Thursday, July 31, 2008

Idea: Tourism Project Puts Unemployed to Work

If your attraction, festival or event could benefit from tour guides, here's a project taking place in Beirut that gives unemployed people a new direction.

Tourism project turns unemployed locals into tourism guides
By The Daily Star Friday, August 01, 2008

BEIRUT: European and Middle Eastern instructors, each with several years of experience in the "responsible" tourism sector, have gathered in Lebanon this week to offer an intensive nine-day training session for tour guides held by Centre pour L'Insertion par la Formation et l'Activite (CIFA).

The courses, aimed at improving the quality and efficiency of services provided by tour leaders in the region, will contribute to sustainable development by creating new job opportunities, CIFA said in a statement on Thursday.
This week's session gathered participants from Jordan, Syria and Lebanon who benefitted from the specialized training modules on offer.

Tourism in the region is on the rise, with Syria and Jordan witnessing a vast increase in visitors due to intensive marketing efforts and renewed interest by Europeans to discover the region. Lebanese tour operators are also optimistic amid the current climate and are once again putting a positive spin on the country, hoping to give tourist groups the confidence to visit.

While many tourists come to the Middle East to visit world-famous sites such as Baalbek, Petra, and Palmyra, others look beyond and also wish to discover rural regions and meet the local community. TLB Destinations, a regional incoming-tour operator specializing in adventure packages, introduced a new concept - known today as responsible tourism - since it began operations 12 years ago. The company philosophy is to plan tours to benefit the community by employing local tour leaders and guides and encouraging stays with rural villagers or small family-owned lodgings.

After several years of observation and study in the area of responsible tourism, CIFA, a non-profit organization, was founded by TLB Destinations to focus on the linkages between tourism, conservation, and sustainable development, within the growing movement for responsible tourism.

CIFA established a training center in order to train unemployed locals to become tour leaders thus creating job opportunities. Tour leaders are trained to safeguard local heritage and traditions and improve knowledge to protect the environment and biodiversity, as well as providing a professional service for the traveler.

This month's sessions are part of CIFA's training program aimed at improving the skills of those working in the tourism industry as well as contributing toward sustainable development in the Middle East.

"We hope to offer training for more people in the coming year," said CIFA project manager Sabina Llewellyn-Davies. "The vast increase in incoming tourism to the Mideast needs major investments in the field of practical tourism training, to build quality services, and at the same time to create new job opportunities to the unemployed."

Several of the participants taking the training are currently unemployed, including Daniel Abou Khalil from Lebanon who heard about the course through a friend. "I really appreciate the benefits of the training and am looking forward to this new opportunity and I am really excited about this challenge."

All the participants will later continue with ongoing practical training after the initial introductory course. "I am currently without a job. With this added training I will now be able to find work in my country," says Ahmad Hamden, one of the Jordanian participants who benefited from modules ranging from trekking guidelines to First Aid training "CIFA believes that a well-trained tour leader can safeguard a country's heritage and environment, as well as improve contact between travelers and local communities, thus building bridges between East and West," Llewellyn-Davies said.

This summer's training is taking place at a mountain orphanage; the participants are sleeping over here to further encourage teambuilding.
"Our stay will directly benefit a project which offers shelter to war orphans as well as street children," explained Llewellyn-Davies. The cost of this summer's training for the participants is being covered by tour operator TLB Destinations, to contribute to sustainable development.

The training courses will conclude with a two-day mountain hike with overnight camping in the North of Lebanon.

"This training is beneficial to improve my knowledge, and to exchange ideas with the other participants from three different countries," said Qamar Ayoubi, a tour guide and history professor from Damascus. "The trainers are very dedicated and knowledgeable and I feel that I will return to Syria with a new awareness of the objectives of responsible tourism." - The Daily Star

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