How Tourism Can Better Invest in Women as it Rebuilds – Uncornered Market


This year’s International Women’s Day theme is “Choose to Challenge,” a fitting call to action as the world emerges from a pandemic and considers the kind of future it wishes to build.  Companies, governments, communities now have the choice to rebuild deliberately, differently, and more inclusively so that women and marginalized groups have access to resources, support and opportunity. As the tourism sector emerges from the “great pause, it is no exception.

Travel and tourism has the opportunity to rebuild with an eye to greater participation from women and greater social impact. This inclusiveness promises not only to strengthen the sector and make it more resilient, but it will also help construct deeper and more transformative travel experiences for travelers.

With the landscape in mind, this article offers some specific ideas and mechanisms that tourism and travel can apply to empower women, support women entrepreneurs and businesses, and actively invest in communities to do so.

Women in Tourism Before the Pandemic

Prior to the pandemic, women accounted for 54% of the tourism sector’s employment worldwide. On one level, this statistic can be interpreted as an achievement, a foundational step toward opportunity and access for women. However, according to research done by the UNWTO, most of those jobs are concentrated in the least powerful, lowest-skilled and lowest paid positions. This implies that women, especially those participating in the informal economy, remain the most at risk of job loss and displacement from economic shocks like the pandemic.

As the tourism sector rebuilds its challenge is not only to focus on greater involvement of women as part of the workforce, but as partners and leaders.

Why Investing in Women Matters

Investing in women is an investment in our communities and future generations.

Kiva, a microfinance organization which lends money low-income entrepreneurs around the world, found that women reinvest 80% of the income they earn into the education and wellbeing of children. Other research from the United Nations indicates that women-led economic empowerment leads to more gender equality and rights, economic growth, increased rates of girls education, and other community indicators of well-being.

Investing in Women, Tourism Social Enterprise
Moshi Mamas provides business and skills training to women, as well as market access for handicrafts.

We’ve seen this play out in our projects repeatedly over the the last 10+ years, whether working with microfinance or tourism organizations.

For example, during a visit to the G Adventures and Planeterra Foundation’s Moshi Mamas project near Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania we met Shoshe who had received business training and market access for her handicrafts through the program. She explained this concept above in personal terms: “I want to break the cycle for my daughter. I want to prove women can work and earn money.”

Alessandra Alonso from Women in Travel explained during a recent G Adventures Retravel panel on the topic of women in tourism: “For us, economic empowerment is the beginning of everything. Because when a woman earns, then the kids get educated, the extended family eats and the whole community is much better off.”

Adrienne Lee from Tourism Cares (and formerly Planeterra Foundation) expanded on the idea of the benefits of investing in women: “When you invest in women and a women-owned or women-led business, women gain greater agency and freedom to determine how money is spent. This strengthens decision-making powers, builds self-esteem, and promotes leadership in communities.”

Jordan Travel, Zikra Initiative Social Enterprise
Learning to Make Shrak, traditional Jordanian bread, with women from a Zikra Initiative social enterprise.

In addition, investment in women and inclusive work forces makes good business sense. Studies show companies that exhibit higher levels of gender diversity, especially at the executive level, usually outperform those without in terms of economic profit.  One of the reasons is that men and women often display different leadership styles. The expression of diverse opinions and perspectives generates collective intelligence and can often result in more creative solutions and more effective problem solving.

The business rationale is there on the consumer side, too. In tourism and travel, it’s estimated that women consumers make 70-80% of the travel decisions. Women travelers comprise a growing percentage of the entire traveling community. A company’s capability – aided by workplace diversity — to comprehend and process the needs of its current and prospective customers seems a no-brainer.

How Tourism Can Better Invest in Women

Here are a few practical ways that travel and tourism can better invest in women and support empowerment, women businesses and leadership as the sector rebuilds.

  • Develop tourism products together with local community organizations and social enterprises who focus on supporting local women and marginalized groups. This social impact product development approach not only provides opportunity and to women and marginalized communities, but it can also provide crucial market access and a source of income for the local organization. If you are unsure on how to get started with a community-driven product development process, we can help.
  • Hire more women, and not only at the lowest levels of participation. Focus especially on leadership and management positions. If you believe that your company already does an adequate job at gender diversity, conduct a simple audit to see how many positions in the company are filled by women or individuals from marginalized communities. This might offer a more objective snapshot of the actual diversity of your company’s workforce.
  • Deploy innovation in gender diversity.  Open positions and offer or expand training for women-led initiatives that might at first be considered unconventional. This will help to expand the definition and idea of what a “woman’s job” is or what’s possible for women to aspire to do. For example, Chobe Game Lodge was the first company to in Botswana to feature an all-female safari guide team. Sakha Cabs in India trains women to be taxi and professional drivers, a profession once considered “a man’s work.” Women in these roles push boundaries. Stereotypes are changing. Get ahead of the curve.
  • Don’t just localize the supply chain, but make it more gender equal by choosing women-owned suppliers and local businesses. This approach will not only support your sustainability efforts, but women-owned businesses tend to amplify and expand opportunity and employment for other women in the community.
  • Understand local women’s needs by asking them. Then provide the support they need to productively engage in projects and join the workforce. For example, this might include offering child care, transport to and from work to alleviate safety concerns, skills training to supplement basic education, and flexible work hours to accommodate traditional responsibilities at home.
  • Encourage women to be the storytellers. Especially in indigenous communities, we’ve found that women are the stewards of tradition and culture. They are often the ones who pass on knowledge, traditions and techniques to their children, thereby sustaining community wisdom. Women’s voices often go unheard, for they don’t understand the value of their knowledge, nor are they actively given the opportunity to share it. Tourism companies are in an ideal position to amplify these stories and voices by inviting women to be guides or speak as local experts.
  • Communicate to your customers and your travelers the deliberate decisions you’ve taken to invest in women. Share stories of access and opportunity. Be transparent and don’t be afraid to season your story by sharing some of the mistakes you’ve made along the way. Invite your customers to join this journey with you. Educate them on the impact of their decisions and behaviors to support women around the world. If you don’t know how to get started with social impact communications, let us know.
Chobe National Park, Electric Vehicle
Lynn, part of the all-women guiding team at Chobe Game Lodge, with her fully-electric Land Cruiser.

For those of us in tourism, we know that it creates opportunity and jobs, thereby enhancing lives and livelihoods. It can take transferable skills and embed them for use in the formal economy.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, we need to move from words and inspiration on one day of the year to deliberate and continual action which supports and empowers women every day.

Should the tourism sector rise to its “Choose to Challenge,” women will be encouraged to take the driver’s seat on the journey to rebuild.  



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