Turn the tides
My mind had hardly ever wandered on the aspect of ‘Gender role in Tourism’ and so when I got down to writing this piece, I took time to recall moments to fashion my thoughts; and one thing that struck me was how many less women are working in this sector. Just look around whenever you go to a hotel, the situation is appalling. I have been to four different hotels in different cities across the country in the last thirty days, mulling over this, and except for the reception lobby, I have hardly see women participation in any operations in the hotel. Women form the missing piece in the tourism and hospitality sector. Probably the right spaces have not been created. Try recalling how many times you have taken a female guide in any monument. Well no doubt, our country has a poor record with female participation in work places, worse than many less developed countries; but hospitality sector’s record stands abysmal.
Let’s look at this from two perspectives – first, in general feminine traits should be more valued in the hospitality sector (and if aviation can then why can’t hotels) and second the rise of female travelers. The future of travel industry is turning more female, solo travel as a trend has caught on in a big way among the young independent Indian women, and probably that should alone be a strong reason for the industry to change the status quo and get more females in its work force.
The other side of this picture sends very contrasting signals. I was in Kutch last year, hoping from one heritage village to the other, at times spending nights in the villages. These are cultural hops, and women play a pivotal role, here, in sustaining culture and driving local tourism. And as you go more local you will find women playing more important role. The tides completely turn there. These rural women are producers and drivers of tourism in the area. Their art work and cultural ethos have proven catalyst for tourism activities. Step to North east which is brimming with such examples. Women have played a great part in sustaining and driving community tourism activities. Well trained women are leading tours, guiding village treks, and are often better versed with local culture. Women are seen as preservers of cultural identity; and what would India be, if not for its art, culture, ethnic diversity and local ethos. And women hold these together. And so be it my female guide in Nagaland or the lady in the homestay in Coorg or the nunnery in Ladakh, the more local I have gone, the greater female participation I have seen in driving tourism and sustaining cultural identity of the place.
This presents a very contrasting shade, where in one part women are keeping traditions alive which in turn drives tourism, and on the other they struggle to find a space for themselves in the room. A plausible reason for this might be cultural barrier or mobility and safety issue. And that makes me ponder on the multi-faceted social structure we live in. In my travels I consistently meet solo women travelers or all women travel groups, some of leading travel bloggers in the country are female, claiming spaces which were restricted; moving forward against all odds. I have had women taking me out on local tours, village safaris and I’ve found them to be great tour leaders; they are more sympathetic, share stories with greater interest, and can keep up with subtle wit; things that are so essentially required in tourism sector. And then cut to urban spaces and then you are left pondering. We need a cultural transition to get more women out and claim the sector that probably needs them more than others.
I remember during a discussion, while discussing the female labour participation in organized sector, I had joked that India would be the country with highest number of highly educated home-makers. Be it tourism sector or any, we need to create right spaces so that more women can join the market. Only that can we make ours a liberal economy.
About the Author
Aakash Mehrotra is a development consultant working in Financial Inclusion sector in MicroSave, a travel writer, a political commentator and a soon-to-be novelist. He travels extensively, looking for stories and moments to learn about diverse cultures, history and social norms and structures.