Today I thought I would talk to you about an interesting twist on responsible tourism that I stumbled upon: the Youth Career Initiative (YCI). The YCI was launched in 1995 in Bangkok as part of a community initiative by the Pan Pacific Hotels Group, and was intended to “give back” to society by teaching disadvantaged youth useful skills that would help them get jobs within the hospitality industry. The program was so successful for the initial participants that it continued to expand, and today it is part of the International Business Leaders Forum and has spread to 12 different countries. Major hotel chains like the Four Seasons, Marriott, and Starwood have implemented the program, greatly expanding its reach.
So what is the YCI? It’s a 6-month long education program based in full service hotels that gives students the opportunity to gain work experience in 15 departments, as well as to attend classroom sessions on topics like IT skills and resume workshops. It is intended for 18-21 –year-olds with little to no means to find legitimate employment or continue their education, meaning that for most of the participants it is their last resort. The model is not one-size-fits-all, but tailored to address the needs of youth in each specific country, and it has had some good results. 85% of graduates go on to employment (47% in hospitality, 26% in other sectors) or to further education (12% of graduates), which is impressive considering the participants in the program are all youth without any other means to further their education or find legitimate employment.
At first I was a bit skeptical that the program was started as a form of PR for the Pan Pacific Hotels group, but so far it seems to have had some good results, whatever the original intentions. Isn’t that what matters? As long as the people the program is aimed for are actually benefitting, in a sustainable way, is it a bad thing for the hotels using the program to get a PR bump? Business ethics has been a concern since the 80s, so the idea of doing good in the local community in exchange for an improved public image is not exactly a new one. But I think it’s interesting that these hotels have decided to use the booming tourism industry that brings them so much money to help youth with very few options find employment within the industry—or outside of it, as the case may be. Business ethics programs tend to be focused on the environment or on the business’s carbon footprint, and while both of those things are worthwhile, focusing on those things usually doesn’t do much to help the people within the local community. Programs like this give a real economic benefit to the community, teaching useful skills to people with few options. I hope that more hotels jump on the bandwagon and either join this program or create similar ones of their own.
Michelle Bovée is a SISGI Group Program and Research Intern focused on international affairs, economic development, and responsible tourism. To learn more about the SISGI Group visit www.sisgigroup.org