When she rises, we all rise.

Karin Nunan
Jul 23, 2023

It wasn’t a coincidence. On the day I was presenting a webinar titled, “Gender Equality in Travel” to Wanderful (an online community of 40,000 female travelers) on behalf of GOOD Travel (a women-owned social enterprise), my friend and GOOD Travel co-founder Eliza Raymond was attending the Women of Influence New Zealand Awards as a finalist in the global category! Something was trending that day and it was the empowerment of women.

We know that when you invest in a woman, you invest in a community. Decades of studies prove that investing in women and girls creates long-term social and economic benefits for all individuals, their communities, and the world as a whole.

Then why according to the World Bank did the women’s labor force participation rate fall in 2018? Why are only 24% of parliamentarians women? Why do women in all countries still face earnings gaps? (One World Bank study assesses that if women could have the same lifetime earnings as men, global wealth could increase by $160 trillion – an average of $23,620 per person – in 141 countries studied!) Why is there still so much inequality?

But in the travel and tourism industry, there is positive news, and a comparative advantage for women. According to the UNWTO, in some countries, tourism has almost twice as many women employers as other sectors. The International Labour Organization found that women make up between 60-70% of the labor force in the hotel sector (though significant regional variation exists) and women are more likely to have a leadership voice in tourism businesses, associations and tourism governance than in other arenas per a UNWTO report.

While these are exciting statistics, there is still a gap between where we are and where we want to be. While women make up almost half of the formal tourism sector, they are far more likely to be in lower or unskilled positions and paid far less. As a sector, there is very little visible evidence that attention is being paid to the rights of women in tourism. And furthermore, gender discrimination and biases are still quite common.

"I remember my first-ever trip, everyone was like, ‘Woah, you’re driving?’ because I look like the cook, as opposed to the driver. And, being younger than the clients themselves, sometimes it’s really hard to be telling … a 60-year-old male, who is very successful in what he does, what to do."

While you may think this quote comes from the 1960’s, it was recently collected from a female tour guide as part of research into adventure guide well-being by Dr. Susan Houge-Mackenzie from the University of Otago in New Zealand.

Despite the challenges, it is because tourism employs approximately 1 in 10 people globally; is the fastest growing economic sector; second largest employer globally; and is a powerful influencer globally that it cannot be kept out of the conversation around gender equality.

The key reasons why the tourism industry may be in a unique position to lead the way on women’s equality in the workforce includes, but is not limited to:

  • Less emphasis being placed on formal education and training;
  • A higher prevalence of part-time and work-from-home options which benefits women who are family care takers;
  • Increased options for entrepreneurship that do not require heavy start-up financing;
  • Greater emphasis being placed on personal and hospitality skills; and
  • Opportunities through the shared economy for women through online platforms, such as Airbnb, Uber, and Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO).

Achieving gender equality in the tourism sector requires change at all levels. And since 80% of travel decisions are made by women regardless of who they travel with, who pays for the trip or where they go, individual choices can make a difference.

With that in mind, the importance of your role as a traveler and tourist has never been more important. Regardless of your gender, here are 10 steps you can take to help move the needle.

1. Support women-owned tourism businesses: invest in organizations who have women at the forefront making strategic decisions and holding leadership positions. Use search functions to find women-owned businesses.

2. Bargain fairly: women make up about 60% of the informal sector. As a tourist, consider the impact your bargaining has on the income of hardworking artisans and be willing to pay for quality products.

3. Request a female tour guide: in many countries, women face significant discrimination and the field is male-dominated. Your request for a female tour guide can give opportunities that may not have been obvious before your request.

4. Speak up! When you stay in a woman-owned hotel or eat at a woman-owned restaurant and you enjoy it, share your opinion on travel sites such as TripAdvisor. Spread the word that more women in the tourism business results in a better tourism experience!

5. Donate to women’s rights organizations, particularly ones who advocate for improved working conditions for women such as The Legal Aid Society, La Vie Campesina, and Equality Now.

6. Donate to organizations supporting skills training for women in tourism. One example is Peruvian Hearts that helps young women in Peru pay for their University fees. Many of these young women are interested in a career in the Peruvian tourism industry.

7. Contact your representatives in government and let them know that fair wages and accessible, universal childcare are important issues to you and the women who work in the service/tourism industry.

8. Join women-centered trips that have been actively designed to support and connect women! For an example of how an itinerary can have an impact, visit GOOD Travel’s 2020 Peru Mom and Daughter Trip in partnership with Peruvian Hearts.

9. Encourage our future generation of female leaders to travel! Word of mouth about destinations, groups, activities - and all the things we as travelers love to talk about - can influence a new female traveler. There is a reason family travel is even more popular than ever.

10. Collaborate! Join Wanderful, become a GOOD Traveler or just start spreading the word using your own groups and networks.

Who knows… maybe someday another woman in the travel and tourism sector will be standing on a stage accepting an award because of your individual contributions and actions. Maybe the world won’t need to be trending that day towards female empowerment, because it will already be there. And you will have been a part of it.  

Want to read more? Start here.

July 23, 2023
5 min read