Women in travel, tourism and hospitality: a case of #MeToo?

Women in travel, tourism and hospitality: a case of #MeToo?

Right from the outset, let me say that this is not going to make comfortable reading. But then, you cannot be sitting comfortably if you’ve being following all the sexual harassment news emerging from the entertainment, fashion and media industry The consequent #MeToo campaign  has probably flooded your twitter account. Even if you haven’t purposely followed it, you won’t have escaped it either.

So here is my question to you: is the travel, tourism and hospitality industry above scrutiny, or are we next in line?

A very quick scroll through the internet shows that the subject has been addressed over the last few years in a handful of academic papers. For example, in the Journal ‘Current Issues in Tourism’ I find an interesting article (2015) entitled ‘Hostility or hospitality? A review on violence, bullying and sexual harassment in the tourism and hospitality industry’ and a year earlier a different article discusses how employees respond to sexual harassment from customers in the workplace.

Industry perception is also somewhat incriminating. In an article appearing in the Evening Standard a week or so ago, the Scottish Conservative party leader Ruth Anderson talked about sexual harassment in Westminster and – as a way of demonstrating that the corridors of powers are no different to other corridors – made references to harassment suffered by the likes of chamber maids and front office staff.

So should we worry?

Looks like the answer is yes, at least for some parts of the industry. In November 2017, no doubt on the back of a wave of openly denounced cases from other closely related industries, the Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association (ORHMA) unveiled a new Sexual Violence & Harassment Intervention Training program which now even has its own website.

Prevention is, as we know a far more effective tool than curing in the aftermath of a tragic event. Therefore, I suspect that more organisations and associations in Travel and tourism broadly will be encouraging their members to review their policy and deliver more training.

None of that works however, if the culture is sick at its core and whistle blower are being silenced. This is something really crucial in my opinion and in need of deep review and reflection on the part of the sector. Already we are known to suffer from poor reputation around working conditions and there are many cases of young people / young females being stopped short of taking jobs in the industry by their parents due to their perception.

Sexual harassment and exploitation are a serious issue and one that can have massive ramifications on the industry at a time when recruitment and talent acquisition is already proving a challenge.

Let’s bring this issue to the fore in 2018 to ensure that a more concerted, industry-led effort may spare future generations of travel, tourism and hospitality female professionals the pain experienced by their sisters in so many other arenas.

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Alessandra is founder of social enterprise Women in Travel CIC which she launched in January 2017 to provide communities in key regions (for example UK, Middle East, Africa and Latin America) with a sustainable livelihood by enabling women to become economically independent through entrepreneurship and a thriving career in the travel and tourism industry. Alessandra is also Chief Mentor & Consultant at Everyday Mentor, where she provides mentoring, coaching and consulting services to a range of clients in the commercial and public sector. Alessandra also collaborates with a number of Universities, including Hertfordshire, Normandy and Surrey. Alessandra is passionate about gender in tourism and has written and spoken extensively on the subject over the last 12 years, including at the United Nations World Tourism Day. She is well known as co-founder of Shine People and Places – a boutique outfit dedicate to supporting women in the workplace - and The Shine Awards for Women Achievements in Travel Tourism Hospitality and Events, which she ran between 2004 and 2010 before Sector Skills Council People 1st took them over. Prior to Shine Alessandra worked at KPMG, where she built the Travel & Tourism division, and the World Travel and Tourism Council. Alessandra has an executive MBA from the University of Ediburgh/Grande Ecole Pons combined; she is a qualified coach/mentor for performance in the workplace and she is a member of several industry bodies including AWTE and the UK Tourism Society.

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