UNWTO Students’ league: opening young minds to entrepreneurship in the tourism sector

13 September 2022

Tourism was one of the sectors most affected by the COVID-19 crisis, with significant impacts on the economies, communities and countries that rely on the sector. Nevertheless, the UN SG’s Policy Brief: COVID-19 and transforming tourism, published during August 2020, advocated for rebuilding tourism as an opportunity for the sector’s transformation, “harnessing innovation and digitalization, embracing local values, and creating decent jobs for all, particularly for youth, women and the most vulnerable groups in our societies”.

Compared to other sectors, young workers in the tourism sector have been severely affected by the Covid-19 crisis as they have suffered more than other age groups, and they are generally more susceptible to informal or casual employment, with limited or no access to social protection. Translated into data/figures terms,  the ILO Monitor: COVID 19 and the world of work, estimated in May 2020 that a total of 178 million young workers, more than four in ten young people employed globally, were working in hard-hit sectors when the crisis began, including tourism.

Education, digitalization, and innovation for good

The acceleration of the digitalization during the crisis brought to the forefront the need to deliver digital literacy training, to invest in education and repurpose skills and competencies development, in all areas, which are necessary for tourism workers and job seekers, particularly female and young tourism workers, to increase their capacity to use digital tools and online resources to promote added value jobs and resilience of the tourism sector.

Namely, the use of technology by young people is an essential asset for their lives nowadays, fostering social progress and contributing to enhancing their communities as well as by providing innovative, fresh, and new ideas through their knowledge, skills, and creativity. Young people are an enormous and important source worth to entrust and they have the potential to drive sustainable development in the tourism sector. It is a must to support them on their journey and empower them for their future.

UNWTO Students’ league initiative

To that end, in 2020 UNWTO created the UNWTO Students League, an innovative platform that allows students to get real-time knowledge on the Tourism sector and a peek into the tourism labour market and first-class experience by working on creating innovative and sustainable solutions for the challenges that the sector is facing.

This initiative brings the tourism sector closer to younger generations and, by bringing together these youngsters with government officials, representatives of the tourism industry, experts and other major stakeholders, it connects the tourism industry to students’  education and training, enabling young people to enter the labour market in the future as high skilled, knowledgeable and adaptable future leaders that will shape the global vision of tomorrow.

(UNWTO 24 General Assembly- Youth meets Ministers debate event)


In 2021, over 700 students around the world presented innovative sustainable solutions for hot topics such as plastics pollution and rural development and received first-class online training and evaluation from international experts such as Iberia, Meliá International, NH hotels, Culinary Tourism Alliance, Exotravel, Meta, Santander Bank foundation, Radisson Hotels, Google, ITC, Ellen McArthur Foundation, UNEP, GSTC, among others.

(2021 UNWTO Global students league- Online Final4 competition- Rural and Tourism development challenge-High School students’ category)


For 2022, with the aim to enhance local talent development and positively impact on each country’s national tourism plan and to support even more young people in their preparation and engagement to help shape a better world, the UNWTO Students’ League will start at a national level, and then escalate towards a Grand Global Final Competition.

Young students’ entrepreneurs

Students from the past two editions, from 11 to 29 year olds, have created innovative sustainable solutions for global pressing issues such as avoiding mass tourism, reducing single use plastics in accommodations and destinations, fostering rural development through tourism, creating Digital communication solutions, inclusiveness, and many more. Their innovative solutions have been presented in the format of digital applications for tourists, works of art, high impact calls-to-action, social media and other digital marketing campaigns, and potential strategies to help both destinations and tourism accommodation providers reduce plastic waste and consumption. The winning teams have benefitted from internship opportunities in the private sector and at the UNWTO with the Tourism Market Intelligence and Competitiveness and the Sustainable Development of Tourism Programmes and some ideas submitted to the competition have been picked up by stakeholders across the tourism sector.  

“Participating in the competition meant applying more of my knowledge and understanding of the importance of the destination management field to enhance, protect and promote territorial resources: Tourism generates numerous opportunities but only if regulated by the right skills.


From this awareness,“DestinAction” was born, the association that I founded at the end of my university master's degree in tourism economics at Bocconi University in September 2021 and which I chair. It is the first community in Italy to bring together young tourism professionals who aspire to work in the service of Italian territories”. 


Lucia Tucci- Winner 2021 UNWTO Global Students’ league -Team OffBeat- Rural and Tourism development challenge-Masters category student


Ms. Lucy Garner

Senior Expert Youth and talent development

Ms. Isabel Cebrian

Project Specialist Youth and talent development

Year of publication

13 September 2022