The Equality Conscious Tourist

With summer and school holidays on the horizon, we know many people are looking forward to their travel plans. Efforts to travel greener and more ethically have given rise to the ‘conscious traveller’ – tourists who look to create positive long-term impact in the destinations they visit. Gender equality and women’s empowerment is a significant part of this, and it is worth reflecting on some of the challenges women face in the tourism industry as well as opportunities for improvement.

Globally, women constitute a substantial 75% of the global workforce in the tourism sector and 52% in Asia and the Pacific. While there has been an increasing recognition of the importance of inclusion and diversity in tourism and increasing efforts to address gender inequalities in the sector, particularly with the launch of the latest guidelines and gender mainstreaming from the World Tourism Organisation, significant gender specific barriers remain.

Women in tourism face limitations both horizontally and vertically. Horizontally, women are frequently pigeon-holed into roles traditionally associated with nurturing and care such as waitressing, housekeeping or flight attendants. Vertically, women often find themselves confined to lower-ranking positions with limited pathways for career progression due to gender biases and glass ceilings.

The industry’s demanding work hours can also indirectly feed into disparities in earnings. This is largely due to the prevailing assumption that men, overrepresented in managerial positions, can dedicate more time to their paid work because their female partners take on the unpaid labour at home. This dynamic can restrict the number of hours women are able to work or the roles they can assume. Another financial vulnerability is the seasonal nature of tourism jobs - the varied hours and wages that are dependent on tourist demand can create financial instability particularly single-income households, which can limit women's opportunities for further education or skills development.

There are also safety risks for women in tourism. Sexual harassment is well-documented in the industry, both within organisations and from customers. For women working in intimate environments like spa or massage parlours, there can be particular vulnerabilities. Tourism can intensify the intersections of race, unequal power dynamics and the hypersexualisation of women, and this added layer of complexity can exacerbate already complicated intersections of tourism and the sex industry.

Wage gaps. Lack of career advancement. Sexual violence. None of this is surprising – while there are sector-specific particularities, the challenges for women in tourism mirror the systemic biases and discrimination that we see in wider society. Changing deep-seated gender inequalities in the global tourism industry requires a multi-stakeholder effort that involves interventions such as promoting skills training, equal pay, tackling sexual harassment, and recruiting women into higher-level employment.

Individual tourists also play a critical role in the tourism ecosystem. At TWF, we believe being a gender equality advocate should be transferrable in all aspects of our lives, including travel, which involves being mindful of how our choices overseas may impact local gender equality efforts. By making choices that place gender equality at the forefront – such as patronising women-owned businesses or taking the extra step to look at business’ ethical practices, we can limit the perpetuation of gender inequalities during our travels and show that we recognise and value women in this industry. Over time, the accumulation and impact of individual actions can lead to changes in particular tourism ecosystems and influence wider changes across the industry.

For those of us travelling over the summer, here are some ways you can support women in the tourism industry:

  1. Prioritise Women-Owned Businesses and Services: when planning your trip, seek out accommodations, restaurants and tour operators owned or managed by women to help contribute to women’s economic empowerment which helps break down barriers to entrepreneurship.
  2. Advocate for Equal Treatment and Opportunities: During your interactions with tourism providers, advocate for gender equality by asking about their policies on fair wages, workplace diversity, and opportunities for women. Expressing your support for inclusive practices can contribute to a culture of accountability and promote positive change within the industry.
  3. Participate in Responsible Tourism Initiatives: Choose tour operators and activities that prioritise ethical treatment of workers, respect for local communities, and environmental sustainability.

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Written by

The Women's Foundation