“Disculpe, Tory. Por favor, sigue.”
“Sorry, Tory. Please, continue.”
Lilliana, the president of Posada Rural La Amistad, a women’s ecotourism association, places her phone face down on the wood table. We were discussing the management of their inventory when a potential guest called. I am currently serving as a US Community Economic Development Peace Corps volunteer in Isla de Chira, Costa Rica.
Recognizing the need for additional streams of income 12 years ago, 25 women of La Amistad, including Lilliana, fought machismo in their homes and in the community to build the foundation of what exists today.
They solicited national and international funding to construct cabinas in a beautiful forest, to guide tours through gorgeous mangroves and local farms, and to teach visitors about the history of this untouched island.
Now a formal organization with government partnerships and hundreds of visitors each year, they continue to thrive due to their foresight, motivation, and determination. But as I dove deeper into project work and truly listened to their stories, the same question continued to nag me.
How can we support other women-owned businesses and organizations like these?
Prior to serving as a Peace Corps volunteer, I never reflected how my choice of hostel, restaurant, or tourist activity impacted women and local economies.
I cruised around the internet looking for blog recommendations, checked out TripAdvisor, and maybe read a few comments on Google. I would ask my friends on Facebook for recommendations, “must do” activities, and what local street food to try. I would wear TOMS sunglasses (For the children!), drink out of a Nalgene water bottle (For the environment!), and discuss how to “change the world” (For the future!).
But here, I was missing a huge gap in how to maximize the influence of my experience and dollars.
There is a significant untapped opportunity to promote women-owned businesses in the United States and around the globe. With a little extra effort, it’s possible to better champion these types of organizations.
Research the best you can.
First, determine where you plan to sleep.
Airbnb is an easy way to search for and stay with women hosts. The best hosts treat their space and the guest experience seriously.
Consider the many factors of your stay — the room and the amenities, the previous reviews, and the host. Take the time to read bios and search previous reviews on the hospitality and connection guests had with the host.
Second, when planning activities and restaurants, request women tour guides, masseuses, and others.
Another little unknown tip is to search TripAdvisor and Yelp for “women-owned” business. Though not a perfect solution, you can find places like Soda Johanna’s or Volumes Bookcafe that shimmy (like Hillary) to the top of results based on past reviews, comments, or publications on behalf of the restaurant.
A final trick to employ is seek out the WomenOwned logo on products. WomenOwned partners with the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) in the United States and WEConnect International around the world to register and advocate for women-owned businesses and products. Keep an eye for these products in stores and markets during your travels.
Enhance the conversation.
When others ask for your opinion on a city or trip, tell them about the best places and highlight your trip honestly. Talk about the awesome time you had or the super unique souvenir you just bought.
Word-of-mouth reviews among close and trusted connections are instrumental to the growth of women-owned business.
Spread the word about your positive experiences to your family, friends, and fellow travelers. Utilize platforms like your own personal travel blog (Here’s mine!) and social media. Another idea is to contribute to Google’s Local Guide groups and share information on Facebook travel groups. A few of my favorite most active groups are Wanderful (duh) and Peace Corps Couchsurf.
By specifically highlighting and informing others of these organizations, we can begin to change the conversation of travel and elevate the conversations of women working in tourism.
Invest in the business.
“Invest” means not only spending your dollars by buying a product or staying in a particular spot, but also by writing a valuable review on main travel sites. A valuable review is honest, informative, and succinct.
Talk about the owner and her history. Take photos and detail the space, product, or activity. And give tips to enhance the future experience of others.
There are so many avenues to share travel information today. Pass on worthwhile information and contribute to popular sites such as TripAdvisor, Airbnb, Yelp, Google, and Facebook.
This isn’t a perfect formula.
Sometimes I forget my Nalgene and buy a plastic water bottle in the airport. My sincerest apologies, Mother Earth.
Ultimately, this is about a mindset: We need to be aware of how our travel influences others and give thought to how our choice of accommodations and activities impact local economies and business owners.
We have an opportunity in our role as travelers to responsibly support companies, organizations, and — most importantly — real people and their families, with our money, time, experiences, and relationships.
Let’s take full advantage of it.