A lot of women in the adventure travel industry have been around long enough to remember the days when we had to buy our outdoor gear in the men’s department and everything was green, navy or camouflage. And while it’s great to buy ski pants or a climbing harness that fit properly, the outdoor and adventure space is still dominated by men. In an important first-look conversation at the Adventure Travel World Summit in Anchorage, Alaska, the women who own, run or work for an adventure company or organization focused on adventure opened up about what needs to change.
“As a woman adventurer and guide, and as a business owner and entrepreneur, I have delighted in seeing the growth of women as travelers and as business leaders in the adventure travel space. Since the first ATWS in Seattle, women have sought partnership and support with one another, which has sparked conversations about hosting a women focused leadership event “one of these days.” The Peer-to-Peer Sessions in Chile and Ireland elevated the sense of urgency that led us to consider a pre-conference or at least a session at the main event. It was a delight to have finally hosted a women only conversation in the industry in Anchorage at ATWS this year! The conversations continue to deepen as women leaders in the space explore how they work together and with their male allies, how they lead, and how they grow with excellence and focus.”
Moe Carrick, Facilitator/Host
The Women’s Leadership in Travel session at the Adventure Travel World Summit last month. Photos © ATTA / Juno Kim.
Moe Carrick of Certified BCorp consultancy, Moementum, Inc., led the discussion, pointing out that industry leadership doesn’t look like the market at all. The market has an increasing number of women participating in, buying and planning adventure travel, while the CEOs and upper managers of the destinations they’re headed to and the tour operators they are booking with are still predominantly male.
“We’ve created our own industry image of the male leader,” one participant said, “the laid-back, cool guy dressed in plaid.” She wants to see more women take the stage at industry events like the Adventure Travel World Summit. [The ATTA agrees!]
Carrick asked the group to describe the status of female leadership in the industry today. Tullia Caballero, the owner of a bicycle tour operator in Europe, noted that women who travel a lot are sometimes seen as irresponsible parents or unreliable individuals. “My nickname in Italian means ‘the blender’ because my life is a whirlwind,” she said, and other women in the audience agreed, mentioning that it’s hard to be taken seriously as a business owner when your peers think you are just off having fun all the time.
“As women we are taught to not answer back, while it is praised when men do.” Moe Carrick
As part of the session the group broke out into round table discussions to talk about some of the challenges they face, surfacing topics that came up included the confidence gap in women (“the imposter syndrome”); women being seen as bossy or pushy when expressing confident opinions; women being sexual compromised and/or being viewed sexually versus professionally; and that women’s collaborative approach to leadership can be frustrating and challenging for staff (men and women) yet appreciated by others.
Malia Masfour of Jordan Tourism who attended the session commented afterwards, “It was important to address the role of women in the adventure travel industry and their take on the future of the industry. The overall feeling is that women make most of the decisions on where to travel, how to travel and where to go next so that relationship between the buyer and the female operator is key for repeat business.”
“Women lead differently than men, but have struggled at times to find their own way of doing it,” Carrick says. “Finding our authentic style increases the impact we can have as women leaders collectively and independently.”
It’s hard to know where women stand in the industry because the statistics haven’t been compiled yet. How many women-owned tour operators are there? How many leadership positions in destination marketing organizations are occupied by women? How does the number of female guides compare to male guides? Is there a wage gap in our industry and is it comparable to the gap in other industries?
“I believe the challenge is that women have to try twice as hard as men to get heard in an industry dominated by men. However, I have noticed recently, that women who tried twice as hard quickly learned more and excelled faster and thus are surpassing many males in the workforce. I believe the challenge is also making sure that everyone in the office setting treats everyone equally.”
Malia Asfour, Jordan Tourism Board
After the group described the status of women leadership in the industry, we moved on to brainstorm what kinds of support would be helpful as we try to improve the industry to include more women leaders. Several participants tasked the ATTA with conducting the research and compiling statistics on women in leadership roles in the industry as a benchmark. Women suggested mentorship to improve their salary negotiation skills. Others expressed disappointment that there were very few men in the room and recommended a conversation at a future ATTA event that included all delegates – not just the women. As Carrick said, “Men are our key partners and allies. They need us, too!
“I learned that women face the same challenges in the travel industry as they do in any other profession. It does seem like the adventure travel sector of the industry has more men in leadership roles with respect to founding companies and pioneering the industry than in other sectors of travel. As those individuals age and retire, it opens up leadership roles to younger generations and more women seem to be filling those roles. It’s also important that we as women support each other so a next step would be to have more sessions like the one we had that morning.”
Sheridan Samano, Reef to Rockies
James Anderson of Tartan Group, one of only two men in the room, shared his perspective, “I was really pleased to see this workshop on the schedule since I have been working for, and with women for many years and I’m always curious what leadership challenges people are facing in our industry.” He continued, “Even though the session was early in the morning, the room was standing room only and the discussion was lively. Sessions like this are what make ATWS such a great event, not only are we learning from our past experiences but we are looking ahead to create a better industry for the future.”
The ATTA was pleased to include this session at the Summit this year and the turnout definitely supports the conclusion to include education on women’s leadership at future ATTA events during the main events normal session hours.
“During my career of working with adventure experiences and operators, I have been lucky to see first hand the amazing synergy between men and women working together, in a variety of roles. I am also excited to see more and more women booking adventure travel, perhaps inspired by women’s success in the industry. What I don’t know is if this is similar within all destinations and Tartan’s goal in sponsoring the session was to bring the great, big, wide world of the ATTA together to have this discussion and support even more gender equality within adventure travel globally.”
Deirdre Campbell, Tartan Group & Women Leadership in Travel Sponsor Partner