New seminar highlights sore spots, best practices and a path for the future

One of the highlights of the “CSR” section of ITB Berlin this year was a gender equality seminar hosted by CSR Commissioner Rika Jean-François. We asked Ms Jean-François why ITB decided to spotlight this issue.

In 2017, the Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development was on everybody’s lips. We decided not to drop the subject in 2018, but to carry it forward. Women’s rights are an essential part of the UNWTO Sustainable Development Goals: The 5th Goal focusses on achieving gender equality and empower all women and girls. Even though, the tourism sector has almost twice as many women employers as other sectors, women in the tourism industry on average continue to be paid less and seldom occupy higher positions. They are underrepresented in leadership roles, both at governmental and private level. In an industry that has such a high number of females, the lack of female representation at the senior executive level is very concerning. Additionally, a large amount of unpaid work is carried out by women in family tourism businesses. Women and girls continue to suffer discrimination, the #MeToo debate brought other neglected realities of many working women to the surface.

Our seminar tried to give an overview of the status quo and let women from various parts of the world have their say – as unfortunately, also at ITB, in general significantly more men than women are speaking at the various convention panels.

Supervisory boards with at least one woman, tend to be more successful than boards without any women, according to a recent study from Rochus Mummert Consulting

Directly afterwards, “Opportunities & Challenges in Tourism for Women Entrepreneurs” were also discussed by a female panel, facilitated by Ajay Prakash from the International Institute for Peace through Tourism, Indian section, who also co-organised the following 3rd “ITB IIPT Celebrating Her Awards”, where 5 extraordinary women were honoured for their achievements in tourism.

How far do we still have to go in this respect? Where are the hot spots? Are there places where gender equality is more sorely needed than others? 

It is very difficult to generalise, as the developments are so very diverse in different parts of the world. The gender ratio in executive boards in Norway, according to a research project from Credit Swiss, is nearly balanced (also thanks to a consequent women-contingent policy) whereas, for example, in South Sudan or Afghanistan, an alarmingly high number of girls do not even go to basic primary schools. That said, even in Europe, there are still great disparities.

This seminar shall be the start of a new series as it is important to continuously work on the improvement of this situation.

In this context, it is interesting, that supervisory boards with at least one woman, tend to be more successful than boards without any women, according to a recent study from Rochus Mummert Consulting.  Furthermore, the importance of women’s empowerment and employment for the society as a whole is very significant. Actually, it is essential for the sustainability of the industry as well as for a peaceful future – apart from social justice it is also good sense of business. Iaia Pedemonte, journalist and director of a Network called Gender Responsible Tourism, consequentially suggested that it should be possible to already calculate the grow of global GDP which certainly will happen after having closed the gender gap.
On the other hand, gender inequality is destabilising societies! Of course, there is a long way to go.

Do you have some best practice examples? 

It was very interesting in our seminar to hear about Ctrip, China’s largest Online Travel Agency. Jenna Qian, their destination marketing CEO, gave an overview of how an elaborated HR policy can contribute to change and innovation and the needs of their female workforce can be well-considered taking best advantage in the bottom line in exchange of a happy woman-work-power. Jordan is also moving into the right direction: the Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, Hon. Lina Annab addressed the importance to stand in for education and empowerment of women in her country and informed about several new efforts to power progress, including creating the necessary frameworks. There are indeed many reassuring examples of progress everywhere in the world; progress is a process and each country needs its own frameworks – but it is an international combat which cannot be fought in separation.

What were the other key points that came up in the seminar? 

We need to create even more awareness, we need action and we need to stick to the subject. We need to advocate. This seminar shall be the start of a new series as it is important to continuously work on the improvement of this situation.

Our speaker, Sarah Mathews, Head of Asia Pacific Destination Marketing at Tripadvisor and Chairwoman of PATA, who had humorously shared her experiences as an Asian woman in the travel industry, also pointed out that need to unite and start progress now and shared the hashtag #PressProgress.  Dr Claudia Broezel, Professor at the University for Sustainable Development in Eberswalde, Germany, who had informed the audience about a recent research among already empowered women, conducted at her university to find out which aspects really helped in their career, what kind of support and programmes were sufficient to advance, also made clear that she and her students are more than ready to support international research and initiatives on that subject. There is need for cooperation and reliable new data. Sandra Schmidt, Advisor Private Sector Cooperation/Sustainable Development through Tourism at GIZ, thrilled the audience by delivering the news, that her organisation has agreed to financially support research to create an updated version of the UNWTO & UN Women “Global Report on Women in Tourism”. The report had been published in 2010 already and an up-date is more than due.  All attendees agreed that we have to identify concrete, implementable steps to achieve gender equality and need programs for education, sponsorship, mentoring and networking in each country and on a global level.  We also need to involve those men who believe in fair progress.  A holistic socially responsible tourism practice -considering the whole supply chain- is the right approach also for gender equality – as any truly responsible approach must include gender equality.