In 2017 three countries in the Asia-Pacific were amongst the world’s top spenders on outbound tourism, China (1st), Australia (6th) and Korea (9th). For in-bound tourism, Asia and the Pacific is the second most visited region in the world after Europe, according to the UNWTO/GTERC Annual Report on Asia Tourism Trends 2017.

Image: Travelettes of Bangladesh

Growth in tourism means job opportunities and by defining best practice gender equality practices, systems and structures in tourism, this will improve the opportunities for women working in tourism, close the pay gap and provide economic stability for women. In addition there is an opportunity for tourism to cater for the emerging female Asian traveller market according to earlier research conducted by Dr Catheryn Khoo-Lattimore that also presents an opportunity for the sector.

In 2010 United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) and United Nations Women (UNW) published a Global Report on Women and Tourism, and the 2nd Edition is about to be published examining different stakeholder perspectives including, the owners, managers and workers in NGOs, tourism bodies and SME’s. In the 2nd Edition report the Asia Pacific component is being researched by Dr Catheryn Khoo-Lattimore, a senior lecturer from the Department of Tourism, Sport & Hotel Management in Griffith Business School.

It is hoped this research on women in tourism will help to increase the opportunities for women globally in the sector, and serve as a benchmark to measure progress on UN’s Sustainable Development Goal number five, that included gender equality and empowering women in tourism.

“This research is a part of a larger project, it’s a global report on Women in Tourism. What I am in charge of is the Asia-Pacific part of the global report. And the whole idea is to try and get some best practices for women in the workplace, in tourism and hospitality,” said Dr Khoo-Lattimore.

“At the moment the working conditions are not ideal for many women in tourism, and the report is like a scoping report on the current existing conditions and who is doing what to elevate these conditions. There was a report in 2010 and this is an update of that report to see whether things have changed.”


Image: APEC Tourism Working Group

In an ideal scenario there would be industry data available to measure constructs like gender pay gaps, employee benefits and family supporting services in tourism to see what has changed in different countries, however much of this data has not been collected by industry bodies and is a challenge sourcing. The 2017 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)’s report on the tourism workforce is one report that mentions the lack of reliable and comparable data across the APEC economies for monitoring trends in the tourism workforce.

“Now that we have dived into it, we realised that there are not a lot of benchmarks that have been established to do any comparisons. For example, if we look at gender pay gap, there is no one big database where we can say there is a clear gender pay gap in this country for this industry. So how do you measure and collect this data,“ asked Dr Khoo-Lattimore?

“Prior to this 2018 report there wasn’t any clear indicators for best practices on women in tourism. So this report will be the first time that any indictors have been set up. We are establishing a range of indicators and systems around equal opportunity for gender parity in tourism,“ said Dr Khoo-Lattimore.


Gran Via Madrid, Image: Turismo Madrid

The Word Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) is the United Nations agency responsible for the promotion of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism, with their member states. While it appears there is a shortage of industry data on women in tourism, there was progress made in 2010 by the UNWTO and UNW and there is a new intention to move towards gender equality, with their co-investment funding of the 2018 Global Report on Women in Tourism.

After vising the UNWTO headquarters in Madrid for two weeks while on sabbatical, Dr Khoo-Lattimore was able to secure funding for the report, by convincing the directors of the UNWTO Ethics Department that more work was needed to close the gap on gender equality in tourism, and to achieve the UN goal on sustainability.

“I went there with the intention of introducing myself and my work to them, and I wanted to be stationed there to try and understand what the organisation does, get to know the people from the inside. Prior to this I had limited understanding on what the UNWTO does and how they work and fund projects. I just wanted to be there to learn,” said Dr Khoo-Lattimore.

The Global Report on Women in Tourism 2010 published by the UNWTO and UNW found that:

1. Women make up a large proportion of the formal tourism workforce
2. Women are well represented in service and clerical level jobs but poorly represented at professional levels
3. Women in tourism are typically earning 10% to 15% less than their male counterparts
4. The tourism sector has almost twice as many women employers as other sectors
5. One in five tourism ministers worldwide are women
6. Women make up a much higher proportion of own-account workers in tourism than in other sectors
7. A large amount of unpaid work is being carried out by women in family tourism businesses


3 Sisters Trekking Guides & Dr Khoo-Lattimore

Dr Khoo-Lattimore is a specialist in the field of consumer behaviour, services marketing and qualitative research at Griffith University. She was the winner of the Griffith Remarkable Minutes video competition in 2018 for her earlier work on gender representation in the tourism sector. In May 2018, Dr Khoo-Lattimore was appointed the Regional Field Expert (Asia), for UNWTO’s 2018 Global Report on Women in Tourism, and she has since conducted the research with urgency and rigour in order to make the publishing deadline later this year.

She is on a mission to establish and implement the indicators that are needed to improve equal opportunity practices (EO), training and education of women in tourism. This includes developing educational resources, such as eCourses and checklists about EO and women’s empowerment.

“People will be able to use the resources as tools to measure how they are doing in terms of gender equality,” said Dr Khoo-Lattimore.


One key issue for women’s empowerment in Asia is patriarchy entrenched in its varied forms, but predominantly within cultures and traditions, according to Dr Khoo-Lattimore. To overcome this patriarchy more education and successful Asian female role models are required to make women become aware that it is fine to have aspirations to work for economic stability and empowerment and to break away from the stay-at-home housewife traditions in many countries.

A number of key questions are being investigated in the report and Dr Khoo-Lattimore is collecting responses using a mixed-methods approach developing a range of business case studies and conducting qualitative interviews with tourism SME owners, managers, workers and affiliates in Asia, and the Pacific region.

The key questions of the report are:

1. How do the different forms, sites and modes of interaction between women and tourism affect gendered power relations?
2. What are the key factors that contribute to gender equality and women’s empowerment in the tourism industry?
3. What are the key challenges in tourism contributing to gender equality and women’s empowerment?
4. What concrete measures can be put in place to mitigate gender inequality in the tourism industry and harness its potential to contribute to gender equality and women’s empowerment?


Intrepid Travel India PATA Gold Awards

A range of case studies have been developed by Dr Khoo-Lattimore to investigate gender equality practices at different levels in tourism:

APEC Women in Tourism Dialogue initiative by the Asia Pacific Economic Forum (APEC), Tourism Working Group (TWG), held on the 28 May 2018 to coincide with their 52nd APEC TWG Meeting and 10th APEC Tourism Ministerial Meeting. There were four main panel sessions at the event. Session one focussed on fostering a sustainable tourism industry by empowering women and comprised of speakers from APEC, Carnival Australia and Intrepid Foundation. The second session aimed at promoting inclusivity for women in tourism and consisted of speakers from around PNG: the Business Coalition for Women, Gender Focail Point and Surfing Association of PNG.

Recruiting organisation Diageo Asia Pacific launched their Plan W (Women) programme in 2012 in 17 countries: Australia, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. The programme has been actively promoting women’s career, success and leadership within the hospitality industries. Within 3 years since its launch, Diageo claimed to have trained 40,000 women across Asia Pacific.

The Intrepid Group, which operates in over 40 countries and hires over 1,800 staff members, celebrates women in Asia Pacific with their Women in Travel Awards in 2017 in Australia. In 2018, it was held in June in Sydney. The award recognises women in the tourism industry from all ranks. There are currently 18 categories of awards such as Mentor of the Year, Employer of the Year, and Rising Star of the Year, covering industries like road and rail, tourism board, cruise, aviation. Entries are open to anyone and the selection criteria for each category can be found here (Women in Travel Awards). The Intrepid Group aims to have 40% female directors on their Board, and a 50/50 split of males and females in our global leadership teams by December 2020.

In Malaysia, Marina Mahathir who is a socio-political activist and daughter of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, founded Zafigo to empower women travelling in Asia because, “travel is a very gendered domain”. Zafigo hires mostly women, publishes articles that empower and inspire women to travel, and held an inaugural conference (ZafigoX) that brought together speakers (also predominantly women) to provide women with tools to travel. In 2018, ZafigoX will be held from the 9-11 November in Kuala Lumpur. Similarly in India, two women Shruti Seth and Gul Panag crowd-sourced to hold the Festivelle, a two-day cultural fest of women artists, performers, and speakers for women. In Bangladesh, Dr Sakia Haque and a friend, Dr Manoshi Saha, founded Travellettes of Bangladesh, a group comprising over 24,000 girls who aspire to challenge societal norms that Bangladeshi girls should not travel. The group seeks equal rights by being seen on the road together and have organised trips all over Bangladesh.

Empowering Women of Nepal (EWN) was registered in 1999 as an NGO and is based in Pokhara. EWN aims to improve the livelihoods of Nepali women through adventure tourism and sports. EWN’s founders are Nepalese women Lucky, Dicky and Nicky Chhetri who are sisters and also co-owners of the Three Sisters Adventure Trekking. EWN was highlighted in the 2010 report and it is encouraging to see that it has sustained as a social enterprise.


Image: APEC Tourism Working Group

Resistance to child raising stereotypes, prejudice, patriarchy and identity politics are some of the barriers to women starting in the workforce and working in tourism in Asia. In addition once a woman has made it through the initial starting barriers, there are considerable drop-out rates due to changing needs, such as starting families, attending to children or elderly parents. Compounding this men are discouraged from staying at home to raise children in many Asian countries and there are limited family support services.

“The sisters at EWN for example, have experienced resistances mainly in the form of jealousy and hegemony but they are focussed on their mission and determined to work as long as they are needed,” said Dr Khoo-Lattimore.

One of the motivations why women try to work in tourism is for the economic stability and security, and often it is associated with place-based circumstances of where women are living in relation to the tourism jobs. Other motivations such as social esteem and empowerment from working also contribute to the reasons why women want to work in tourism, however there are still cultural issues to overcome.

“Definitely it’s mainly for economic factors. There is something that happens when they work, the family structure changes and they experience empowerment. They suddenly feel they have a voice, especially in developing countries,” said Dr Khoo-Lattimore.

“One issue is all of these women are the same employees of the same hotel group, but they are treated differently based on their countries. So while they are trying to address gender equality they’re not addressing culture. Why would you give a woman in Singapore 4-month leave, but in India nothing or 1-month. They all work for you,” asked Dr Khoo-Lattimore?

“So for example, some women in Nepal they feel anxiety. Some of the women have tried to escape their husbands, because they were forced into marriage and their husbands have tracked them down and returned them to their forced marriages.”

“Before they would sheepishly go back because they don’t have options, but now that they have been trained in tourism they have a job, they become entrepreneurs, they become more bold and confident in negotiating, they have an authority to negotiate for their lives.”


The hospitality industry has made some progress when it comes to gender equality, with programs for training women and goals for more female general manger positions in some companies, but there is still more work to be done to ensure women are supported, trained and promoted based on their skills, qualifications and merit. It appears some international groups could use global policies to improve the situation for women versus localised policies in each country.

“There are more concerted initiatives and campaigns by private companies to empower women so that they can penetrate male-dominated professions like tour-guiding (in India) or mountain-trekking (in Nepal), and be leaders in the industry. Even in countries that are conservatively patriarchal, we see women empowerment initiatives in tourism leadership,” said Dr Khoo-Lattimore.

“The hospitality industry is doing a lot of work, but there is still so much to be done. Depending on the locations they are in, there is not yet equality in the way they treat all their women staff.”

Dr Khoo-Lattimore is travelling to Nepal later this year to complete some of the case studies, with further interviews planned with Three Sisters Adventure Trekking and other SMEs owned by women, before completing her section of the final report. Another goal that Dr Khoo-Lattimore is interested in is to create a Centre for Women in Tourism in the future at Griffith when a co-investment foundation partner can be found.

“The other thing that I want to take on now is asking if the Three Sisters are doing this job, so why aren’t there more resources pooled together to amplify this initiative? Why isn’t the Nepal Tourism Board in this initiative,” asked Dr Khoo-Lattimore?

The report will be presented to the UNWTO at the end of the year and there is hope that the findings will lead to conversations with UNWTO Training Academy and the introduction of equal opportunity education into their curriculum.

“That’s what I am hoping for and I put that in my earlier report on the gender representation for UNWTO,” said Dr Khoo-Lattimore.

“I was at UNWTO in May this year and they are quite complex in a sense that there are many departments working in silos. So for this to work, it may need to come from the ethics office and is streamed down to everyone.”

“For example the UNWTO Training Academy is not in the headquarters in Madrid. The academy is in a small country in Europe in the principality of Andorra, between Spain and France.”

“They provide the certification programs for UNWTO and they actually work with external providers to provide the certification programs, so there is a lot of channelling down required,” said Dr Khoo-Lattimore.

“I have made contact with the person running the UNWTO Academy, and when I finish this project I want to start talking to them about how do we gender the curriculum a little bit and introduce syllabus.“

“Even if it’s a two-hour content or an online eCourse that people have to take to build their awareness, as there is currently no gender equality training at all.”

In addition there is not yet a focus on providing training on digital marketing, but this knowledge would be invaluable in this economy. Women would have more earning opportunities through the internet, as evidenced by the case study on South Korea in the 2018 report.

For more information about the 2018 Global Report on Women in Tourism or gender equality and equal opportunity best practices, please contact Dr Catheryn Khoo-Lattimore.