How Tourism Can Better Invest in Women

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Last Updated on March 11, 2024 by Audrey Scott

The 2024 International Women’s Day theme is Inspire Inclusion, a call to action “to break down barriers, challenge stereotypes, and create environments where all women are valued and respected.” While much progress has been made in gender equality and inclusion over the years, there is still so much awareness needed and work to be done to achieve the goal where everyone is included and has an opportunity for success.

Companies, governments, and communities play a crucial role in creating this more equitable world through deliberate change and actions to ensure that women and marginalized groups are:

  • included, that women of all backgrounds are invited and welcome to the table
  • given access to support, education, resources, and investment
  • provided opportunities in employment, entrepreneurship, and leadership.

The tourism sector is certainly no exception in the role it can play to provide these fundamentals to women of all backgrounds and nationalities.

Travel and Inclusion

In an ideal form, travel is all about celebrating diversity, valuing differences, breaking down stereotypes and bias, engaging local communities, and making places better for local people to live. At least that's the goal for many people who work in tourism, and something that much mindful and sustainable travel achieves. We know, however, that sadly not all tourism businesses and travelers live up to this ideal.

The tourism sector is able to deliberately pursue greater participation from women and greater social impact as a way to get closer to this ideal. 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 that are closer to that ideal above.

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. Through all this, the travel sector can #InspireInclusion and deliberately work towards making a more equitable and inclusive world.

Women in Tourism

In 2019, women accounted for 54% of the tourism sector’s employment worldwide (we haven't been able to find an updated post-pandemic statistic). 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. Only around 19-25% of leadership and C-suite levels are filled by women. This implies that women are often hired only for low level jobs and especially for those participating in the informal economy, the remain the most at risk of job loss and displacement from economic shocks like the pandemic.

The tourism sector's challenge is not only to focus on greater involvement of women as part of the workforce, but as partners, managers and leaders. And if we think of this year's theme of inclusion, to provide the needed resources and opportunities in that local context for women and marginalized groups to be successful.

Why Investing in Women Matters

Before we dive into some of the ways that the tourism sector can better invest in and support women, let's look at why this matters for our world. TL;DR: 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.

Investing in Women, Tourism Social Enterprise
Moshi Mamas provides business and skills training to women, as well as market access for handicrafts.

We've seen this play out in our projects repeatedly over the the last 10+ years, whether working with microfinance or tourism organizations.

Shoshe, who had received business training and market access for her handicrafts through a program in Moshi, Tanzania, 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 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.”

Jordan Travel, Zikra Initiative Social Enterprise
Learning to Make Shrak, traditional Jordanian bread, with women from a Zikra Initiative social enterprise.

How Tourism Can Better Invest in Women

Here are a few practical ways that travel and tourism can better invest in women, be more inclusive, and support empowerment, women businesses and leadership.

  • Develop tourism products together with local community organizations and social enterprises that focus on supporting local women and marginalized groups. This social impact product development approach not only provides opportunity and to women and marginalized communities, but it can also provide crucial market access and a source of income for the local organization. If you are unsure on how to get started with a community-driven product development process, we can help.
  • Hire more women, and not only at the lowest levels of participation. Focus especially on leadership and management positions. If you believe that your company already does an adequate job at gender diversity, conduct a simple audit to see how many positions in the company are filled by women or individuals from marginalized communities. This might offer a more objective snapshot of the actual diversity of your company’s workforce.
  • Deploy innovation in gender diversity.  Open positions and offer or expand training for women-led initiatives that might at first be considered unconventional. This will help to expand the definition and idea of what a “woman’s job” is or what’s possible for women to aspire to do. For example, Chobe Game Lodge was the first company to in Botswana to feature an all-female safari guide team. Sakha Cabs in India trains women to be taxi and professional drivers, a profession once considered “a man’s work.” Women in these roles push boundaries. Stereotypes are changing. Get ahead of the curve.
  • Don’t just localize the supply chain, but make it more gender equal by choosing women-owned suppliers and local businesses. If you don't know where to get started in finding women-owned tourism businesses, check out this list on Wanderful of women-owned tourism businesses, women empowerment community tourism enterprises at the Planeterra Foundation or search for local women tourism networks where you operate. This approach will not only support your sustainability efforts, but women-owned businesses tend to amplify and expand opportunity and employment for other women in the community.
  • Identify barriers and understand local women’s needs by asking them. Then provide the support they need to productively engage in projects, get the skills they want, and join the workforce. For example, this might include offering child care, transport to and from work to alleviate safety concerns, skills training to supplement basic education, and flexible work hours to accommodate traditional responsibilities at home.
  • Encourage women to be the storytellers. Especially in indigenous communities, we’ve found that women are the stewards of tradition and culture. They are often the ones who pass on knowledge, traditions and techniques to their children, thereby sustaining community wisdom. Women’s voices often go unheard, for they don’t understand the value of their knowledge, nor are they actively given the opportunity to share it. Tourism companies are in an ideal position to amplify these stories and voices by inviting women to be guides or speak as local experts.
  • Communicate to your customers and your travelers the deliberate decisions you’ve taken to invest in women. Share stories of access and opportunity. Be transparent and don’t be afraid to season your story by sharing some of the mistakes you’ve made along the way. Invite your customers to join this journey with you. Educate them on the impact of their decisions and behaviors to support women around the world. If you don’t know how to get started with social impact communications, let us know.
Chobe National Park, Electric Vehicle
Lynn, part of the all-women guiding team at Chobe Game Lodge, with her fully-electric Land Cruiser.

For those of us in tourism, we know that it can create opportunity and jobs, thereby enhancing lives and livelihoods. It can take transferable skills and embed them for use in the formal economy.

The Business Case for Inclusive Work Forces

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.

Inspiring Inclusion Every Day

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 “Inspire Inclusion,” women will be invited, welcomed and provided with the resources and support they need to take the driver’s seat on the journey to create a more inclusive and equitable future for all of us. 

And that's the inclusive world we'd like to live in.

About Audrey Scott
Audrey Scott is a writer, storyteller, speaker and tourism development consultant. She aims to help turn people's fears into curiosity and connection. She harbors an obsession for artichokes and can bake a devastating pan of brownies. You can keep up with her adventures on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And you can learn more about her on the About Page and on LinkedIn.

2 thoughts on “How Tourism Can Better Invest in Women”

  1. The most interesting part of this post (though all of it is exciting), is the fact that woman reinvest in the future generation more than men. We devote our time, energy, and money into making sure our children do well in the future. As women we feel like we need to shape the world for our daughters and teach our sons about equality. It’s a very important and empowering part of being a woman! Thank you for your article!

  2. It’s inspiring to see how the tourism sector is taking steps to embrace equity and empower women. I find it intriguing how the industry could potentially create more profound travel experiences by actively involving women as guides and local experts, thereby showcasing the power of diverse perspectives. Hearing these real experiences might inspire even more positive change in the industry.



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