Coronavirus is changing travel and tourism beyond recognition.
As consumers, we are told to stay home; we desperately crave our next beach holidays but are unable to even visit our local attractions. As industry professionals, we are witnessing long-established companies shutting down and friends and colleagues getting furloughed or let go.
Poignantly, the April 2020 figures released by the World Travel and Tourism Council show that 100 million people are at immediate risk of losing their jobs globally: A third of them will be directly employed in travel and tourism; 60% of them will be women. This means upwards of 20 million women globally could be unemployed and without an income by the end of the summer.
Women have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Many are in low-paid roles, often at the mercy of zero‐hour or short‐term contracts. Those still working are trying to manage childcare and children’s education around business commitments. Those who are not are worried about whether their skills will be relevant in a post‐pandemic world.
Yet, women are very important to the travel industry, not only to fulfill essential jobs but also as consumers. It is women that make 80% of all household decisions: When travel and tourism activities eventually resume, women will be the ones making decisions about whether, where, how and with which operators and brands to travel as a family unit.
Placing women at the heart of travel and tourism in the post-COVID-19 world will be necessary not only to reflect the ongoing changes occurring in our society, but also to secure the future of an industry for which this global pandemic now represents a watershed moment.
Communities, women and the search for meaning
As commentators have already noted, it is risible to think that in the post-COVID‐19 era, travel and tourism activities will resume from where they had left off.
Widespread lockdowns, hundreds of thousands of fatalities and the enormous sacrifices of frontline medical staff have all raised questions on how we might wish to see our societies evolve going forward, possibly bringing about irreversible and, in my opinion, much needed changes.
In the past we have recognized the value of authentic experiences but have seen these as something that we can create as a product, excluding from the plan those people within communities who make an experience authentic.
All over the world people are seeking meaning, purpose and value in small everyday acts of kindness that had long been forgotten: organizing in small or larger communities to cook, shop, play music, clap or sing; gathering (albeit virtually) in small business groups to share thoughts, concerns and needs; finding ways to collaborate; pooling resources and lending a hand to others.
Women are often at the center of these grassroots initiatives, coordinating volunteers and initiating local networks in neighborhoods and streets, which are then replicated across cities, regions and national frontiers. There is an important message in here for the travel industry about who is taking control and what truly matters.
Communities, with women at their center, have the power to care, collaborate, innovate, rise, heal and - eventually -host.
If we as an industry are, as we often say, committed to being socially just, then it will seek to learn from, build on and reproduce the support that comes from women acting in their communities. We will embrace this in our products and our campaigns, to ensure that our customers can experience the positive power of tourism and finding meaning and purpose in travel experiences.
In the past we have recognized the value of authentic experiences but have seen these as something that we can create as a product, excluding from the plan those people within communities who make an experience authentic. Now it is the time to review this model - harness communities and the women who constitute their core fabric - to ensure we can define who creates and should share in the benefits of travel.
Solutions and the role of technology
At social enterprise Women in Travel, our mission is to support women - often the most vulnerable, underrepresented and marginalized ‐ to find economic empowerment and personal fulfillment through travel, tourism and hospitality.
We know that since the start of the global pandemic, women have been at the receiving end of its negative impact: According to UN Women, there has been a 40% increase in domestic violence recorded globally; UNESCO reports that access to education has been denied to 11 million young women in rural communities; there has also been a loss of income and employment across the board, notably so within travel and tourism.
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Yet, our ongoing Supportive Mentoring Circles, "lunch and learn" events and one-to-one conversations with women in the United Kingdom and across the world also show that women are rising and leading the quest for localized and sustainable solutions to the tourism crisis.
Their aim is to welcome back their customers and also ensure that investment in tourism supports the local economy, keeping a myriad of small suppliers alive, spreading benefits across the community and encouraging women-owned businesses.
Technology is making these conversations possible among women across the globe. These opportunities, which until recently might have seemed unthinkable, are now open for the travel industry to learn, inform, create and progress.
By encouraging more open dialogue and supporting women-focused organizations, travel and tourism can prioritize what really matters, putting the human factor back into the sector to regain its standing in the hearts and minds of consumers in the wake of the COVID‐19 pandemic.