La integración de las mujeres en el sector turístico: iniciativas de dos socios de Uniterra en Asia (en inglés)

In the first half of 2017, some 600 million tourists travelled abroad—an increase of 7% over the same period in 2016. Growth was highest in the Middle East but was also considerable in Asia, particularly in Vietnam and Sri Lanka, two increasingly popular destinations. Unfortunately, a booming tourism industry does not necessarily mean that everyone benefits. Indeed, women and youth are the least likely to be included in the opportunities that this type of economic development brings. The Uniterra volunteer cooperation program, which is jointly operated by WUSC and CECI, is working with its Vietnamese and Sri Lankan partners to increase inclusion of women and youth in this rapidly growing industry by building capacities and supporting alignment with international standards.

Here’s a closer look at two of our partners in countries where women’s involvement in the tourism industry looks very different.

Slowly but surely, Sancharika is gaining in popularity. During the 20-minute radio show broadcast across Sri Lanka every Sunday morning since last summer, tourism industry workers talk about the realities of their industry and inform listeners of the range of career opportunities for women in tourism. Far from being simple entertainment, the weekly show has an ambitious, hidden objective—to enhance the appeal of an industry that, culturally and traditionally, is still nearly inaccessible to women.

Fighting stubborn prejudice

Sri Lanka’s government hopes that its booming tourism industry will be an economic pillar to bolster development; however, most of the population is not aware of the opportunities in an industry they believe to be reserved for men. In this small country with deep-seated traditions and prejudice, women who dare to venture into tourism professions face contempt, stigma, and damaged reputations. It is a massive cultural barrier that has resulted in women making up a mere 6% of the industry's workforce, despite having a relatively large presence in other service industries, such as hospitals and education.

Through radio shows such as Sancharika, as well as training and mobile awareness-raising workshops, the project "Women in Tourism in Sri Lanka" hopes to raise women’s participation in the industry to 15% by 2025.

This one-year project, organized by the Centre de Développement des Femmes and funded by the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation, is an initiative of the Uniterra program, which supports the development of inclusive economies that benefit women and youth by fostering growth and change in markets that affect marginalized people. The project aims to facilitate women’s access to this burgeoning industry which offers a host of opportunities for employment and economic empowerment.

Education and regulation

The company Aitken Spence has more than 21 hotels and resorts in Sri Lanka, India, the Sultanate of Oman and the Maldives and is a local partner of the Uniterra program. The Assistant Vice-President of Accommodation for the Aitken Spence hotels in Sri Lanka and India says she is full of hope and optimism, but recognizes that changing attitudes will take time. “To change the course of things, it takes several generations and at least one more generation for real changes in mentalities to set in,” says Irandi Wijegunawardane. The cultural barrier, she says, is immense.

But it will not shake her determination. She says she feels so fortunate that her father, 35 years ago, allowed her go into tourism. “We take actions and hold awareness campaigns to educate young women. We go into schools, talk to them about the trades, bring in professionals, and invite parents to come to our training centres. Thirty years of conflict have left many widows and families without men, on both sides (1). Our priority is to reach populations in rural and remote areas so we can offer new opportunities to women in need. But once we have recruited and trained them, we still have to offer them a good working environment.”

With this in mind, Uniterra volunteers have been working alongside local partners over the past few months to create a guide with tips and best practices for human resources managers to support women working in the industry and to prevent exploitation (e.g., overtime regulations). “We need to bring women into this industry so they too can benefit economically, but we also need to make them feel welcome and make them want to stay. The tourism industry is expanding across the country, and we need women to be a part of it!”

Breaking the glass ceiling

Vietnam's tourism industry is also thriving, with more than 10 million visitors welcomed in 2017. It too is facing increasing demand for human resources.

But unlike in Sri Lanka, women are already well represented in the industry. “There is even a growing number of employers who prefer women for positions in childcare and housekeeping, and even as guides,” says Thao Luong Thanh, Vice-Principle of Saigontourist Hospitality College.

The school, owned by the Saigontourist Holding Company (a state-run company that owns, among other things, around 100 hotels, resorts and travel agencies and employs over 20,000 people) has been a partner of the Uniterra program for the past two years.

It boasts some 5,000 tourism industry students, 60% of whom are girls. “Our students come from all over the country. We do our best to encourage young people from the poorest and most rural areas to enrol, particularly young women, so that they have the chance to get some training that will open up career opportunities. The tourism industry is changing incredibly quickly. Hotels and resorts are popping up all over the country. We must make sure that young people are receiving adequate training.”

In the last two years, six volunteers have supported the school, redesigning and updating the curriculum and revising a marketing and public relations strategy. “We had real, serious needs,” explains the Vice-principal of Saigontourist Hospitality College. She highlights the "motivation, enthusiasm and professionalism"of the volunteers, and talks freely about the school’s recent accomplishments—a new English-language website, a partnership with the Canadian educational institution Humber College, and so on. “All this is helping us align with international standards and the requirements of an extremely fast-growing industry.”

While women appear to have secured access to and have a large presence in the industry, Thao Luong Thanh reminds us that the battle is far from over. There are very few women in positions of authority. Going forward, the challenge will be to expand the range of jobs a woman can hold. In Vietnam, as in other countries, the glass ceiling for women remains quite evident. But it can be broken, warns Thao Luong Thanh...

  1. Between 1983 and 2009, the civil war pitted the government of Sri Lanka (dominated by the Sinhalese Buddhist majority) against a separatist organization (the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Islam) that fought for the creation of an independent state in the east and north of the country, areas mostly populated by Hindu Tamils. Over 70,000 people are said to have died in the conflict, and more than 140,000 went missing.

Uniterra is a leading Canadian international development program that is jointly operated by WUSC and CECI. Each year, 600 volunteers contribute their time and experience to positive and lasting change towards a more equitable world by dedicating a few weeks to two years of their lives to international volunteer work. The program also provides opportunities to get involved in Canada and play an active role in combatting poverty.

The Uniterra program receives funding from the Government of Canada, provided through Global Affairs Canada.

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