Tourism creates employment opportunities in places where alternatives are either not available to women or are highly undesirable last resorts. For International Women’s Day this year, we’ve asked Adrienne Lee to talk about the role that adventure travel has in creating opportunities for women around the world. Lee is a program manager at Planeterra, the non-profit foundation of ATTA member G Adventures, who has seen how sustainable tourism can positively impact women. ATTA’s Jen Pemberton interviewed her.
JP: The ATTA supports a definition of adventure travel that places an importance on protection of the people and places that tourism touches. In what ways does adventure travel and sustainable tourism benefit women specifically?
AL: We understand that the tourism industry is one of the greatest wealth distributors and job creators in the world, second only to the oil industry. Tourism is also one of few industries that are able to reach some of the most rural and underserved people in the word — many of them women.
Women are often the first to be excluded from formal education institutes in many places worldwide, with only about 30 percent of girls globally making it to secondary school. The tourism industry is able to harness many transferrable skills learned outside the classroom. Through capacity and vocational training, tourism can provide sustainable, long-term, dignified job opportunities for women in a booming industry. Women in the developing world often find working in tourism an entry-point into the formal economy, improving their quality of life and access to opportunities as well as to positions of power within their communities.
Planeterra initiates, invests, cultivates and incubates a number of women-run social enterprises, cooperatives, and training programs that give women a hand up, not a hand out in their society. This allows for long-term job training and meaningful careers, creating futures of self-sufficiency, not dependency. This way an individual can take care of themselves and in turn their family and children’s health and education. We work directly with G Adventures to include these programs into their itineraries, making sure that these enterprises have a long-term customer base and market, creating a more inclusive economy and more cohesive communities.
JP: What is the relationship between the rise of the solo female traveler and adventure travel? Why should women who choose to explore new places alone, choose adventure activities and destinations?
AL: We’ve definitely seen a rise of solo travelers, and female solo travelers specifically. Since 2008, we’ve noticed a 134 percent increase in single travelers – a demographic that represents 40 percent of our guests. Further, 65 percent of our solo travelers are women – a number that has increased 148 percent since 2008.
I think women today feel much more comfortable and confident traveling solo. Keep in mind that solo travel doesn’t necessarily mean traveling alone. You meet others on the road, can engage with the online travel community and join small-group tours and meet other like-minded individuals.
Women traveling solo should consider adventure activities and destinations because they often create more meaningful experiences. More and more, I think travelers are moving beyond the fly and flop beach vacations and looking for more out of their holidays. They want to be inspired, perhaps challenged and step out of their comfort zone. Plus, there are many opportunities to support the local communities and women, and make a tangible difference through their travel dollars.
JP: I’m fascinated by the Women on Wheels project. Can you describe the project and give advice on how tour operators and other travel organizations can find and support projects like it?
AL: Women on Wheels is a new partnership that G Adventures and Planeterra launched with our ground partners this year. Our local partner provides an 18-month training program for poor urban women in Delhi so they can obtain their professional chauffeur license. The women learn how to drive a car and to speak English as well as hospitality skills, First Aid and self-defense. The training allows these women to access job opportunities and often become the primary breadwinner in their family.
Women on Wheels drivers chauffeur other single traveling females, or females traveling with a partner or family. G Adventures’ customer base in India is composed of mostly single females, arriving on overnight international flights. It was the perfect match to provide our customers with a value-added experience and provide Women on Wheels with a guaranteed safe customer base so they can expand their programs. G Adventures has also provided training and an additional three fleet vehicles, quadrupling the number of cars available for the beneficiaries. As G Adventures has travelers in over 100 countries, we are looking to work with our partners to help them expand in regions beyond India.
There are several, often simple ways to support women-run projects and initiatives around the world. Research is a big part of it. Look for cooperatives that sell handicrafts made by women, or women-owned micro and small enterprises to support — be it local restaurants or tours or souvenirs. There are often non-profit/cooperative/social enterprises around if you are looking out for them. Being a customer is a great way because you’re directly supporting someone’s income and helping them to provide for their own families and improve their quality of life.
At Planeterra we start with online research to identify local organizations in destinations we’re looking to work in, and see what initiatives are already present. We find it to be most effective when we collaborate with communities who are organized around a cause and looking for support. From there the team (staff from our headquarters and local offices) visits the organization, establishes a relationship and conducts a complete assessment of the project’s operations. It often takes a number of visits before we enter a formalized partnership, as we need to build the capacity of the organization, and ultimately create an experience that both aligns with the company’s itineraries and the organization’s work. In the end it’s as win-win for both parties as the partnership satisfies the needs of the community and market!
Send us your stories of how adventure travel helps women and participate in International Women’s Day by using these hashtags on social media: #MakeItHappen #womensday #IWD2015