This year’s International Women’s Day theme is “Choose to Challenge,” a fitting call to action as the world emerges from a pandemic and considers the kind of future it wishes to build. Companies, governments, communities now have the choice to rebuild deliberately, differently, and more inclusively so that women and marginalized groups have access to resources, support and opportunity. As the tourism sector emerges from the “great pause, it is no exception.
Travel and tourism has the opportunity to rebuild with an eye to greater participation from women and greater social impact. This inclusiveness promises not only to strengthen the sector and make it more resilient, but it will also help construct deeper and more transformative travel experiences for travelers.
With the landscape in mind, this article offers some specific ideas and mechanisms that tourism and travel can apply to empower women, support women entrepreneurs and businesses, and actively invest in communities to do so.
Women in Tourism Before the Pandemic
Prior to the pandemic, women accounted for 54% of the tourism sector’s employment worldwide. On one level, this statistic can be interpreted as an achievement, a foundational step toward opportunity and access for women. However, according to research done by the UNWTO, most of those jobs are concentrated in the least powerful, lowest-skilled and lowest paid positions. This implies that women, especially those participating in the informal economy, remain the most at risk of job loss and displacement from economic shocks like the pandemic.
As the tourism sector rebuilds its challenge is not only to focus on greater involvement of women as part of the workforce, but as partners and leaders.
Why Investing in Women Matters
Investing in women is an investment in our communities and future generations.
Kiva, a microfinance organization which lends money low-income entrepreneurs around the world, found that women reinvest 80% of the income they earn into the education and wellbeing of children. Other research from the United Nations indicates that women-led economic empowerment leads to more gender equality and rights, economic growth, increased rates of girls education, and other community indicators of well-being.
For example, during a visit to the G Adventures and Planeterra Foundation's Moshi Mamas project near Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania we met Shoshe who had received business training and market access for her handicrafts through the program. She explained this concept above in personal terms: “I want to break the cycle for my daughter. I want to prove women can work and earn money.”
Alessandra Alonso from Women in Travel explained during a recent G Adventures Retravel panel on the topic of women in tourism: “For us, economic empowerment is the beginning of everything. Because when a woman earns, then the kids get educated, the extended family eats and the whole community is much better off.”
Adrienne Lee from Tourism Cares (and formerly Planeterra Foundation) expanded on the idea of the benefits of investing in women: “When you invest in women and a women-owned or women-led business, women gain greater agency and freedom to determine how money is spent. This strengthens decision-making powers, builds self-esteem, and promotes leadership in communities.”
In addition, investment in women and inclusive work forces makes good business sense. Studies show companies that exhibit higher levels of gender diversity, especially at the executive level, usually outperform those without in terms of economic profit. One of the reasons is that men and women often display different leadership styles. The expression of diverse opinions and perspectives generates collective intelligence and can often result in more creative solutions and more effective problem solving.
The business rationale is there on the consumer side, too. In tourism and travel, it’s estimated that women consumers make 70-80% of the travel decisions. Women travelers comprise a growing percentage of the entire traveling community. A company’s capability – aided by workplace diversity — to comprehend and process the needs of its current and prospective customers seems a no-brainer.
How Tourism Can Better Invest in Women
Here are a few practical ways that travel and tourism can better invest in women and support empowerment, women businesses and leadership as the sector rebuilds.
For those of us in tourism, we know that it creates opportunity and jobs, thereby enhancing lives and livelihoods. It can take transferable skills and embed them for use in the formal economy.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day, we need to move from words and inspiration on one day of the year to deliberate and continual action which supports and empowers women every day.
Should the tourism sector rise to its “Choose to Challenge,” women will be encouraged to take the driver’s seat on the journey to rebuild.