Gender rights are human rights and responsible tourism is gender equal tourism. Those are just two of the messages coming out of Equality in Tourism’s first public meeting on gender and tourism, ‘Sun, Sand and Ceilings: why we need women at the top of the tourism industry’, held at the recent World Travel Market in London.

The lively discussionwas led by a panel representing a wealth of diversity and experience in the industry. Equality in Tourism director Dr Stroma Cole kicked off the session, talking about how change needs to start from the top, with visionary female leaders helping others to overcome the many barriers to equality, which result in reduced opportunities for training, promotion and earning.

Her Excellency Aloun Ndombet-Assamba, Jamaican High Commissioner to the UK and former Tourism Minister, stressed that gender equality requires public education, advocacy, and training of both women and men. The issue of business ownership and management must also be addressed, she said, to ensure women are involved at the top and not just ‘behind the scenes’.

Director of Zara Tanzanian Adventures, Zainab Ansell talked about how she had set up and expanded her own tourism business in Tanzania. It was tough as a woman in a male environment and so she is strongly committed to mentoring and training her female staff, including Maasai women, to a high level. This is vital to ensure that tourism is benefiting local communities. It has taken her 30 years to be acknowledged by the president and the government attention she has won has now translated into support for women in business.

For Dermot Blastland, the former managing director of TUI UK & Ireland, culture is key to achieving gender equality – in particular an enlightened CEO. Having women on operating boards, he argued, was in some ways more important than on executive boards. At TUI, 47% of managers and 25% of senior managers are currently women, boosted by a leadership mentoring programme.

There was general support from the floor for quotas to be set for the number of women on boards so long as it didn’t result in mere tokenism. Mentoring was also seen as an effective way for women already in leadership to help others and to overcome the problem of the ‘old boys clubs’ that still exist in the industry and act as a barrier to women progressing.
The interest that this first public event by Equality in Tourism generated in the room – “an interesting and challenging session” according to one attendee – was also evident in discussions on social media However, we were really sorry that only four men attended, even though our invitation was open to all.

To read Travel Weekly’s account, click here