MAKE TRAVEL MATTER
Our adventures can empower the growing number of women who work in tourism, in every corner of the globe
March 8 is International Women’s Day, a day when we celebrate the achievements of women, and consider all that remains to be done to create gender equality around the world. Despite obstacles, an increasing number of women are creating opportunities for themselves in tourism, and that creates opportunities for us as travelers: we can support women’s economic empowerment as we explore the world.
Women in Tourism & International Women's Day
For more than 100 years, since 1914, women around the world have marked March 8 as a day to celebrate women’s achievements and call for change where it is needed. Women come together at rallies and events, in person and online, to draw attention to the most pressing issues related to gender equality. It is also an important day of fundraising for organizations working toward women’s rights.
How Travelers Empower Women in Tourism
If thoughtfully planned, our adventures can support the growing number of women working in tourism around the world. On my own travels, meeting local women has allowed me to learn about their cultures, as well as their dreams and challenges. I am endlessly inspired by the incredible women working in tourism, often in places where a patriarchal culture makes this especially challenging.
I wanted to share some the stories of some amazing women, working in tourism around the world, and the ways we can support them and enhance our adventures at the same time.
Choose Women Tour Guides
In Cairo Egypt, Laila Hassaballa and Mariam Nezar turned their love of food into a tour guiding business they call Bellies en-Route. In Kampala Uganda, Rosette and Hannah created a guiding business which connects travelers with local adventure and sustainable tourism: Adventures with Locals. And in India, Monika followed her dream to become a Tour Guide in Agra, escorting visitors to India’s jewel, the Taj Mahal.
Sometimes women tour guides can be found through a simple google search. Tourism boards can also be a place to find women tour guides or women-owned businesses. Journey Woman, a Canadian website for women travelers, has a directory of women tour guides from around the world, and a search function which allows you to search by country: Journey Woman – Local Woman Guides. I am also building a database of women tour guides and women working in tourism around the globe – coming soon.
Of course, seeking women tour guides isn’t only for adventures in developing nations. I’ve had the opportunity to get to know a wonderful guide in Athens Greece, who recently stepped away from a career as an archeologist to follow her dream of working in tourism. You can read more about Penelope and her clever insights in: Greece Tips from an Athens Tour Guide.
Choose Women-Owned or Operated Accommodation
In Tanzania, The Dunia Camp is the only camp in Africa run entirely by women, a tremendous achievement in a male-dominated industry. Dunia opened in 2016 and after closures during the pandemic is welcoming guests once more. This luxury safari camp has 8 charming tens, complete with luxe bathrooms and stunning views from private verandahs. The women who run Dunia are away from family for months at a time but say they love what they do and are proud to be breaking down barriers that have existed for decades. Dunia is on my bucket list for a future trip to East Africa.
Choose Hotels that Support Women in the Community
I stayed at the Shinta Mani Hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia in 2019, where the Shinta Mani Foundation employs many women and supports the local communities in which their hotels operate. People with limited opportunities due to poverty, are enrolled in a free training program to prepare them for jobs with the Shinta Mani Hotels. And Shinta Mani also supports the education of the community’s children.
The gift shop at the Shinta Mani Angkor, where I stayed, sold beautiful handicrafts made by local women. The lovely women employed at the shop helped me to decide which of the many gorgeous necklaces to buy. I chose green. In addition to a wonderful vacation, I met many inspiring women and learned more about the ways that tourism creates opportunities for them in Cambodia.
Shop at Women's Collectives that Pay Fair Wages
In a pretty courtyard in Rajasthan India, women work on traditional handicrafts at a women’s collective called Sunder Rang (beautiful colors in Hindi). The collective was started on International Women’s Day in 2007 as a way to support the community. A school is located next door, where children from the village learn computer skills. Shopping at well-run cooperatives and paying fair prices for our souvenirs is one way we can empower women when we travel. This collective is located next to the Chandelao Garh Hotel which helps to run and support both the school and the cooperative.
Book with Tour Operators That Employ Local Women, or Prioritize Women Vendors
If you are choosing an organized group tour, or a tour company to design a trip for you, explore their website to find out if they employ local women and in what capacities. Additionally, many will highlight the fact that they support women-owned businesses. If you can’t find answers to these questions on the website, reach out and ask.
G Adventures: Supporting Women Taxi Drivers in India
The Women on Wheels program in India employs at-risk women aged 18-35 to work as drivers in Delhi. I learned about it when I arrived for a two-week tour of India with the tour company, G Adventures, and was met at the airport by a young woman named Savita. She insisted on pulling my suitcase to her little car, parked next to a sign indicating the spot was “Reserved for Ladies”.
Savita expertly navigated the Delhi traffic, and answered my many questions, punctuating her replies with the charming declaration: “This is my way of thinking.” I noticed many curious stares from men in the cars we drove past. When I asked her about it she shrugged and smiled: “They are not so used to seeing women taxi drivers.”
If you are traveling to India, you can book a transfer with women on wheels directly.
Traverse Journeys: Supporting Women Entrepreneurs
I traveled to Greece with this women-owned tour operator and was impressed with their commitment to “People, Planet, Purpose”. Every trip is deisgned to have a positive impact on the places they visit. One element of that is sourcing women-owned businesses when possible: a woman-owned boutique hotel in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, restaurants in Jordan, and a Berber women’s textile cooperative in Morocco. Traverse Journeys also supports a community partner in every location they visit. In Ecuador, that is the Sani Warmi project which empowers the women of Sani Isla to run their own businesses selling artisanal crafts. This sustainable source of income also empowers the Sani Warmi women to serve as protectors of 42,000 hectares of rainforest, located here.
Women in Tourism in Mongolia
I recently learned about the tour company Eternal Landscapes Mongolia and the founders commitment to employing local women. The company philosophy is to nurture the potential of locals by providing long-term employment opportunities. That includes a free training program for Mongolian women who wish to work in tourism. As a result, all of their tour leaders are women. You can read more about the ways that has enhanced the company by founder, Jess Brooks: Girl Power in Mongolia. In the story Jess says, “I am lucky enough to be in a position to run my own business and, as a woman, it is important to me to use my skills and influence to improve the prospects for other women.”
Empowering Women in Tourism in Africa
I’m highlighting Africa specifically because it is home to some of the world’s fastest growing economies, yet women do not benefit nearly to the same extent as men. There are many barriers, including lack of access to education, training and funding restraints. Equality has stagnated in Africa and research shows women in Africa lag behind women in other parts of the developing world.
Yet women are creating businesses and seeking opportunity in tourism. It is a powerful economic opportunity for women in Africa, according to the World Tourism Organization. We can support their talent and ambition by hiring women when possible on our Africa travels. Here are a some fun and inspiring examples of women in tourism in Africa.
Women Safari Guides in Botswana
In Botswana, the Chobe Game Lodge, has the first and only all-female guiding team in the country. It is challenging work; the women work long hours and live at the lodge. But these trailblazers love their work and the opportunity it provides. They have also proven to be incredibly popular with guests and have nicknamed themselves Chobe’s Angels. The head guide at Chobe, Florence Kagiso, is a bit of a local celebrity and inspires other women to do as she did and undertake guide training at the Wildlife Training Institute in Maun, Botswana, a town set at the edge of the Okavango Delta. Chobe’s Angels have proven that women can do this job as well as men, and that many travelers appreciate the opportunity to support women in tourism.
Girls Adventures in Tanzania
Aika Robert Nkya dreamed of starting her own tourism business in Tanzania, one that combined her passion for showing her country to visitors, with supporting local communities in the Kilimanjaro region where she is from.
In 2021 she launched Girls Adventures Tanzania, which offers every kind of activity an adventurous traveler could imagine: one-day kayak tours, overnights in a Maasai village, and multi-day hiking or safari trips. Her team of women guides and porters will even support your dream of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. Aika summited it in 2010 and hopes to repeat the adventure soon.
An important objective for Aika is offering authentic cultural experiences that give opportunities to local communities. She also directs a portion of profits to a local NGO that supplies menstrual kits to young women.
Local Communities and Affordable Safaris
Girls Adventures Tanzania offers experiences at various price points, including affordable safaris in a country considered to be a top tier (ie. expensive) safari destination. I’ve had the chance to get to know Aika and intend to book some experiences with her on a future trip to Tanzania.
Aika represents a generation of young women in tourism with big aspirations. She loves this quote by Eleanor Roosevelt: “The future belongs to the people who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
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What a privilege it is to explore this beautiful world, and find ways for our travel dreams to support the dreams of women in tourism, around the world.
I will be updating this article with more resources as I meet more incredible women on my travels. If you know of a tourism business in a developing country that is owned by women or employs women in a meaningful way, please share it in the comments and I will reach out to them.
Happy International Women’s Day, and happy travels!
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