Purchasing handicrafts in a destination can have a direct impact on women. // © 2018 The Travel Corporation, Africa Division
Feature image (above): Seeking out female guides can add to a more meaningful experience. // © 2018 G Adventures
In its Global Report on Women in Tourism in 2010, the United Nations World Tourism Organization found that tourism has the power to close the gender gap by creating jobs, introducing educational opportunities and improving infrastructure in developing countries.
Yet, the report also found that in an industry where women make up more than half of the workforce, men remain the dominant players in developing countries. As tour guides, drivers and business owners, men in tourism often enjoy access to educational and professional development at a higher rate than women and, as a result, hold higher-paying jobs.
There’s a palpable sense that this might change. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements — along with women’s marches and subsequent conversations about women’s issues — have led to concrete demands for real change for women everywhere. And many travel experts believe that tourism can be a powerful driver for female empowerment, particularly in places where women are often overlooked.
“Tourism creates a platform for women to access education and training for those who may not have benefitted from a formal education growing up,” said Adrienne Lee, director of development for G Adventures’ nonprofit partner, Planeterra. “It provides meaningful employment and enhances income and, as a result, independence.”
So, how can travelers better support women while touring abroad? Here are a few ways that the small decisions you and your clients make can have a big impact.
Find Female Entrepreneurs
When planning a trip, choosing female-owned accommodations or restaurants is an easy way to direct your tourism dollars toward empowering local women. Even something as simply as purchasing street food from female vendors can go a long way in supporting a small business.
“In developing countries, women don’t often have the same opportunities as men, and, as a result, they can get left behind,” said Lucille Sive, CEO of The Travel Corporation’s Africa Division, which owns African Travel, Inc.
Sive points out that supporting a female entrepreneur not only empowers her as a business owner — it also has the ripple effect of supporting the needs of her family.
Seek Out a Female Guide
Guiding, with its multilingual opportunities and gratuity-based earning potential, is a vocation that is often dominated by men. But more travel companies — in particular, brands that host women-only trips — are beginning to favor female guides as a way to empower workers in a destination and create more meaningful experiences for their guests.
“You’re not really getting a good representation of a culture or place if you’re only exposed to male guides during your tours,” said Danielle Thornton, co-founder and chief adventurer of WHOA Travel, an adventure trekking company that employs female guides. “You’re missing out on more than half the experience.”
Look to the Experts
Working with established social enterprises that have spent time building relationships and trust in developing destinations is key when it comes to seeking businesses and guides to support on a trip. Lee suggests touring with companies that align with nonprofits, citing Planeterra’s recent partnership with the Women’s Development Centre in Kandy, Sri Lanka — a cafe and craft shop that trains and employs women for a G Adventures lunch program.
Traveling with businesses that offer unique opportunities to local women is another way to ensure your travel choices have an impact. For example, WHOA sponsors prospective female guides on its mountain treks in Peru and Tanzania, an experiential initiative that Thornton says inspires women “to become examples in their community.”
“And there [are] few things more empowering than climbing a mountain,” Thornton said.
Keep Things Local
Donating items such as toiletries and school supplies is a popular practice for travelers visiting developing regions, but, according to Lee, purchasing donation items after a traveler has arrived in a destination is a more effective route for supporting small businesses.
“Travelers who purchase goods locally can have a direct impact on women by bringing economic investment into the region,” she said.
When buying souvenirs, look to handicraft collectives featuring female artisans, such as the eKhaya eKasi Art and Education Centre in Cape Town, which provides entrepreneurial training to unemployed women.
“These initiatives work to ensure that women not only have a job, but that they earn skills which will keep them employed for life,” Sive said.
Despite a rising awareness surrounding gender equality this year, it’s important to keep in mind that social change doesn’t happen overnight.
“Don’t go in with expectations for a certain kind of experience,” Thornton said.
She adds that while there are many ways to empower women while abroad, respecting other cultures is the most important way to ensure your visit has a positive impact.
“Do your research,” she said. “Get to know the culture before you arrive, and be respectful of customs when you do. Travel is about sharing our cultures — and our differences. It’s a two-way street.”