Today, on International Women’s Day, Equality in Tourism kicks off its week-long series ‘5 Questions 4 Change’, which explores how women #ChoosetoChallenge gender bias in the tourism industry, as well as how individuals can contribute towards advancing equality.  Day one, ‘Challenging Experiences’ focuses on women’s personal experiences of what it is like to work in the industry as a female. We asked women to reflect on their careers within the tourism industry, explore how they consider their gender may have impacted them in their work, and explain how their experiences differ to their male colleagues. We’ve included each woman’s Facebook handle so you can check out their amazing work.

Please tell us about your experience as a woman in the tourism industry. 

“By involving women as tour guides, as the designers of itineraries, as storytellers –

we will be able to view a destination from a new perspective.”

TRANG THI THU MAI’s experience of the Tourism Industry

EUNICE KOOMEFounder & CEO of Designer Safari, KENYA @designersafariofficial

My experience as a woman has been both positive and negative. I find that clients gain immediate trust when they realise that I am a woman. I have also felt that clients have great admiration that I am running a business as a woman in Africa.

However, unlike my male counterparts I am not able to travel around bench-marking accommodation in various locations or go to the airport at night to receive clients because I have to meet my responsibilities as a wife and a mother. This I feel gives men a competitive edge.

TRANG THI THU MAICo-founder and Community Development Project Manager at YESD (Youth Employment and Society Development) Vietnam @yesdsocialenterprise

Both male and female all have advantages and disadvantages in the tourism industry. I will share my experience on the opinion of a female in this industry. 

Women cannot join long tours because of family ties. They need to take care of their children and both their own parents and husband’s parents. In Vietnam, women who work as tour guides are often gossiped about, because they travel overnight, and because they may travel with male tourists. This is a big problem for gender inequality in the sector, and explains why there are more male guides than female tourism industry. Women often choose to work at the office instead of guiding after getting married. 

Beside these disadvantages, women still benefit from working in tourism. Across the globe, women are seen as keepers of culture. They are the cooks, the weavers, the growers and the homemakers; the gateway to traditions and stories. By involving these women as tour guides, as the designers of itineraries, as storytellers – we are able to view a destination from a new perspective.

SHELLEY BRAGG Co-founder / Director of Development for GOOD Travel,  USA & New Zealand

I would say I have been extremely fortunate with my personal experience in the tourism industry as a woman.

I have had the privilege of starting a social enterprise with 3 other passionate women, where we have shared values and goals and we work with a dedicated team, also currently made up of women. I feel we have been able to effectively work towards our goals as a company and align it with our goals as individuals. However, I know my experience is not indicative of the industry as a whole and we at GOOD Travel believe we have a responsibility to promote equality in the tourism space. I have lived and worked in a few different countries, and in each, the tourism industry and women’s opportunities in it vary. Where I believe New Zealand – where GOOD Travel is based – is much more equitable, in Thailand – where I lived recently for several years – you often see women being exploited. That being said, even in New Zealand women experience discrimination. Our co-founder Eliza Raymond, was recently involved in some research with Dr. Susan Houge Mackenzie from the University of Otago in New Zealand. They found that even in New Zealand, women adventure guides still often experience discrimination, particularly from clients. I have also found that women, as travelers, are often misrepresented and stereotyped and are far more vulnerable when traveling. 

NICKI BRUCKMANN CEO/Founder of Explorer Chick Adventure Co., USA @Explorer_Chick

Honestly, I have felt nothing but support from the tourism industry. Whether at a trade show, expo, outreach to a new partner, or on a FAM (Familiarisation Trip) with other travel professionals. In fact, I feel like most of the people I encounter are women. I just returned from a FAM to Uganda where it was only females. In most cases, women outnumber men. Those attending a FAM are independent journalists, business owners, or in a role of influence with their company.

How do you think your experiences differ from your male colleagues?

IVA SILLAOwner and author of Secret Zagreb Tours, Croatia @Kazivacica

I would say that, when it comes to entrepreneurs in tourism, men often (not always) lead mainstream projects that sell well, while women are much more prone to creating meaningful small-scale projects. 

I have noticed, not just in my work, but carefully observing the tours and activities market, that guests are less judgmental towards male guides. Male guides will get away more easily with vanity, humour that can even be a bit offensive, or with a lecturing I-know-it-all style. Female tour guides who work on multi-day tours often develop a typical “I’m in charge, don’t mess with me” attitude, because too much friendliness endangers their authority and credibility.  

I work as a trainer with tourism stakeholders all over my country (Croatia). I can say that women are by far more interested in further education, raising quality and adding innovative elements in their work in tourism. My training is associated with heritage interpretation and creation of cultural-tourism projects. Most of the participants (80%) are women which shows me there is a higher number of women than men who are interested in careful and creative presentation of tourism products and their heritage and they believe there is a space for improvement. As a participant in numerous educations myself, I’ve witnessed the same statistics. The big majority of participants are always women.

ILIADA STAVRINIDIManager at Kouros Village, a hotel located on Antiparos island, Greece. @KourosVillageAntiparos

When comparing my experiences’ to my male colleagues’, I often feel like my way of approaching situations is more thoughtful in a holistic sense, whilst men in similar positions are more straightforward or even ruthless. I have caught myself wanting to do things correctly while men just get things done, often leaving a mess behind, which someone else has to take care of. 

For example, when I had an issue with cleaning staff, my approach was to resolve it and not change staff in the middle of the season, yet if my colleague had decided, he would have gone with the more impulsive decision.

There is the issue of authority. There was once a company who came to deliver an order we had made and they wanted the person in charge. I said it was me, but they insisted on seeing my father, even though he had retired a few years before. This has happened more times in similar situations, people questioning it when I say I am in charge. I now enjoy it and have learned to play that role. 

I also wonder if men in my position also constantly get asked about their marital status, by guests, employees or partners. In general I believe women are more exposed to comments that have nothing to do with their work performance but having to do with their looks or personality, if they are too soft or too ‘bossy’.

NICKI BRUCKMANNCEO/Founder of Explorer Chick Adventure Co., USA. @Explorer_Chick

As a tour operator specializing in women’s only travel, I was unaware of some of the issues experienced by my guides when working with their other companies – issues not from their companies, but from guests. Women in the guiding field – especially the outdoor guiding field- occasionally have to work harder to gain trust, confidence and respect from male guests. Can you imagine taking four 200lb+ men on a backpacking trip up Half Dome in Yosemite for 4 days, and having to convince them that you are capable enough? It’s a hump female guides have to get over. 

I’ve also had a guide talk to me about guiding with a male co-guide. She was the Senior Guide, thus being the one in charge. Even after stating this as the trip commenced, male guests continued to approach her male colleague.

EUNICE KOOME Founder & CEO of Designer Safari, KENYA @designersafariofficial

Besides what I have indicated above, the biggest challenge I have faced is being unable to access credit because banks require either a title deed to a piece of land or a log book to a vehicle.

Traditionally title deeds are in the husband’s name and unless you are running a business in a partnership with them, access to the title deed to secure credit is not possible.

ANNIE YOUNGPresident of the Panamanian Foundation of Sustainable Tourism; Founder and former owner of EcoCircuitos Panama Tour Operator and Sublime Journeys DMC, Panama @APTSO.ORG

I think women have many challenges. In my experience, I always needed to show a better performance, go the extra mile and constantly innovate to keep the company actively in the mind of my clients and in the local industry… I have learned from my experience that excellence, perseverance, commitment and passion are important for success. 

I have been a member of the Board for the National Council of Tourism in Panama and the Panama’s Chambers of Tourism board, where the majority of members are men. It is hard to have an active voice as a woman, but I have learned the importance of being authentic, relevant and empathetic to have an impact with my male peers. 

When I was starting my company, I received a call from a competitor, offering me a job. When I went to the interview the director offered a terrible salary and said that it was better to have a secure job than start something without a parachute. He didn’t think I had the strength and vision to succeed. 

Also, in the early years of my destination management business, I visited one of my potential clients. The visit didn’t go exactly how I expected. He asked me who was the owner of the company and what was “his” background, but when I told him that I was the owner and founder he refused to sign with me because he said it was too risky. I understood that day that I needed to be the best. After a few years, when the company was proven to be successful, he became one of our most important clients. In the early years as an entrepreneur, I was constantly underestimated.

We hope you enjoyed the first day of #5Questions4Change, join us throughout the week as we ask women to challenge more aspects of the Tourism Industry. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn for updates on #5Questions4Change and more!