Industry embraces March celebrations of women

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Writer, producer and director Ava DuVernay, right, kicking off W Hotels' 2018 What She Said series on Feb. 23 at the W Hollywood. Photo Credit: Chris Swoszowski, Courtesy of W Hotels Worldwide

In the era of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, the travel industry is hoping this month's International Women's Day and Women's History Month will offer opportunities to tout the positive role travel can and does play in empowering women.

Along those lines, Trafalgar last week launched the #SheGoes campaign designed to showcase the various ways travel inspires women. It consists of a series of five trips that highlight the reasons women travel, based on a survey of more than 1,000 U.S. women.

The survey found, among other things, that 73% of women believe that traveling has made them more independent, and 86% said they are not afraid to travel.

"It's really about highlighting the fact that travel is this empowering thing," said Trafalgar president Melissa Da Silva. "We believe that it does a lot of good, especially in a time when we're hearing some of the negatives. ... We want to talk about how travel empowers people instead. It's about having a positive voice on travel."

The survey revealed some of the key benefits women said they get from travel, and Trafalgar is promoting five existing itineraries that embrace those benefits, though they are not women-only itineraries. So, for example, the company is highlighting India as a destination, based on survey respondents' view of travel as an opportunity to reflect.

The U.S. national parks are also being promoted, based on respondents' desire for adventure when they travel. The other itineraries highlighted in the campaign are in Ireland, Italy and Costa Rica.

More than half of the respondents (51%) identify as feminists. The vast majority of respondents would prefer to travel with others, with 76% reporting that they would rather travel with their family or a significant other. Just 10% report they prefer to travel solo.

Melissa Da Silva.
Melissa Da Silva.

Other travel companies have also embraced this month's women's empowerment momentum. Intrepid Travel last week launched a line of women-only expeditions in Morocco, Iran and Jordan, with the goal of "encouraging female empowerment and showcasing the traditions and routines of local women in each destination," according to the company.

G Adventures, in partnership with its philanthropic arm, the Planeterra Foundation, is shining a spotlight on how travel can empower female communities around the world through four new women-led social enterprise projects:

• The Sthree Craft Shop and Cafe in Kandy, Sri Lanka, which is run by the Women's Development Center to empower women and at-risk youths.

• Penduka, a restaurant and workshop in Windhoek, Namibia, that employs 30 disadvantaged women.

• Cop(M)adam, a social enterprise in Ayvalik, Turkey, that provides environmentally impactful opportunities for women by recycling and reusing waste materials to create fashionable accessories.

• The Nyamirambo Community Tour in Kigali, Rwanda, which provides education and training for women and girls from diverse backgrounds.

Adrienne Lee, director of development at Planeterra and a G Adventures adviser, said, "On International Women's Day, we celebrate the progress we have made and continue to commit to the advancement of women in tourism. These newest social enterprises are cornerstone examples of how female-focused travel can strengthen communities."

W Hotels has relaunched a series it calls What She Said that originally kicked off in 2016. This year, the initiative will focus on providing a platform for gender equality by hosting provocative speakers who will address that and other topics. Its discussions include people such as writer, producer and director Ava DuVernay, known for her work on the film "Selma," who launched the 2018 series Feb. 23 at the W Hollywood.

In a release about the series, W Hotels stated: "It's time for women to speak up as never before. And perhaps most importantly, it's time for people to listen to What She Said."

What She Said will continue with one event each month at W hotels around the globe, covering a range of topics with industry experts in the fields of art, design, architecture, fashion and fitness.

"We still have a lot of work to do," DuVernay said. "We have a long way to go before we reach a state of equality, and platforms like What She Said are helping to do the work."

Indeed, Michelle "Mick" Lee, founder and president of Women in Travel, an organization that provides resources and tools to help women in the travel industry achieve success, said that she, too, sees a combination of progress and more work that needs to be done.

"I'm seeing a greater level of awareness," Lee said. "What I would like to see more of are specific objectives and plans about what organizations are going to do to change [things]. I would like to see more definitive action. ... We know that companies are engaged in this and talk the talk, and we see they are really supportive. Now follow up on that."

Lee strongly advocates for getting more women into higher-level positions at travel companies, positions from which they can help create improved travel experiences for their clients, including female travelers.

"We need to get women up, and we need to get them into more senior roles, and we need to get them onboard to impact the travel industry overall," Lee said. "With a diversity of thought leadership at senior levels, there will be a greater level of awareness about how products and decisions and hotel builds and cabin configurations are created in the mind of both genders."

Travel still unsafe for many women

Whether travel is essential to women's careers or to the pursuit of their personal passions, it remains an unpleasant and in some cases dangerous experience for many women.

A survey of 400 U.S. women released last month by the Eric Mower + Associates marketing and communications agency revealed that two in five women reported having experienced sexual harassment while traveling solo. Another 80% reported having considered personal safety issues related to harassment or assault when planning a trip, and 65% said they research the relative safety of their destination before they go.

Fully 33% of respondents said that recent headlines about sexual harassment and assault made them feel less comfortable about traveling alone.

Concerns about safety and the need for a dedicated social network is what led Carolyn Pearson, CEO of Maiden Voyage, to launch her company 10 years ago, with the aim of making women feel safer and less alone when traveling.

"Our raison d'etre is to empower and liberate women to travel as much as they possibly can," Pearson said. "We love travel, we're right behind it. What we want [women] to understand are the risks; we want them to mitigate those risks, and we want them to have a plan B and a plan C should those risks materialize."

For example, Maiden Voyage provides a list of hotels it has vetted and found to be female friendly, with proper security measures in place, such as adequate door locks and policies that protect clients' privacy.

Laura Mandala, who founded Women in Travel and Tourism International in 2011, said one of the biggest challenges to improving travel conditions for women is that when suppliers do address safety and security issues, it can be seen as highlighting the fact that security is a problem.

"I worked for a major hotel brand that would not talk about the issue of women's safety because they felt like by talking about safety, it was automatically sending a message that maybe they're not safe," Mandala recalled. "I think that's the challenge that a lot of travel brands and destinations will struggle with. Put safety too far out there, it then raises the specter in people's minds of, 'Well, what do I need to be worried about?' "

But, she added, "A lot more needs to be done in terms of making resources available to help keep women safe."

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