Why support female entrepreneurs?


Benefits for tourists

At Responsible Travel – and more personally, as keen travelers – we believe the benefits of women in tourism are manifold, for tourists as well as local communities. Across the globe, women are seen as keepers of culture. They are the cooks, the weavers, the growers and the homemakers; the gateway to traditions and stories. By involving these women as tour guides, as the designers of itineraries, as storytellers – we are able to view a destination from a new perspective.
On a more practical level, female travelers can have different needs to their male counterparts, which may not be instantly obvious, and may be much more easily dealt with by female guides or tour planners. One to one advice on how to dress in conservative regions, which body parts need to be covered in temples and mosques, and knowing how far your headscarf is allowed to slip in different Islamic countries is invaluable. So, too, is knowing that someone has mapped out the toilet stops without you needing to even ask – as well as offering information on where sanitary and other items can – or can’t – be purchased, and how to deal with attention from local men which may be more full on than in your home country.

We asked the female founders and MDs of some of our tour operators about the responses to their female tour guides – and some of the benefits to their travelers.
Samrawit Moges is the founder and Managing Director of our supplier Travel Ethiopia, the first tour operator in Ethiopia to employ permanent female guides. She is also one of the founders of WEG group (Women Entrepreneur Group): “Tourists very much enjoy having a female guide. It makes a difference because she is able to talk about the community, about women, about the culture. It is very much related to women; wherever they go they see women working, and this is extremely well explained by the female guides rather than the males. When a female guide explains, for example, about early marriage – a negative traditional practice – as a woman, she is able to explain it better than the male. You know when they visit homes, when they visit villages, they always encounter the women.”
Ridhi Patel, founder of our Indian supplier, Volunteering Journeys: “Being a woman you understand a lot more about safety standards for your clients, and you make sure things more comfortable for women travelers. The small things like airport pickups. Our women understand about the needs of a woman, and so for example having en suite bathrooms and things like that in our accommodations will make it a lot more comfortable for them.”
Annie Young, founder of our supplier Ecocircuitos Panama, works with many local indigenous communities. She discusses the benefits of being a female-run company, which employs and works closely with women: “From my perspective, we can be more sensitive to what the community needs; we don’t want to do things for show. We don’t want to say we take tourists to different communities; we want tourists to have an experience. We want them to be able to sit with Linda or Nacida and talk and discuss different ways of life. I took two Spanish women the other day to an Emberá community. We spent the whole day there, we cooked with them; it’s not just that we sit and witness, we participate. A woman was talking to us about botany and the gardens because the Spanish women were very interested in medicinal plants. For me it was fantastic – but for them, when we finished the tour they were hugging them! And that says to be more than words – it was a real experience. One said to me, ‘I’m going to start cooking fish differently from now on’ because she saw how they were cooking the fish. There is a connection.”
Vicki Brown, Responsible Travel’s writer and editor, saw a different side of Colombia on a recent trip: “I was assigned a female guide for a hike into the Andes. It was a very rural, traditional area with quite clearly defined gender roles in general, and a woman growing up here would have had quite different experiences to a man. Maruja, was a superb storyteller – she plucked medicinal herbs, explained which plants were edible, which stored water, and gave me plant “tattoos” that the indigenous Muisca women used to have on their bodies. She revealed the secrets of a stone pool where women used to give birth, surrounded by nature, and in a landscape and culture dominated by the myths of the goddess Pachamama – the Native American Mother Earth – it seemed very appropriate to be guided by a woman, deep into “Pachamama’s belly.” Maruja wasn’t necessarily a better guide than her male counterparts might have been – but I really appreciated the alternative perspective that she was able to offer, even more so as a woman myself.”

Benefits for communities

Study after study has demonstrated that empowering women is one of the most effective ways of creating change in developing countries and poor communities. Educating girls results in lower birth rates, which is beneficial to women’s health. Money earned by women is more likely to be reinvested into the family, food and education. And seeing women in managerial positions, women who run their own businesses, and who have successful careers, is surely one of the best ways to inspire girls within these communities, and to let them understand that they can do the same.
Samrawit Moges, founder of Travel Ethiopia, explains how, by employing a woman, the benefits seep through to the next generations: “If you educate a woman, if a woman is empowered economically, it’s not only for her. It goes for her children, her siblings, and she can bring up her children better than at the time of her upbringing. She will want the children to go to school for higher education, rather than getting married at an earlier stage. So it is changing the society.”
Annie Young, founder of our supplier Ecocircuitos Panama, has seen the effects that employing women can have on one of the indigenous communities she works with: “The empowerment of the women is so beautiful, this community is blooming because the women are educating themselves with the tools that they have. The way the community looks today, compared to the way it was four years ago, is very different because they receive direct benefits from tourism. It’s not just tour operators bringing tourists to the communities; because the women are empowered, they know how to price their tours directly, it’s not just an operator saying that “I’m going to pay you this much.”
One particular woman, Sandra, who has been working with us, learned English because she realised that the tourists that were going there were English speaking and not many guides go there to support them. So she said – you know what, I have to learn English. Last time I was there, Sandra was reading Animal Farm – in English! One of the things that I have seen with Sandra is how she has been an example to the younger generations in her community. There is a girl who is maybe ten years old, and she wants to be a nurse because she saw Sandra, an older woman, studying. She saw how she’s doing, her house is better, she has been traveling, she has been to Costa Rica, to seminars and training, and that makes the girls believe that things can be different. So the girl stayed in school, she wants to do things, and to me this is beautiful, because she now knows you don’t have to settle.”
Ridhi Patel, founder of our supplier Volunteering Journeys, speaks about why she employs women: “I have seen a drastic change in confidence levels of some of my staff members, from being very dependent on their husbands to now being independent and fairly confident women. There’s definitely a change in attitude because of this, and because they are working with other women who come from abroad. There’s a change as well in terms of the way that they talk, the way that they can open up about certain things and discuss things with our volunteers, and their progress in terms of education and confidence.”

Vacation reviews from our travelers


Don’t just take it from us. Our vacation reviews tell a similar story about when tourists have been guided by local women, and have been able to learn about the culture, and see the benefits that these women gain from working in tourism:
“On the descent of Gunung Batur my hand was held by the girl guide. Never thought that would happen to me...Our tour guide was terrific but caused some cultural confusion as she was a 30 year old female Muslim from Java taking a group of mostly female (and not shy) Westerners around Bali which is mostly Hindu. I loved the misunderstandings." - – Andrew Craig in Bali

“We also managed to (unknowingly) sneak into the Mosque at Ali Khalili market on a special holy day and I witnessed the full praying rituals of the women... The women were fantastic to me although we did not speak the same language and they really helped me out with dressing and what to do.” - Joanne Fitzpatrick in Egypt

“Direct benefit to many small homestays/eateries especially the forest department cottages at Bamboo Grove, where the women employees personally thanked us for staying there, as they were all widowed and totally dependent on their wage there to support their children… the ladies there were very glad of their jobs there cooking, and very happy to work with tourists.” – Carole Paish, cycling in Kerala
Photo credits: [Top box: Vicki Brown] [Helpdesk box: Volunteering Journeys>] [Samrawit Moges quote: SarahTz] [Annie Young quote: Annie Young, Ecocircuitos Panama] [Vicki Brown quote: Vicki Brown] [Samrawit Moges quote 2: Alfred Weidinger] [Annie Young quote 2: Kent MacElwee] [Ridhi Patel quote: Volunteering Journeys] [Review 1 - Andrew Craig: David Stanley] [Review 2 - Kelly Thompson: David Berkowitz]
Written by Vicki Brown
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