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Tuesday,  April 23, 2024 3:29 AM 

#EmbraceEquity: 5 women who are using tourism to help destinations thrive

  • Buzz
  •   03-08-2023  10:59 am
  •   Pax Global Media

#EmbraceEquity: 5 women who are using tourism to help destinations thrive
From left, top (clockwise): Seema Shah, Judy Wilson, Katy Rockett, Patricia Doe; Yae Maeda (centre). (Supplied)
Pax Global Media

International Women’s Day (IWD) is today (March 8) and this year's theme is #EmbraceEquity.

The aim is to get the world talking about why equal opportunities aren't enough. People start from different places, so true inclusion and belonging require equitable action.

Women are impacted disproportionately by the climate and economic crises, both of which amplify gender inequalities and put women at risk.

Although women are impacted more heavily by economic and environmental burdens, they are at the forefront of driving change, shifting the global narrative, and discovering radical solutions.

Travel and tourism play a key role in cultural understanding. They have the power to increase climate appreciation, contribute to environmental conservation, and can have a pivotal economic impact on local communities.

In honour of #EmbraceEquity, the team at Bannikin, a Canadian-based travel and tourism professional services company, is celebrating five incredible women who are using tourism to help destinations thrive. 

“These women are working hard to ensure travel and tourism have a positive and long-lasting impact on the destinations they love to showcase and explore,” the company said in a release on Wednesday.


Seema Shah – Founder, Tanzania Journeys

With a background in community development, Seema founded Tanzania Journeys in 2005, and since then has held a variety of roles at the company, sometimes very active and sometimes behind the scenes. 

Since 2019, she has been the one at the helm – actively running and directing the company on her own. Drawn to the industry by her love for her country – its history, people, and geography, Seema wants nothing more than for visitors to experience and love Tanzania as much as she does; to provide travellers with a deeper and more complex perspective than how the country is typically represented online, in guidebooks, and the like.

Seema Shah, founder, Tanzania Journeys. (Supplied)

What challenges have you faced and/or do you still face as a woman in the adventure travel industry?

Not being taken seriously as my male counterparts, having to prove yourself, people’s lower expectations of what a women can achieve in the adventure travel industry, juggling family commitments with an industry that requires 24-hour input (especially if you are a ground operator), and the isolation – it’s not always easy to find other women in Tanzania who are also in the adventure travel industry.

Have you seen changes in the way women travel? If so, how?

Yes, solo travelling, more companies focusing on women-only travel, more security, safety and acceptance for women travelling solo or in a group. Also, there’s more recognition by women in the industry that they need to forge alliances and appreciate the benefits of having a supportive network.

Have you seen changes within the adventure travel space in terms of how it looks to be more inclusive of women – be it as someone working in the industry or even in terms of attracting new customers (for example, more women’s only trips)?

Yes – women-only trips in Tanzania, and the wonderful surge of women mountain and safari guides that have come up recently. Even 10 years ago, this was virtually unheard of. The acceptance of women as guides here by all sorts of companies (not just women-owned ones), more women managers in lodges, camps and other such accommodation. There is also a growing understanding of people in the travel industry here around needs and concerns of the LGBT community.

Patricia Doe – Managing Director, Wilderness Ireland

Having lived and travelled in Ireland, Scotland and the U.S., Patricia is delighted to be able to put her professional experience, as well as her years planning fantasy holidays, to good use. 

Outside work, Patricia has her hands full with two kids, a triathlon-mad husband, three dogs, a cat, several chickens, and various tropical fish. 

Patricia Doe, managing director, Wilderness Ireland. (Supplied)

Despite the full plate, she always finds time to run, hike and travel, and loves nothing more than exploring the roads of Sligo on her bike whenever she gets the chance.

What challenges have you faced and/or do you still face as a woman in the adventure travel industry?

I think it's always difficult to be a minority anywhere and that is no different for the adventure travel industry than any other space. Adventure in general is quite male-dominated, and women leaders in this field are often seen as a novelty or exception. This will always make you feel like the odds are stacked against you ever so slightly, even if subconsciously.  I think there's been a real move, in general, for the industry as a whole to examine bias in general and I hope that this will result in meaningful action to address all areas where this is relevant.

Have you seen changes in the way women travel? If so, how?

I think women are really finding their feet when it comes to solo travel, finding ways to explore more widely and try new things. We are becoming more confident in ourselves as travellers in our own right and not relative to men doing the same trips or activities. There's still work to be done but the tide is turning.

Have you seen changes within the adventure travel space in terms of how it looks to be more inclusive of women – be it as someone working in the industry or even in terms of attracting new customers (for example, more women’s only trips)?

I think the move towards women-only trips has helped, and continues to help, women find the confidence to travel to different places and try new things. I also feel that many men are beginning to be aware of their perspective and to be more inclusively-minded when it comes to the travel space. I think the move towards equality in travel is gradual but moving, at least in most of the world, in the right direction.

Read the Wilderness Ireland blog 'Powerful Women of the West Coast." 

Yae Maeda – Community liaison & entrepreneur, Oku Japan

Yae Maeda is based in Japan's Kumano region along the Kumano Kodo. 

Previously working for Oku Japan, she now runs a local inn and café. An example of Japan's I-Turn movement in which people move from larger cities to rural areas, Yae was born in Hiroshima and relocated after getting married to her husband. Her first foray into the travel world was in the 80s, working in the travel division of the local government long before the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage began to gain the international recognition it now has. 

Yae Maeda, community liaison & entrepreneur, Oku Japan. (Supplied)

Yae also has a passion for volunteer work and donating to causes that are dear to her. She established a school in Nepal in the early 2000s, with the goal of creating more education opportunities for local youth, and every year Yae visits the school and checks in on how the children are doing. 

Additionally, she worked to supply sewing machines to local Nepalese women with the goal of creating opportunities to gain financial independence that were previously not accessible.

What challenges have you faced and/or do you still face as a woman in the travel industry?

I have not felt a great deal of challenges with regards to discrimination in the industry; rather, much of my experience has been "on the ground" and working directly with guests visiting the Kumano region. On occasion, I have felt some physical difficulties that come with running an inn, for example meeting expectations of guests to carry their luggage up flights of stairs at the inn I run, and being required to do so alone.

Have you seen changes in the way women travel? If so, how? 

In Japan, there is still a prevailing expectation that women will stay at home and raise children while men work. In my own experience, this limited my opportunities to travel when I was younger. Over time, the mentality is starting to change, and we are seeing a cultural shift in which it is becoming more acceptable for women to travel. Looking more toward what I see in travellers coming to the Kumano region, there has been a marked increase in solo female travellers, and young women seem to now be outnumbering older women as they become more confident in this style of travel compared to years past.

Have you seen changes within the adventure travel space in terms of how it looks to be more inclusive of women – be it as someone working in the industry or even in terms of attracting new customers (for example, more women’s only trips)?

I am definitely seeing an increase in women-only trips to the Kumano Kodo. I have assisted in organizing some experiences with a local group of women who gather for a cooking club of sorts, and connecting them with groups of visiting female travellers to create a larger group experience and cultural exchange.

Katy Rockett – Director of Growth, North America, Exodus Travels

Mother of two ridiculous but very loveable little kids, when it comes to her career, Katy started off in a marketing agency straight after completing university, where she studied business management. 

Katy Rockett, director of growth, North America, Exodus Travels. (Supplied)

It didn’t take long however to discover the magnetic force that is the travel industry, and she started her career in adventure travel in 2008 as a marketing intern, joining Exodus in 2014 as Marketing Manager with the very fun task of launching the brand in Canada and the U.S. Now as the Director of Growth for North America, Katy is charged with putting that growth in the U.S. market on hyper speed.

What challenges have you faced and/or do you still face as a woman in the adventure travel industry? 

The biggest challenge I’ve faced has been trying to strike that balance between starting a family and continuing to explore the world through adventure travel. Prior to having kids, I was fortunate enough to visit some incredible places and experience new destinations in really unique ways, however small children and adventure travel don’t typically go hand-in-hand. But where there’s a will, there’s a way and I am grateful to say that I’ve taken my daughter on two self-guided walking trips in Europe which have made for some incredible memories. And now that we’re through the pandemic I have two kids who are eager to navigate this beautiful planet, giving me the opportunity to experience the world through an entirely new perspective.

Have you seen changes in the way women travel? If so, how? 

I feel women are more empowered to travel now than they ever have been before. Travelling as a woman, especially solo, often comes with a great deal of risk, however group travel has made available the opportunity for safety and comradery while exploring the world and its cultures. What started as a trend has now become a mainstay in the industry as 68 percent of our female clients are choosing to travel solo.

Have you seen changes within the adventure travel space in terms of how it looks to be more inclusive of women – be it as someone working in the industry or even in terms of attracting new customers (for example, more women’s only trips)?

I have worked in adventure travel for 15 years now and I have seen a dramatic shift in that time. In my early days, the majority of people sitting around the boardroom table were men. In recent years I have seen that ratio shift dramatically. I’m proud to say that, within Exodus, our senior management team is now 45 per cent female and it is a truly inclusive space. At an operational level there has also been an increasing focus on supporting women to become guides and leaders. This has been evidenced through the growing trend of women-only departures and through initiatives such as The Exodus Foundation’s Mountain Lioness Scholarships, sponsoring female porters to achieve their Guide License so they can become guides in Mt. Kilimanjaro National Park.

Judy Wilson – Three-season Churchill Expedition Leader, Natural Habitat Adventures

With a passionate commitment to Nat Hab’s women’s only trips, Judy is the company’s “go-to guide” in Churchill, Manitoba, where she leads fall polar bear itineraries, northern lights expeditions in deep winter, and summer beluga adventures. Raised in Winnipeg, it was after countless trips north to experience, photograph, learn and volunteer in the Churchill region that saw Judy bring her passions, energy, and talents together. 

She has volunteered countless hours at the Churchill Northern Studies Center, where she is an executive member of the board.  

Judy Wilson, three-season Churchill expedition leader, Natural Habitat Adventures. (Supplied)

Whether sea kayaking or running rapids in remote areas, waiting with camera at the ready for a red fox to pounce on a lemming, ice fishing at 30° below, watching in awe as the northern lights burst over the tundra, or counting birds migrating north out of the marsh at sunrise in spring, Judy is keen to share her knowledge of northern nature and local culture, and grateful for every opportunity to learn something new with every nature immersion.

What challenges have you faced and/or do you still face as a woman in the adventure travel industry?

I personally don’t have any difficulty. If you look at the demographics of our trips, it’s a benefit to be a woman. Often, a majority of our travellers are women. We have a lot of solo women travellers. Some have a spouse who is not interested or not physically capable of doing a trip, so they come on their own. I’m really proud of the fact that Nat Hab is such a safe, comfortable and welcoming company for women travelling on their own.

Have you seen changes in the way women travel? If so, how?

They’ve got the desire, and many have the finances to do it, and it’s really important to them. I’ve heard repeatedly that Nat Hab stands out as a company that’s easy for women to travel with. Some women have been all over the world, but not everywhere is as safe as it used to be. They love our trips, because they combine safety and adventure. A lot of the women on my trips especially enjoy Canada because it feels safe and familiar. Travellers on our polar bear trips are different from those who go to the northern lights, however. Those who come to Churchill to see polar bears know the species is in trouble – they want to see them while they can. Northern lights draws a different clientele – inquisitive, interested in learning. And the northern lights are very ethereal, kind of spiritual, so some come seeking a bit of a spiritual experience.

Have you seen changes within the adventure travel space in terms of how it looks to be more inclusive of women – be it as someone working in the industry or even in terms of attracting new customers (for example, more women’s only trips)?

There’s a whole different vibe that happens on a women-only trip. It’s a safe, welcoming, and respectful place. There are way more interactions happening, more conversations. Women go deeper much faster; they are comfortable talking about their backgrounds, their struggles, their health issues… and they help each other. I’ve had women who have bonded and ended up travelling together on subsequent trips. It’s really powerful. Women want more women-only trips. They feel really comfortable in that setting, to converse and to share. Many have lost a spouse, maybe they are coming with a sister or a friend, or a mother and daughter. It’s a different motivation for everybody, a different trip for everybody – and my goal is to make it the best trip of their lives.


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