At ITB Berlin in March, we’ll be honouring our second Gender Equality Champion of the Year. Entries are open until 17th January to tourism and hospitality businesses of all sizes – from one-woman operations, to globe-spanning firms. If you’re proud of your dedication to gender equality, we’d love to read your application.  

The task of crowning our champion will fall to our judging panel, a team of six formidable experts on gender and tourism. Here we introduce them and hear why they believe this award is an important milestone in the industry. 

Michelle Mason, Sustainable Hospitality Alliance

Michelle Mason, Sustainable Hospitality Alliance and Gender Equality Champion judge

HR specialist Michelle Mason is the Ethical Recruitment Programme Manager for the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance (SHA) – our Award sponsors for a second year. 

Through her role with the SHA, she raises awareness of risks in hospitality recruitment processes and supports hotels to carry out ethical recruitment processes. A desire to create positive change in the hospitality industry and promote equity, diversity and inclusion inspires all her work. 

Speaking about the Award, Michelle told us, “I am thrilled to be a part of the Equality in Tourism judging panel where enthusiasm meets expertise, shining a light on organisations that focus on gender equality and women. I look forward to working with the panel to continue to shape the future of excellence in the tourism industry.”

Charmarie Maelge, International Tourism & Development Expert

Charmarie Maelge, gender and tourism expert

Charmarie Maelge has an impressive pool of expertise in tourism, gender and sustainability. She’s conducted extensive research in these areas and has worked in management and leadership roles for the likes of Sri Lanka Tourism Promotions Bureau, the National Sustainable Tourism Certification Scheme and The Travel Foundation. 

She believes Gender Equality Champion of the Year is a powerful tool to advocate for a more equitable tourism industry: “Tourism is a women-friendly industry, women’s representation is very high. But in some destinations, such as in the South Asia region, this is very low. 

“The Award is an important tool to educate and build awareness on how tourism economies can grow by adding women. I’m looking forward to finding out about unique formulas and best practices the industry has implemented to provide greater opportunities to women.” 

Lucy Ferguson, UNWTO Consultant

Lucy Ferguson, gender and tourism expert

Lucy Ferguson is an international specialist in gender issues in tourism. She has collaborated with UNWTO since 2010, and was the Lead Consultant for the second edition of the Global Report in Women in Tourism. 

As part of the current UNWTO Centre Stage project, Lucy authored the “Gender Mainstreaming Guidelines for the Public Sector in Tourism” and the “Gender-inclusive Strategy for Tourism Businesses”. She has trained key public and private sector stakeholders across the tourism sector in a wide range of countries, as well as 65 new trainers to lead this training. 

Lucy recently produced a study on women’s empowerment in tourism for the Indian Ocean Rim Association.

Hector de Calvo, LUSH

Hector de Castro, LUSH hotel association CEO

Also joining the panel is Hector de Castro, CEO of LUSH, the premium international association of eco luxury boutique hotels. He’s also CEO of the De Castro Group, a certified sustainability-driven group developing luxury hotel brands. 

During his 25-year career managing international hotel projects, Hector’s work has covered international development, strategic marketing, corporate restructurings, and challenging strategic diversifications. His clients include Shangri-La Shanghai, Ritz-Carlton Maldives and Intercontinental Fiji. 

His commitment to sustainable tourism inspired him to be a judge: “I am honoured to be a judge for Gender Equality Champion of the Year. Strong social values and respect are indeed key pillars for sustainable tourism and a healthy global society.”

Rika Jean-François, ITB Berlin

Rika Jean-François, Head of ITB Corporate Social Responsibility

With an academic background spanning topics like sustainable development, ethnic identities and quality management, Rika Jean-François is Head of ITB Corporate Social Responsibility. Through this role, she champions human rights and diversity in the industry, as well as taking responsibility for the Indian subcontinent and projects like ITB’s official Partner Country programme. 

Currently Rika serves on the board of the Asian Roundtable for Human Rights in Tourism and the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), supports many international sustainability committees and is a jury member at several global tourism contests. You’ll often hear her speaking at sustainable tourism events.

Dr. Stroma Cole, Equality in Tourism 

Dr Stroma Cole, Equality in Tourism Co-Director and Gender Equality Champion judge

Completing the panel is Equality in Tourism Co-director Dr. Stroma Cole. Stroma is a senior lecturer in tourism at the University of Westminster and combines her academic career with action research and consultancy. 

Her work includes extensive research on tourism and water inequality; gender and empowerment work for UNCTAD; and community-based tourism research and training for the FCO in Mexico and for the EU in Rwanda. She was the Chair of Tourism Concern from 2007 to 2011, a charity promoting ethical tourism.  

She summed up why we launched Gender Equality Champion of the Year: “As we continue our journey toward a more inclusive and equitable tourism sector, this award serves as a beacon of inspiration for organisations worldwide. 

“There is still much work to be done, but by recognising and rewarding gender equality champions, we aim to inspire others to follow suit.”

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