SDSN at the World Travel & Tourism Council Global Summit

By Abigail Chifusa, Global Schools Project Officer, and Samantha Thompson, SDG Academy Communications Coordinator

From November 28th, 2022 – December 2nd, 2022, a youth delegation comprising representatives from Global Schools, SDSN Youth, Master’s in Development Practice Programs, and the wider SDG Academy community joined more than 2,000 participants and 100 speakers who met in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for the 22nd World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) Global Summit.

More than 40 members of SDSN’s Youth Delegation were Master’s in Development Practice (MDP) students, representing academic institutions such as Columbia University, Harvard University, Emory University, Monash University, National Taiwan University, Regis University, Sunway University, TERI School of Advanced Studies, University of British Columbia, University of Florida, University of Minnesota, University of Peradeniya, University of Pretoria, University of Arizona, Ibadan University, University of California-Berkeley, and Tsinghua University.

One of the goals of the WTTC Global Summit was to shape the future of travel and tourism, with a focus on resilience and sustainability, with the aim of allowing individuals to work together in order to build a better future for all.

The Youth Programme began with a Youth Day for delegates from around the world. The session featured an Opening Performance from the award-winning Winneba Youth Choir of Ghana and speeches from Former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Vice-Minister of Tourism H.E. Princess Haifa Al Saud, and Minister of Tourism H.E. Ahmed Al Khateeb. 

This was a proud moment for the Global Schools program, who, alongside SDG Academy organizers and colleagues, were in attendance to discuss issues concerning Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and Sustainable Tourism with other global youth leaders.

Delegates included Global Schools Project Officers Abigail Chifusa and Kannan Reghunathan Nair, as well as SDG Academy’s Communications Coordinator Samantha Thompson. For many of the SDSN delegates, this was the first time they had ever met in person.

Over the next two days of the Summit, delegates were able to attend sessions, explore the exposition center, and engage in thoughtful dialogues with each other and leaders in the hospitality industry. Session themes included: “The Global Business of Travel,” “Maximizing Tourism Opportunities in the Middle East,” “Accelerating the Energy Transition,” “The Sustainable Future of Travel,” “Cities of Tomorrow,” and “Redefining the Modern Airport,” among others.

The final day of the Summit concluded with a special session on “Next in Travel,” which featured a conversation between SDSN President Jeffrey Sachs and Former President of Mexico Felipe Calderón, who discussed inspiring a sustainability revolution. 

SDSN youth delegates were excited to meet and take selfies with Jeffrey Sachs, who praised their dedication to achieving sustainable development.

Global Schools Project Officer Abigail Chifusa with SDSN President Jeffrey Sachs
Youth delegates take selfies with Jeffrey Sachs

The Youth Programme concluded by giving delegates a taste of Saudi Arabia’s growing tourism industry first-hand. The day began with a trip to Jewel of the Kingdom: Diriyah, considered “the birthplace of the first Saudi state.” This historical city has only recently been restored to receive tourists, and WTTC Summit youth delegates were among some of its first visitors.

WTTC Summit youth delegates at At-Turaif in Diriyah

In the evening, the delegation toured Masmak Fortress, site of the founding of the third Saudi state, and the Souq Al-Zal in Riyadh’s historic center. Later, delegates visited Al Rajhi Mosque, the largest in Riyadh, to learn about Islam. The evening concluded with a dinner of traditional cuisine from Saudi Arabia’s central Najd district.

“I was inspired most of all by the countless conversations and engaging dialogues amongst the SDSN cohort of youth delegates. It is clear how much my generation values the earth and creating pathways for global citizens to participate in sustainable tourism.” -Samantha Thompson, SDSN Youth Delegate from the USA

SDG Academy team members Amber Webb, Lucia Rodriguez, Shannon Kobran, Imran Rasid, and Samantha Thompson at the WTTC Global Summit