Women Empowerment in the Tourism Business
The month of March kicked off to an exciting start as we celebrated International Women’s Day. From our position in the travel technology industry, here at Nezasa we are passionate about making the sector as equal, sustainable and innovative as it can be. The tourism business is constantly evolving, especially in our current times, and this ever-changing environment makes way for countless opportunities to empower women and make a positive impact on communities around the world.
The tourism business is a powerful tool for working towards the UN’s fifth Sustainable Development Goal: to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. At the UN’s official online event for International Women’s Day, we gained insights from speakers such as the Icelandic Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir and Climate Justice Activist Xiye Bastida on issues surrounding female leadership, climate change and activism and learned that women around the world are being disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. There has been an increase in poverty and domestic violence over the past year, and although women make up the majority of front-line workers, they are still not present in decision making roles.
The World Tourism Organization found that tourism supports one in ten jobs worldwide, providing livelihoods for millions of people in both developing and developed economies, and has also said that the industry is one of the sectors most affected by the pandemic. With the World Bank stating that women make up 54% of all employees in tourism compared to just 39% in the broader economy, it is clear that they will play a key role in rebuilding the industry in a more sustainable way.
Entrepreneurship & Leadership
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day was ‘Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world’, and we learned how the tourism industry is one of the areas where female leaders and female-owned businesses are flourishing.
The World Bank stated that in countries such as Nicaragua and Panama, 70% of business owners in the tourism sector are women compared to just over 20% in other sectors, and more and more women around the world are challenging gender stereotypes and taking on roles once dominated by men. In Tajikistan, a group of women from Women rock’in Pamirs trained to become the country’s first female trekking guides, and in Colombia, female-owned 5Bogota Tours works with a passionate team of local women who showcase their country’s rich culture.
The UN’s Global Report on Women in Tourism states that 60-70% of employees in the hotel sector are women, and that females are more likely to progress to leadership roles here than in other sectors of the economy. However, although the majority of employees in tourism are women, they currently hold less than 40% of managerial positions in the sector, and the UN also found that nearly 60% of women worldwide work in the informal economy, meaning that they earn less and have less job security.
Although there is still much work to be done, this is a huge opportunity for progress and empowerment that can begin to encourage the same throughout other industries.
Responsible Tourism & Sustainable Development
If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us one thing, it is that in order to rebuild the world’s economy we need to focus on more sustainable and responsible practices. Consumers are increasingly looking for eco-friendly options, and tourism is no exception; National Geographic states that sustainable tourism will be a driving force of the industry post-pandemic, with travellers making more conscious choices when creating their itineraries.
Women around the world play a key role in supporting their communities, with those in developing countries usually being held responsible for taking care of the food, water and general wellbeing of their families. The rise of ecotourism makes way for countless opportunities for women to become even more involved in protecting the environment as well as their local cultures, heritage and traditions, and for visitors to give back and make a positive impact on travel destinations.
UN Women is supporting and encouraging responsible practices in countries around the world, stating that females are at the forefront of climate change activism and can utilise their skills and knowledge to shape a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. In Bangladesh, over 19,000 women built better systems of support and preparation for natural disasters, and through workshops on sustainable farming techniques such as water conservation and rain-water harvesting, female farmers in Barbados, Grenada and Jamaica have found more reliable ways of securing their livelihood.
The current crisis has given us an excellent opportunity to reimagine how tourism can interact with societies, economies, natural resources and ecosystems worldwide, and independent organisations are leading the way in empowering women and their local communities. Incredible female-led projects like Village Ways, who work with locals to develop sustainable tourism practices in communities in India, Nepal and Ethiopia, and the social enterprise YESD, that promotes sustainable and authentic travel in northern Vietnam, are paving the way for positive change in the industry.
Technology in the Tourism Industry
Advancements in technology in recent years have hugely influenced the tourism industry, and the uncertain and insecure global environment due to the pandemic has exacerbated the need for even more digital innovation. Technology is a tool that can further women’s empowerment in the industry, with the World Tourism Organization stating that it can provide women with more opportunities for training and education, encourage entrepreneurship through easier access to the tourism market and promote the innovation and investment in digital skills, especially for those without stable and secure employment.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, McKinsey has said that we have begun to break through the cultural and technological barriers that have previously prevented remote work, creating a shift in the traditional ideals of how and where work takes place and giving us opportunities to work and travel simultaneously. However, women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to the crisis than men’s, partly due to their likelihood of holding more casual, low-skilled and uncontracted work within the tourism industry as well as their responsibilities with unpaid domestic work such as childcare.
The rise in remote working is set to continue for the foreseeable future, and further advancements in technology as well as more fair and equal company policies can help to counteract the negative effects of the pandemic and allow women to harness opportunities to gain more freedom and empowerment.
How did you celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day? And how do you think we can adopt more sustainable practices and empower women within the tourism industry?