The status of women in the tourism sector

7 min reading time

Published on 08/03/22 - Updated on 17/03/22

journée des droits des femmes

On the occasion of the International Women's Rights Day, it is interesting to take a look at the role that this part of the population currently plays in the tourism sector. In the last few decades, more and more space has been given to them thanks to numerous initiatives dedicated to them. However, all is not yet won and there is still room for improvement.

Currently, although women represent 55% of the workforce in the tourism sector, only 20% of women hold management positions. Even more striking is the fact that only 8% hold positions of high responsibility. However, it is women who are the decision-makers in 70% of cases when booking a holiday.

This observation prompted Iris Serbanescu, as a woman and a member of the LGBTQI+ community, to launch wmnsWORK. The first tourism-specific incubator for non-binary women and entrepreneurs in North America. Through this innovative incubator, women are free to share ideas and advice and support each other. This is a great assistance during the most critical start-up phase of a business.

The tourism industry is really competitive - especially when it comes to the tour and accommodation sectors. Yet, with all the travel associations and organizations that exist to support businesses, there was really nothing that focus specifically on early-stage entrepreneurship for women and non-binary business owners. […] It's really important that wmnsWORK is accessible to anyone who wants to be a part of an accelerator, and our partnerships have made that possible," Serbanescu states. "It's also a way to showcase what can be accomplished when certain obstacles are removed, and historically overlooked entrepreneurs have the tools and agency to realize their potential.

Iris Serbanescu, Founder of wmnsWORK

The programme focuses on tourism service providers such as hotels or tour operators. It consists of workshops and classes led by industry experts. The programme is tailored to the needs of the participants and is supported by a network of experts. It also includes one-to-one mentoring, coaching circles and fireside chats with inspiring non-binary women and people.

There are still very few tourist offers for women, yet more and more women are looking for solo adventures. Her Roomies aims to change that. This is the first rental platform and marketplace designed by and for women. Founded by father-daughter duo Nick and Chiara Fraser, Her Roomies connects renters and landlords in a safe and secure way.

The project goes far beyond a standard rental portal to create a true ecosystem centred around women. From property verification to the provision of a personal moving assistant, the platform takes care of all the details for those looking for a suitable new home. An offer that is as much for young women just becoming independent as it is for more mature women looking to adopt a digital nomad lifestyle.

The platform's management team is looking to consolidate with the creation of an advisory board, made up of experienced female entrepreneurs in key sectors including marketing, technology, investment and real estate. Her Roomies is also launching its first fundraising round on the crowdfunding platform Crowdcube.

I am thrilled and extremely grateful that these powerful and experienced female business leaders are adding their close to a century’s worth of experience to the Her Roomies team in key areas. I am excited about what the future holds for Her Roomies with a Board that is so strong, and I look forward to learning from each of them.

Chiara Fraser, Co-founder of Her Roomies

The Anantara Hotels, Resorts & Spas brand, part of the Minor Hotels group, would like to highlight the women in its team on this special day. We discover the portraits of inspiring women who occupy various positions such as Marine Biologist and Sustainable Development Manager, General Manager, Head Sommelier, Activities Manager or Elephant Expert. Nutawan Jumpanak (Khun Nuch) is the first female Head Sommelier at the Anantara Siam Bangkok.

The Starbucks Foundation set a goal in 2018 to empower 250,000 women and girls in coffee, tea and cocoa growing communities by 2025. Mission accomplished this year, three years ahead of schedule, through partnerships with non-profit organisations around the world. The Foundation has now set a new and even more ambitious goal: to positively impact 1 million women and girls in coffee, tea and cocoa growing communities by 2030. 

To create a sustainable future of coffee, we must care for the well-being of the farmers and communities that grow coffee, tea and cocoa around the world. While we continue to provide holistic support to all farmers, helping to improve their lives and livelihoods, we know that when we invest in women, we are also investing in her community.

Michelle Burns, Starbucks executive vice president of Global Coffee Tea and Cocoa and board member of The Starbucks Foundation

This day is also the ideal moment to formalise the launch of the Observatory of the Charter for Parity in the real estate sector. The ambition of this new association is to "continue to promote the Charter in the real estate sector, to ensure regular monitoring and assessment of the actions carried out by the signatories with a major annual meeting, and to contribute to the improvement of results through training and dissemination of best practices".

At a time when the Observatory wants to offer signatories a mirror to see their progress and a compass to accompany them, many people, whether signatories or not, have expressed their intention to work alongside us, with the common values of strict respect for the confidentiality of the information entrusted to us, and a positive state of mind: no judgement, no shaming! 

Isabelle Rossignol, President of the Observatoire de la Charte de la Parité dans l'Immobilier

This initiative is in line with the development of the Charter for Parity in Real Estate, which will be launched in December 2021 under the impetus of the Cercle des Femmes de l'Immobilier. In total, more than 120 companies and organisations have signed up to this Charter, which aims to analyse in depth the practices of the real estate sector in terms of recruitment and retention of talent.

In a study by the PR agency Belvera Partners, it was found that women make up only 12.4% of the CEOs of the world's top 350 travel companies and just under 12.1% of the chairmen. These figures are even more shocking when we look at the different sectors of the tourism industry. Indeed, only 5% of hotel operator CEOs are women and 6% in the aviation and car rental sector. However, they are more present at the head of hotel operator schools, business travel companies and the specialised press, even if the figures do not exceed 43%.

The Urssaf, for its part, draws up a report on female entrepreneurship and the place of women in business. The figures are somewhat alarming. In total, 37.1% of classic self-employed workers are women, mainly in the health and beauty sectors. In 2019, the income gap between female and male self-employed workers was 22.3%. Wage gaps are also visible between male and female entrepreneurs and in the wage bill of private and public companies. Women are more likely to be employed in low-paid jobs and in part-time or relatively short-term jobs.

More and more sectors and companies are trying to address the problem of under-representation of women. One example is IATA, which is launching the Diversity and Inclusion Awards for the airline industry. The awards recognise three categories of leadership in the field of diversity and inclusion:


  • Inspirational Role Model Award: recognises a woman in a leadership position in the airline industry who has had a significant impact on the industry. 
  • High Flyer Award: recognises a female aviation professional under the age of 40 who has demonstrated leadership through concrete actions in favour of diversity and inclusion, having a positive impact on the industry. 
  • Diversity & Inclusion Team Award: recognises an airline that has made a measurable and significant change in diversity and inclusion.

Despite the challenges faced by the aviation sector over the past two years, the focus on diversity and inclusion continues to gain momentum. The Diversity and Inclusion Awards are an important recognition of the inspiring progress that is being made. I invite our industry partners and IATA member airlines to submit their nominations.

Willie Walsh, IATA Director General

Covivio, for its part, is focusing on gender parity, notably through its internal Ex-Aequo programme. This programme aims to "promote equal opportunities between the sexes within the company" and is built around three pillars: awareness, HR actions and mentoring. Covivio did not stop there, in 2011 it signed the Diversity Charter, then in 2021 the Charter of commitment to parity and professional equality between women and men in companies and organisations in the property sector. This commitment is reflected in its figures: 50% of employees are women and 36% of the Executive Board are women. 

The IHG group is not to be outdone, as demonstrated by its participation in the "She has a deal" programme, which aims to increase the number of women hotel owners. The group also supports the Castell Project, which assists women in developing their leadership skills. 

Castell Project has brought together executives and aspiring leaders in forums that have assisted all of us to become more aware and evolve into a more diverse and ultimately stronger industry. IHG's participation in Castell's event and forums, such as Castell@College, which exposes young graduates to leadership and career opportunities in the hotel industry, has been a valuable growth opportunity for all participants.

Julienne Smith, Senior Vice President of Development for IHG Hotels & Resorts

Finally, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts continues to expand its Women Own The Room programme with the addition of two new women hotel operators. Designed to help women entrepreneurs break into the hotel operator sector, the programme offers assistance with financial solutions, personalised operational support and networking and training opportunities.

Women want to own and develop hotels - the momentum we see proves it - they just lack trusted partners and advocates to guide them through the process. The mentoring opportunities and resources offered by Women Own the Room are invaluable and will better inspire and prepare future generations of women hotel operators.

Lisa Checchio, Director of Marketing, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts

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