Encouraging women entrepreneurship in tourism

27 Jul 2020

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THE SHRINE of Bibi Jawindi at Uch Sharif, Punjab
THE SHRINE of Bibi Jawindi at Uch Sharif, Punjab

IN the age of social media, the world has gone through its first major health crisis, which has unfolded in real-time, minute by minute. A new world has emerged and brought new ways of socio-economic thinking. This is the age of digital transformation.

The Digital Pakistan initiative launched in Dec 2019 raises hope that the government is serious about building a digital ecosystem for enhancing connectivity, improving digital infrastructure and investing in digital skills and literacy.

The majority of developing countries rely on tourism for their economic growth, which motivates entrepreneurship, innovations, and create jobs. Similarly, digital technologies have the potential to give small tourism businesses direct access to travel consumers. Digital transformation, which is continuously evolving, has fundamentally changed the way tour operators or travel-related service providers reach out to their customers.

For the last fifteen years, tourism has profoundly diversified and become the fastest-growing economic sector in the world. Globally, the women workforce is forward-looking in the tourism sector, but not well represented. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), “women are concentrated in the lowest-paid, lowest-skilled sectors of the industry and carry out a large amount of unpaid work in family tourism.”

With a buzzing tourism sector in Pakistan, we see a rise in travel-related businesses. Hotels, guest-houses, restaurants, local festivals, tour operators, travel agencies, sports, and private tour organisers are also extending their reach through digital media.

‘Women are concentrated in the lowest-paid, lowest-skilled sectors of the industry and carry out a large amount of unpaid work in family tourism’

With technology and travel gaining momentum in the country and creating many opportunities, tourism can be a welcoming space for women entrepreneurs. Women can offer something new and exciting in this male-dominated industry as more and more women opt to do business online.

What can we do to empower women entrepreneurs in the tourism sector?

“Provinces should take the initiative of empowering local women entrepreneurship by organising online workshops in travel businesses such as running a local bread and breakfast, female tour guides, running a local food eatery place, providing food day-tours and selling crafts and cuisines. There is so much a woman can do in tourism as an entrepreneur, says Wilma Van Der Maten, founder of Rural Travel Pioneers.

The UNWTO and United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women has devised an action plan for women entrepreneurship based on the essential findings and recommendations of the Global Report on Women in Tourism, 2019. The key findings are:Work to ensure that women’s tourism businesses can become formalised if they wish to be and contribute to women’s financial inclusion Expand and diversify women’s market access and fair trade for their tourism products and services. Support women to expand and diversify their tourism products and services Introduce measures to improve women’s work-life balance in tourism and encourage an equal division of unpaid care work in tourism communities Expand women’s access to digital technologies, including digital tourism platforms

Our culture remains close-minded when it comes to women. Women-owned businesses are the bare minimum in Pakistan because females face different hurdles than male businessmen. They have to struggle to be taken seriously in the business community and must learn the art of business and family life balance.

According to the World Bank Report 2017, Pakistan ranked the lowest among countries with women entrepreneurs, with only one per cent of entrepreneurs being female.

Women entrepreneurs face many challenges, including loan disbursements. According to the gender-wise distribution of gross loans reported by the State Bank of Pakistan, only 3pc of small- and medium-enterprise loans go to women compared to 97pc that are availed by men. Even in the case of microfinancing, women make up only 19pc of the loans. Advocacy is essential in order to provide ease of doing business for women entrepreneurs.

Business chambers and other women associations should rise and join forces to organise national mobilisation programmes for women entrepreneurs in tourism and digital transformation. Create programmes that can lead to ecotourism, socially-responsible travel initiatives and networking opportunities. Build a robust support system with mentors and advisors to help them succeed as entrepreneurs. Women can be the game-changer for this industry.

The writer is the founder of Woodpecker Communications and can be reached at ruby.gul.afridi@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, July 27th, 2020