While it’s undoubtedly a time to celebrate, International Women’s Day is also a moment for collective thought. On 8 March, the varied achievements of women around the globe — across a wide swathe of professions and industries — will be honoured. But even as the endeavours of some are rightly brought into the spotlight, the unseen efforts made by millions of women will carry on as before. As an industry, tourism relies heavily on the labour of women for its very existence and this International Women’s Day, we take a closer look at the part women play in this vast sector and what can be done to support their efforts. 

A Snapshot of Women in the Sector

As The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) observes, from a global perspective, women comprise the vast majority of the sector’s workforce. Despite their overwhelming presence within the industry, women tend to hold some of its lowest-paid jobs and roles. According to research undertaken by the UNWTO, it’s not uncommon for women to take on unpaid work as part of their efforts to support their family-owned tourism businesses. A study by the UNWTO — which explored the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the sector’s predominantly female workforce — also noted that, “In general, women’s employment is concentrated in accommodation, food, and beverage serving activities, air passenger transport and travel agencies.”

Given this, it’s not surprising to learn that — thanks to the restrictions imposed on a global level during the pandemic — women working within the tourism sector have been overwhelmingly impacted by a loss of income during the last three years. In certain tourism-heavy economies around the world — places as diverse as Australia, India, Tonga, and the Dominican Republic — this was deeply felt. What’s more, the UN’s study also indicates that the COVID-19 pandemic not only deprived women in the sector of income, but created a kind of perfect storm of socioeconomic conditions that fed into a frightening increase in violence against women and girls. And now, with pandemic-era restrictions being eased across the world and the travel industry working hard to upright itself, the UNWTO believes that women will and should be key to the sector’s recovery. Without prompt action and support from a wider global society, however, it warns that, “...the post-COVID-19 era will be even more challenging for securing women’s economic empowerment in the tourism sector.”

Tangible Efforts on the Road to Recovery

For women in the wider tourism industry, there is no immediate and straightforward path to recovery, no quick fix to replace vital earnings lost, and no way to swiftly redress the conditions that have caused such a concerning increase in violence against women and girls around the world; indeed, the UNWTO recommends a broad, multi-strand approach to the issue, one that incorporates recommendations for stakeholders to implement across policies concerning education, employment, entrepreneurship, etc. But for travellers and DMOs, there are tangible actions that can be taken to actively support women at all levels of the industry.

A basic awareness of the issues that are presently faced by the sector’s largely female workforce is the first and most vital starting point for anyone seeking to improve the outcome of women working in tourism. But after that, DMOs can play their part by actively partnering with women-led cooperatives, associations, businesses, and grassroots organisations. From an internal perspective, DMOs and tourism organisations can also take steps to address the key issues that impact women — such as the gender pay gap, workplace safety, and job security. As for travellers, they can support and empower women throughout the sector by likewise actively choosing to engage with female-led businesses and organisations around the globe. While the decisions individual travellers make might seem inconsequential and even insignificant when compared to the size and reach of the global travel industry, their choices and spending power can have a concrete and direct impact on the lives of so many women who work within the sector.

It’s right to pause for thought on International Women’s Day, to stop to consider the achievements made by so many women around the world. But in the case of the global tourism sector, it’s also the right moment to turn that collective pause into collective action, to support the efforts of so many women who have helped to build the industry and now rely upon it for their livelihoods.




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