Borders and Boundaries: Women and Tourism

by Alyssa Daniells

We look at the imbalance of gendered socioeconomics in the global travel industry, historical precedents, promising trends on improving tourism’s impact on local women, and how travel is an empowering driver for women.


The travel and tourism sector is one of the world’s largest industries. A 2016 assessment indicated a global economic contribution of over 7.6 trillion USD.

According to Stats Canada, the tourism sector contributes to 3.6% of our gross domestic employment.

In most parts of the world, the tourism workforce majority is women. Females are also generally concentrated in the lowest paid and lowest status jobs in tourism. In developing countries, women are the most likely to perform unpaid work in family businesses, not to mention bear the heaviest brunt.

Socioeconomics of Gender 


As a global travel company, Flight Centre Travel Group is responsible for supporting and advocating sustainable tourism practices. This includes supporting women in various parts of the world who are working in a myriad of capacities within the tourism sector.  We are responsible for ensuring our recommended tourist activities do not exploit women nor support opportunistic activities and operators. 

Around the world, women occupy more than half of the jobs in tourism. Regardless of where they are located geographically, these females are subject to gender bias.


Some metrics to consider:

  • 66% of the world’s work is performed by women
  • 60-70% of the world’s labour force is made up of women
  • Yet women only earn 10% of the world’s income and
  • Only 15% comprise tourism board member positions

Of course, this lack of equality is not exclusive to the travel industry. As a business based in open-mindedness, tolerance, and hope, it does have a profound responsibility for protecting and improving the lives and livelihoods it impacts.

Women Working in Travel 

Travel has the unparalleled ability to create and foster membership in a global community. From creating jobs and opportunities to exposure to new ideas, tourism plays a role in empowering women – but it can also have the reverse effect.

Gender is historically divisive, and the travel and tourism industry is no stranger to this in its divisions of labour. Whether it’s cleaning hotel rooms, attending to a male-owned family tourism business without pay, or the darker corners of sex tourism, females experience far worse conditions than their male counterparts. While hotel housekeeping is a crucial service, and sex tourism is legal in many parts of the world (like Amsterdam’s Red Light District), they serve to illuminate the imbalances of power, opportunities, security, and economics.

Women in At-Risk Communities


In many developing countries where tourism plays a pivotal role in the economy, women are especially vulnerable to exploitation. Long hours, low or no pay, physically arduous labour, while attending to the needs of children and family members, is common.

The intersection of gender and the often unregulated business of travel in these parts of the world reveal grim realities that may not be apparent to the enthusiastic tourist. It’s not just the points we mentioned before, but common examples like young girls denied an education by being pulled from school to work or subjected to dangerous working conditions.

Travelling Responsibly


We, as an international company and travellers, are responsible for making sure our efforts support and sustain women in the tourism sector.

It’s important to recognize that while we shape or influence traveller attitudes, we do not want to take away from the local economy, either. Working with like-minded companies– G Adventures and Intrepid Travel, for example– ensures travel experiences protect local businesses while improving conditions to empower those at risk.

Responsible tour operators and companies also help elevate female travellers, enabling women to feel confident and educate themselves. This also sends a poignant message in-destination, challenging pervading attitudes about females travelling alone and other gender-biased cultural narratives.

Changing Views & Wiser Choices


What else can you do to be a responsible and respectful traveller? Look for a company that is clear about its stance and efforts on positive tourist footprints. Flight Centre Travel Group’s Responsible Travel Charter is implemented in several forms, including its Worldwise and Womenwise initiatives that underpin our commitment to human rights, the environment, and social equality.

You may also wish to consider adding a volunteer element to your trip at the same time– the rapidly growing travel niche of ‘volontouring.’

Live, Thrive, Survive

Travel itself is empowering, enabling us to understand the place we occupy in the world and the way others live, survive and thrive. Tourism can act as a vehicle for the empowerment of women, as well as act as a litmus test for the ongoing challenges for gender equality in the industry.

Visit an Expert Traveller to learn more about choosing responsible travel, or for some enlightening travel ideas that will benefit you and your destination.