Another day, another Women’s History Month.

It seems every year this magical month comes around when I am asked to speak at events and hit the news circuits, make exciting announcements, and really start to feel the power of a world that supports women. And then — almost just as quickly — we’re forgotten.

The funny thing is, many of us don’t think the travel industry has an issue with women. There’s always someone at a public Wanderful event that mentions that most of his customers are women, or that a “whole 5% of the executive board are women and that’s enough.” (Yes, I have literally had these things said to me before).

And it’s true that some things are getting better. The Women in Hospitality, Travel & Leisure’s 2020 report found that women’s representation at the board level increased from 5.3% to 28.9% just in 2019 alone. But the thrill stops here — lest we forget that this still means women are outnumbered 3 to 1. And we cannot forget that these numbers largely represent only white women, as that same report shows that 82.5% of companies have no BAME (Black, Asian or minority ethnic) leaders at the board level at all.

And dare I even begin to start with the consumer side, where women are the majority comprising two-thirds of all travelers and also making up to 85% of all travel purchasing decisions. And yet it’s still somehow considered normal that menstruation products are not provided in hotel rooms.

But this Women’s History Month, paired with one of my most favorite days, International Women’s Day, feels different. 

Maybe it’s because I am now a mom of two daughters, and my progeny outnumber me. Maybe it’s because I’ve now been through enough Women’s History Months to know that there has got to be more to it than just celebrations of women in history without looking at women of the present and of the future. Maybe it’s because, on some deeper level, I do see us all trying to do better by women, and some of us are just not sure how.

There is nothing wrong with panel discussions and media attention during Women’s History Month. I feel lucky to have a whole month dedicated to an important part of my identity. The problem is when we forget that Women’s History Month is just a starting place, and not an end point.

If you *actually* want to support women, there’s a lot you can do, starting now. And this goes beyond posting inspiring quotes by women on social media.

But first: Who is the travel industry, anyway?

When I talk about the travel industry, I’m not just talking about the SVP of Operations at Kayak or the Director of Marketing at Hilton. In fact, I’m not just talking about people who work for major travel brands or destinations at all. 

While these companies have a major pull in the industry, they do not own it. The thing about travel is that we are all investors in the industry and we should all take responsibility for its development.

When I talk about the travel industry, I’m talking about large travel companies, yes. But I’m also talking about small businesses, tour operators, and travel advisors.

I’m talking about travel content creators and social media influencers, journalists, and authors.

I’m talking to industries that are “travel adjacent” like the outdoor industry or transportation, for example, or any company that has travel-sized products or travel services.

But I’m also talking to the travelers, who spend billions of dollars per year on travel. All of us are responsible. There are things that we can all do to ensure the travel industry actually supports women.

12 Things the Travel Industry Can *Actually* Do to Support Women

1. Stop looking at women’s rights as “women’s issues.”

The moment we silo these conversations into the category of “women’s issues”, the more we subliminally tell everyone else that this isn’t their problem to solve. That leaves 50% of our population out of a conversation that very much affects them.

Most significantly, it leaves the conversation in the hands of the populations already holding the power. We all have a responsibility to create equity for each other and, to do that, we must all be part of this. 

Not sure where to start? Host a dialogue about women in travel and make it a required company-wide event. Share data on women’s travel trends, concerns, and habits. Encourage people to lean in and ask questions. And give everyone a moment to weigh in on what needs to change.

WITS Travel Creators + Brand Summit teaching travel influencers

2. Stop putting the burden on your Diversity + Inclusion team to solve your problems for you.

While DEI teams are amazing, they should be used strategically to examine current strategies, processes, and services — both internally and externally — and help recommend solutions and feedback.

They should not be the only team responsible for actually making travel equitable; they are advisors for every single team in your company.

Their budgets should not be isolated line-items but should pull from marketing, operations, tech, and every other department with a budget. Their ability to do their job effectively will only broaden your customer base — and make you more money.

So listen to them.

3. Look inward at your own board and corporate balance.

When I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court] and I say, ‘When there are nine,’ people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

While we know most travel customers are women, what we need to know is who is making the decision for them. Have a look at your governing board, as well as your C-Suite. Is it 50% women? If it’s not, you have work to do. Make a commitment to increase your representation and give yourself a deadline.

See that woman over there who has been the Senior Manager of Whatever Department for the last eight years? Ask yourself why she hasn’t been promoted yet, and if the criteria that you’re using to evaluate her work are fair and unbiased.

4. Examine your parental leave policies.

You can start with making sure that the services that new mothers need are available at your office — nursing rooms that are not closets, for example. But in a world where “offices” are less and less part of our daily work activities, make sure you’re considering the other ways your company is supporting new parents.

If you’re based in the United States, you have extra work to do. Our country is rated extremely poorly on the scale of maternal health and support, despite our wealth and privilege. Make sure your company rises above these standards. Creating generous parental leave policies is a good place to start. They encourage productivity, overall employee happiness, and retention.

These policies should not be restricted on gender, either. 

I can tell you with great confidence that my husband’s ability to take time off work for his children significantly affects my ability to do my own work. Remember when I said we can’t look at these as women’s issues? Every time he is discouraged from leaving work early to pick up his daughter from daycare, or is told he won’t need to take his full paternity leave because he’ll get bored, or is expected to have a perfectly quiet conference call while working from home during a pandemic…that’s the world telling him that raising children is a women’s issue and he has no part in it.

5. Be mindful of who you mean when you talk about “women”.

To me, it appears that Women’s History Month often tends to mean the history of white, straight, cisgender women. Please don’t forget the various definitions of womanhood and the various intersections that identify as women.

If you’re not sure where to start, having a glance at Wanderful’s anti-oppression toolkit can help you develop the right language and thought processes to make sure you aren’t falling into stereotypes or misconceptions.

Cover image for Wanderful's Anti Oppression Toolkit for Travel and Culture Creators

6. Examine your marketing and your language.

Whether you’re a member of the travel industry or a content creator, take some time this month to really look at your website. Who is represented? Are all the women stock-photo-gorgeous? Are they in their early twenties, with long, blond hair? How about your brand language and tone — are you clearly talking to a younger audience, without needing to? Whose voices are you including in your content, or even your testimonials?  

And, most importantly, what subliminal messages are you conveying by having these images and this language be the most outward-facing part of your business?

There are some quick fixes, sure. You can pull stock photos from more diverse stock photo curations to help solve the first problem. But don’t forget to look underneath the hood, too. If you’re relying on stock photos to diversify your images, is it because your actual customer base isn’t diverse enough?

If you’re feeling like you’re off the mark in your messaging, is it because you don’t have enough diverse women on your team that are actually doing the writing?

WITS Travel Creator + Brand Summit by Wanderful - group photo on stage in Portland Maine 2019

7. Examine your products and services.

If you think that being inclusive to women means making sure that your hotel is stocked with beauty magazines or that you have plenty of shopping activities in your destination, then you’ve got a lot of work to do. 

Let’s not fall into stereotypes.

Rather than trying to pinpoint “what women want” (sorry, Mel Gibson), instead focus on including women — especially women-owned businesses — meaningfully in your products and services. Highlight their voices and amplify their work.

Destinations: when you host FAM and media trips, make sure you’re taking your audiences to women-owned businesses. Highlight them in your brochures and marketing materials (heck, have a woman-owned printing company actually create your marketing materials). 

Creators and travel advisors: if you see these things missing on your next visit, ask about them. Don’t just leave the responsibility on the shoulders of the industry to do something about it if you don’t think to ask for it yourself.

8. Be aware of the biases in conversations about safety.

We like to fall into two patterns when we talk about women in travel. The first pattern is what I like to call the “Eat, Pray, Love” narrative, that women’s travel is all about magical experiences and delicious food. The second pattern is what I like to call the “murdered in a dark alley” narrative, where the solo female traveler — well, we know what happens to her.

It’s true that safety is extremely important to many women travelers, especially solo women. But it’s also important to recognize bias and preconceived notions that may arise in conversations about safety. One person’s “dark scary neighborhood” is another person’s home.

If you’re making recommendations to women about safety tactics while traveling, make sure your information is backed with data, rather than personal experience or hearsay.

9. Pay for a consultation.

Whether or not you have a DEI team of your own, this a great time to get an outside consultation of your current practices.

Am I actually excluding a large swath of women through my marketing and language? Am I including enough women-owned businesses in my work? Do we have diverse women in leadership?

Hire an outside expert to take a deep dive into your practices and help you make the necessary changes for a stronger business.

Beth Santos speaking at an event and gesturing

10. Commit to diverse and inclusive marketing.

While it’s not enough to just say you’re going to do something, making that commitment real, and public, is a great way to hold yourself and your business accountable. As a Wanderful brand partner, you’re publicly committing to supporting the voices of diverse women through content collaborations, education, and regular, ongoing examinations of your work, so you can take your diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts past Women’s History Month.

11. Spend your money.

Do I have to say this one out loud? Women-owned businesses are regularly underrepresented and underfunded. Female founders are awarded only 2.7% of venture capital. Black and Latinx women combined received just 0.64%. Women invest more of their own money to kickstart their businesses.

The best thing you can do to support women and women-owned businesses is to hire us. Choose us to be your outside consultants, your event managers, your accountants, your printers, and your partners.

12. Make a donation

Want a quick change? Make a donation to a female-founded non-profit.

Check out beGirl.World, a Philadelphia-based organization that works to empower teenage girls through travel and education, or Wander Abroad, which funds study abroad scholarships.

Join Impact Travel Alliance, a global community and 501(c)3 nonprofit aimed at improving the world through travel, or collaborate with Kind Traveler or Jet-Set Offset, both social enterprises and all founded by women. Or, share your favorite female-founded non-profits in the comments.

You don’t have to do everything at once. In fact, many of these items are long-term solutions. But we all have to start somewhere.

So set goals. Pick one — or three — of the items on this list and commit to them. Then, this time next year, measure that success to see how far you’ve come…or how far you still have to go.

Looking for travel inspiration? Wanderful is a global community for travel-loving women. Connect with us!