Taking Stock of Women in Travel & Tourism
By Alessandra Alonso
Diversity in the work place. Gender parity. Gender pay gap. None of these terms will sound unfamiliar to you if you have flicked through the pages of any business publication over the last year (or two or five for that matter). Indeed, there is not a day gone by without an article being written on the topic. Perhaps most famously, the business case for closing the gender gap at work was recently restated by McKinsey through their decade long research ‘Women Matter’. The 2017 report makes a claim of astronomical proportions:
12 Trillion US Dollars could be added to global GDP if women fully partook in wealth creation.
Better still, if they were enabled to. In the UK alone, bridging the gender gap in the workplace has the potential to create an extra £150 billion on top of business-as-usual GDP forecasts in 2025, and could translate into 840,000 additional female employees and a further gain of 5–8% in GDP in each of the regions, with the largest opportunities in London, the North West, and South East.
That is certainly an amount to be reckoned with. So what is the Travel & Tourism sector thinking (and possibly doing) about this?
Undoubtedly, the importance of diversity in the sector is gaining recognition. As somebody who has been advocating greater opportunities and greater empowerment for women in the sector for almost two decades, I can assure you that back in the day both men and women would look at me in disbelief and — sometimes — patronising contempt when I put to them that women remained an untapped resource and questioned the lack of senior women in the industry, in companies, or even in the room. Fast forward to 2017 and there are now a limited yet powerful number of women in senior roles across all sub-sectors: from Gillian Tans, CEO at Booking.com; to Jo Rzymowska, MD at Celebrity Cruises UK, Ireland & APAC; to Carolyn McCall at EasyJet. This is indeed great news, yet we know that most of the industry is made up of small- and medium-sized enterprises and that, unfortunately, these women are still not representative of the sector situation overall. Little statistical information is available for Travel & Tourism, but the few studies available (those that I quote again and again in most of my articles are from Equality in Tourism, AWTE, and Hong Kong Poly) show that whether we are looking at senior management or representation on boards, figures vary from a maximum of 20% to a minimum of 5%, this great variation being influenced by choice of sub-sector and sample size.
Similarly, when it comes to female entrepreneurship, we know that women in the sector are being let down. Cross sectoral figures show that globally over 126 million women entrepreneurs were starting or running new businesses in 67 economies in 2012 (Global Report on Women and Entrepreneurship, GEM 2012). Around 30% of all US businesses are majority female owned, but this figures slumps to 17% in the UK. How many businesses are run and owned by women in the Travel & Tourism industry? What kind of appetite is there for female entrepreneurship in Travel & Tourism?
It is hard to provide any specific, data driven answer, but based on my experience of running Women in Travel meetup events at World Travel Market and Arabian Travel Market over the last 3 years - and now launching a women focussed and dedicated social enterprise - I can honestly say that the appetite is there, globally, amongst women, to play a key role in the Travel & Tourism economy, whether via entrepreneurship or making a full contribution to the industry, climbing the corporate ladder, or in any case impacting and shaping the future of this industry.
So what can the sector do to nurture and foster this appetite, indeed to reap the benefits of a fully engaged female workforce?
The answer is as diverse and multifaceted as you would expect, but what follows are some suggestions based on countless conversations, feedback, and meetings with passionate women worldwide.
At an organisational level giving women a voice, recognising their needs but also providing opportunities is essential. A diversity focused culture will first and foremost allow conversations to happen in the open. Mentoring, sponsoring, leadership development , networking, giving up-and-coming-stars a platform to raise their profile, as well as showcasing role models are in themselves no panacea, but together can substantially help by sending positive message to younger recruits. Research also shows that women are often looking for purpose in their work and so creating engagement through meaningful projects can be another way to increase loyalty and nurture talent. At an individual level, we can all ‘give back’ to the industry by offering our services as mentors; by ‘blowing the whistle’ when we witness biases or by engaging in the creation of supportive networks.
On the entrepreneurship side, women often lack the financial clout to access investors and funding in the sector. Making that knowledge and that expertise available can be invaluable. Furthermore, for those who already run their businesses, access to market is critical. How many companies in the sector make sure that on their preferential suppliers list are small, women-owned companies? That is where companies like Women in Travel CIC and UN led initiatives like SheTrades can really help.
Last but not least, I truly believe that we cannot improve what we cannot measure. The paucity and inadequacy of information available around women in Travel & Tourism is blatant and should be addressed by the industry through relevant representatives such as WTTC, UNWTO globally, and ABTA and BHA in the UK in order to better understand the context and address it with appropriate measures.
Alessandra Alonso is founder of social enterprise Women in Travel CIC. Women in Travel aims to leverage a thriving Travel and Tourism industry to empower women economically and personally through education, engagement and entrepreneurship and ultimately provide communities in key regions (UK, Middle East, Africa and Latin America) with a sustainable livelihood by enabling women to become economically independent through entrepreneurship and a thriving career in the travel and tourism industry. Alessandra has worked in the industry for the best part of two decades and has passionately supported women in the industry ever since. Her legacy includes the UK Shine Awards for Women Achievement in Travel Tourism and Hospitality. MBA qualified, she regularly coaches and mentor women and works with companies to achieve greater gender diversity in the workplace.