In light of International Women's Day and Women's History Month, Travel Weekly's Michelle Baran spoke with Laura Mandala, the founder of Women in Travel and Tourism International, about the ways in which the industry can and should be improving the travel experience for women and what the takeaways of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements should be for travel companies.Q: How can the travel industry make it easier, safer and more welcoming for women to travel?
A: What we really need is large-scale social change at the highest levels. If you look at Canada for example, the Canadian government has a very detailed travel advice section on women's safety. It's extremely detailed. You compare that to the U.S. State Department, it's very modest in terms of advising women when they travel. I have found some other sites. There's a group called Sexual Assault Support and Help for Americans Abroad, they're funded by Pathways to Safety, an organization devoted to women's safety while traveling. But it took me some hunting to find that.
Q: What are the ways that women in the travel industry, including at higher-level positions in travel companies, can help improve the travel experience for female travelers?
A: A lot more needs to be done in terms of making resources to help keep women safe available to the average woman traveler. Right now, you have to do an awful lot of searching to find it. When you talk about what can companies do and what can women who work for those companies do? Number one, those companies need to make sure that their own internal policies are conducive to women thriving and excelling, and that their own gender policies are intact. And number two, they need to think about what they're doing to ensure their visitors, their customers, their guests have access to information to keep themselves safe. I mean, I Googled LGBTQ travel and you've got the Human Rights Campaign, they're all about monitoring safe places for gays and lesbians to travel. Expedia has a statement on gay friendliness -- [it] puts some information out there on gay-friendly destinations. So, we're not afraid to talk about how to make the LGBTQ population feel safe, but when we talk about issues related to the safety of women when they travel it hasn't really gotten to the point where everyone is comfortable doing it.
Q: What are suppliers doing to better support their female staff and clients?
A: Companies need to make clear what their policies are about guests harassing other guests. Carnival has a great statement on their website. It says they will not tolerate behavior affecting the comfort, enjoyment, health, safety or well-being of other guests or crew. ... And maybe other travel companies have that policy, but I think those policies should be more visible. Put this on a napkin or placard along with safety information in the seat pocket in airplanes, for instance. Send a message. I've had instances on planes and trains where men I've sat next to would fondle their private parts. I'd love an airline or transfer company to say, "You can't fondle your genitals. We consider that inappropriate behavior." Can you imagine ringing the bell for the steward and saying, "This guy is fondling himself? He's not doing it now that you're here, but he was." What are you supposed to do about that? Were they trying to be provocative? It's just bizarre. It's awkward. And imagine if that happens to a young person, sitting next to someone like that. I've been asked by a mother to switch seats with her 17-year-old daughter who was sitting between two men, one of whom appeared to have spent a good deal of time at the bar prior to the flight. I completely understood where she was coming from.
Q: What do you think the takeaway from the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements should be for the travel industry?
A: Number one is eliminating their own bias within their organizations and cleaning house and making sure their policies and procedures are up to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission standards. Number two, taking a look at their leadership structure. All of this happens because we don't have diversity in senior leadership. There's data to support that more women in senior leadership roles means more opportunity for women and more success at the bottom line for the organization. Number three, that they start looking at what they can do to make sure their guests, the people they're serving in the industry, have access to resources they need to be safe, both men and women. Let's come together as a community to get that information out there.