Celebrating #HeForShe! This week, the Go Girl team reached out to our male allies to talk about the #HeForShe movement started by Emma Watson and why men should support women in travel. Today, we’re hearing from Jack Fischl, the co-founder of keteka.com. Check out his words and share your own in the comment section below.
My cousin, a tall, good-looking 22 year old guy from California, recently returned from a six week trip to Europe where he didn’t pay for a single night of accommodations. Every night for 42 straight nights, him and his buddy either convinced a stranger to let them stay at their house, or they found a quiet spot on the street to sleep.
Impressed, I asked him how he managed to pull this off and he replied, “It helps to be from California – lots of people said they would come stay at my place when they were traveling.” He added, “and we obviously couldn’t have done the trip that way if we were girls.”
Unfortunately, he’s absolutely right. After watching Emma Watson introduce the United Nation’s new #HeForShe campaign, my first thought was how its mission applies to the travel space. In so many words, #HeForShe is about male solidarity with feminism. Feminsm, at its core, is about equality of the sexes, and travel is an intensely unequal experience for men and women. Us men working in travel can and should use #HeForShe as a catalyst to improve our understanding of and commitment to making travel safer and more accessible for women – for their benefit and for the benefit of the industry and the travel experience.
One of the core issues is that most men simply do not understand what it’s like to travel as a woman. For example, while I would never get drunk, plug my ears, and walk aimlessly through a dangerous part of a foreign city (or any city), I have also never felt the need to carry my own rubber door stop while traveling. I didn’t even know that was a thing, until I bumped into the suggestion on Jodi Ettenberg’s travel blog.
Despite progress for gender equality in the past 30 years, business (including entrepreneurship) remains significantly male-dominated, and travel, when stripped of its romantic trappings, is about business.
A lack of understanding and accommodating female travelers is simply bad business.
Last year, the George Washington University and the Adventure Travel and Trade Association (ATTA) released their annual snapshot of the adventure travel industry and found that the average adventure traveler is a 47 year old female. The ATTA also reported earlier this year that women have become “the majority of travelers in a number of categories” and are increasingly booking more adventurous, solo trips. These solo women travelers are also more likely to spend more on their trips than men. (The current theory is that they spend more on safety and security, but that is unconfirmed). This is clearly a trend that travel businesses can’t ignore.
There are also clear consequences for a destination with a poor safety reputation. A quick Google search of “women safety travel” yields dozens of articles and travel advisories about solo female travel in India. After a string of high profile sexual assaults of female travelers in 2013, travel to India dropped significantly and ignited debate about whether or not women should travel alone. India happened to get the negative spotlight in 2013, but in truth, violence against women is an issue in a lot of countries (including the United States).
So what can we do?
One of the first and most significant steps we can take is to get female feedback on our own businesses, travel blogs, etc. – more than likely, there are issues that are glaring to women and unnoticed to men. For example, while getting feedback on my business’s website, the number one message from women was to improve our Safety in Panama page and make it more obviously accessible. Not a single male mentioned safety in their feedback.
We improved the page’s location and content and brought in a female intimately familiar with travel in Panama to write specifically about female safety concerns. Even with a conscientious effort on my part to empathize, she brought up safety issues that I simply hadn’t thought about. Rubber doorstops all over again.
Our content change is a small example of positive action in this space, but hopefully one that inspires my partner and I (also male) to better accommodate women in travel. Things like listing hostels or bars that are particularly safe for women should be more ubiquitous, in that they can be excellent resources and can put pressure on the market to normalize accommodating women.
HeForShe is about male solidarity with feminism and its sentiment can and should easily be applied to the travel market.
I doubt there are many men in the travel industry who would say “I don’t support females traveling,” but there are also clearly not enough who sincerely strive to make travel safer and more accessible for women, and few that would tell you a woman could safely travel the way my cousin did in Europe.
Women are clearly signaling that they want the same travel opportunities as men, giving destinations and suppliers in the travel industry the opportunity to improve not only business, but society in general. When we as an industry genuinely support women in travel, we all win.
Jack Fischl is a co-founder at keteka.com – a website that leverages the Peace Corps network to connect small tour operators with travelers seeking to find and book an authentic experience. He is also the masculinity columnist at Mic, hoping to propel the conversation on what healthy masculinity means to millennial men. A vagabond explorer, Jack is currently probably either traveling, trying to help others travel, or writing about social justice.