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According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, tourism generated 9.5 percent of the world’s GDP ($7 trillion) in 2013 and supports nearly 266 million jobs globally. Women make up a majority of the industry’s workforce. In fact, according to a 2010 joint study by UNWTO and UN Women, there are nearly twice as many women working in tourism compared to the number of women working in other industries, such as tech and manufacturing.
In honor of the annual International Women’s Day on March 8, Kelly Galaski, program and operations manager for Latin America of G Adventure’s nonprofit foundation Planeterra, spoke with TravelAge West about how the tourism industry can positively impact women in developing countries and beyond.
What are some of the specific ways to help women abroad through tourism? Is it through the choices in destinations or through programs such as Planeterra?Do your research before you leave home, and ask questions when you arrive in destination, such as how does your tour operator support women in the destinations it operates in.
What are good ways to support women abroad?Support female-run social enterprises, especially ones that offer access to training for adult women. Look for cooperatives that sell handicrafts made by women, or women-owned micro and small enterprises— be it local restaurants, tours or souvenir shops.
Being a customer is a great way because you’re directly supporting someone’s income and helping them provide for their own families and improve their quality of life. Certainly supporting programs such as Planeterra with donations is also helpful, as we direct funds toward women’s initiatives in many cases.
Look out for travel companies that have initiatives supporting women’s rights, equal opportunities and education, either through their business model or through supporting nonprofits in destinations.
How does the tourism industry empower women with regards to social welfare? The tourism industry is one of the only industries that is able to reach some of the most rural and underserved people in the word — many of them women. It also utilizes many transferrable skills that individuals — who may not have benefitted from formalized education — can access in order to obtain dignified job opportunities and careers.
Women and girls are often the first to be excluded from formal education institutes in many places worldwide. Girls are the first to be pulled out of school to help around the house, with only about 30 percent of girls worldwide making it to secondary school.
Women in the developing world often find working in tourism an entry-point into the formal economy, improving their quality of life and access to opportunities as well as to positions of power within their communities. The tourism industry is able to harness many transferrable skills learned outside of the classroom, and through capacity building and vocational training, can create long-term sustainable opportunities for women in a booming industry.
How does the tourism industry foster gender equality, and why do you think the tourism industry has the power to do so?We tend to see doors opening for women who never had access to the formal economy, or who have been left out of the education systems. Whether in very “traditional” communities where women have only recently begun to enter the workforce, or in areas where it’s culturally taboo for women to work, we are certainly seeing major growth in women’s participation in tourism.
Women tend to be the caregivers and homemakers in traditional communities, and these skills lend themselves well to the hospitality sector. Often, women will start by joining a community tourism program, hosting visitors in their homes or cooking meals. Women also tend to be handicraft producers and enter the tourism sector by joining handicraft cooperatives in tourism hubs.
These are areas we often support, and we work with local organizations to include community-based tourism initiatives in G Adventures itineraries in order to help provide them with a customer base and sustainable livelihood. In many cases when women begin contributing to the family’s economic well-being, they are more respected and become more empowered.
Can you name some destinations that travel agents can book for clients who want to help?South Africa, Tanzania, Guatemala, Peru, Nepal, Cambodia and India are some examples of locations where we’ve incorporated initiatives that focus on women’s empowerment and employment opportunities through various projects-turned-tourism experiences.
I suggest looking for tours that include experiences in rural communities — whether it is a local meal, a community home stay, a visit to a craft cooperative — as these tend to support women in under-served communities directly. Destinations with a strong cultural focus tend to have the most community tourism opportunities.
How does commercial tourism impact Planeterra’s goals?The Planeterra Foundation supports sustainable social and environmental solutions in communities worldwide that are traditionally underserved by the formal economy.
We work with local partners to create social enterprise opportunities — turning economic opportunities into means of supporting basic needs and community-development solutions, such as better access to education, training, healthcare and conservation. As a travel foundation, we harness the power of the travel sector for positive change by creating linkages between the travel market — through our founding company, G Adventures — and community-based initiatives that are in need of support.
To truly make an impact, we believe in creating self-sufficiency, not dependency. By providing seed funding for small and micro social enterprises, and then connecting them to an established market in G Adventures’ tour itineraries around the world, we are able to ensure initiatives are profitable and lead to sustainable livelihoods.
Can you tell us about the new Women on Wheels program?G Adventures and Planeterra work with our ground partners to provide safe transport and a safe customer base for women in India. Our local partners provide an 18-month training program for poor urban women in Delhi, teaching them how to drive using a car simulator in addition to lessons in on-road driving, English, hospitality, communications, booking reservations, CPR, First Aid and self-defense.
The local partners then work with the women to obtain their professional chauffeur license. Women on Wheels drivers chauffeur other single-traveling females or females traveling with a partner or family. G Adventures' customer base in India is composed of mostly single females, arriving via overnight international flights. It was the perfect match to provide our customers with a value-added experience and provide Women on Wheels with a guaranteed safe customer base to expand their programs. As G Adventures has travelers in more than 100 countries, we are looking to work with our partners to help them expand in regions beyond India.
Where are some specific destinations where women are supported by Planeterra?A couple of examples of specific destinations where Planeterra and G Adventures is supporting women through tourism include Nepal and Tanzania. Nepal is an epicenter for human trafficking, with estimates of 7,000 women and girls trafficked across the India border each year to work as domestic servants, in forced labor or in the red light district. Our project partners have worked to rehabilitate the survivors and provide them with vocational and paralegal training.
Planeterra has also been working with these partners to develop a dumpling-making course and traditional Nepali lunch with our travelers. Guests learn from the survivors how to make dumplings, and it gives these women an entry into a formal workforce surrounded by a supportive community. We have seen great strides in the women’s confidence since this program started, and the proceeds from the lunch program are repatriated into our partners’ education, outreach and training programs.
What about in Tanzania? We also recently launched a clean cookstove project, working with Maasai women “fundis” (experts) in the Rift Valley to build culturally relevant clean cookstoves in people’s homes.
Ninety-five percent of the population in this region relies on solid fuels (wood and coal) for cooking, which needs to be collected and is a responsibility that often falls to the women and girls in the village. These traditional cooking practices (cooking over an open-fire stove) is the fourth biggest health risk in the world — causing cancer, conjunctivitis and pneumonia. We have worked with our ground partners to develop a community-run tour with the Maasai women stove team.
It’s an innovative way for these women to showcase their work to a global audience and is the first time they have run a tourism program. For each visit, G Adventures includes the cost of a clean cookstove into the tour, so that our travelers and tours have lasting benefits for the community post travel.