Tourism Talanoa: Balancing The Management Scales

Tourism Talanoa: Balancing The Management Scales

FHTA, 12 March 2021 – Earlier this week, the world commemorated International Women’s Day with its theme of “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world,” which celebrates the tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and highlights the gaps that remain.

For the tourism sector as well, we highlight the immense contribution of women to the industry.

Let us begin with some acknowledgements. Did you know that in most regions of the world, women make up the majority of the tourism workforces, but tend to be concentrated in the lower-paid and informal jobs in tourism?

In a 2018 Global Report on Women in Tourism, it was noted that 95% of the people employed in tourism around the world were women, yet they tended to be relegated to the lower-level positions and earned comparatively less than men.

As we continue to develop policies to enhance our economic development, we must not hesitate to empower women to participate fully in economic life.

This is essential to building strong economies; creating more stable and just societies; achieving internationally agreed goals for development, sustainability, and human rights; and improving the quality of life for women, and consequently, that of communities and countries they are part of.

For the tourism sector, the impact of greater gender equality and women’s empowerment would be highly beneficial, for the well-known reason that diverse and gender-equitable organizations usually perform better.

As one of the largest employers of women and young people in Fiji, tourism’s overall imbalance of gender representation in management positions is being addressed at all levels.

Part of the recognised reason for this imbalance comes from the very nature of tourism as an industry. To be a business player in this environment requires being open every day of the week, working long hours and managing teams that must deliver consistently great service. Or risk losing your competitive edge and eventually your customers.

Add to this the challenges of ensuring a holiday or special event can still take place despite adverse weather like cyclones, flooding or storm surges and the ensuing impact of these on power or water shutdowns, transportation links cut off and medical emergencies, and you get a sense of the strength of character and leadership qualities tourism managers are expected to have in spades.

And if you can do all this as well as repair a boat engine in time to get your guests out on the last flight before the borders shut, there is no doubt you can get a job with this industry tomorrow. Or, when it eventually opens.

That is not to say there aren’t already some formidable examples of female leadership in this space, only that there simply aren’t as many as there could be, probably because many women choose employment that allows them to continue to be closer to or more closely support their families. Choices, therefore, are more difficult for women.

But it isn’t just tourism that is lagging in its gender balance in management roles. However, tourism can be the leader in changing this as the world resets after the pandemic shutdowns and closures. So, as we have done before, we will continue to highlight in future Talanoa’s, some of our very experienced women leaders who have chosen this tough industry.

While it might be true that with the often 7-days-a-week job requirements, long hours and industry-related challenges; local women have had a more difficult time moving up the proverbial ladder, that’s not to say that it cannot or has not been done.

Women have ascended to top-level jobs in the past and will continue to do so in the future. The instances, however, are too far in between to be considered a revolution. Yet.

It has been said often enough before, that we should hire for attitude and train for skill.

To develop the tourism industry into a workforce of more inspiring local leaders, our ambitious youth must be encouraged to embrace positive, “can do” attitudes if they are serious about being in an industry that can throw the most experienced, or highly qualified manager unexpected curveballs, with a crisis seemingly always just around the corner.

Developing skills that only require sitting with a laptop accessing free wifi is not going to move Fiji from a developing island state into the transformative, progressive society Fiji is aspiring to become.

We need innovative young people to have the energy and will to contribute meaningfully to our development goals and be encouraged to do so in an inclusive environment that celebrates diversity.

The Global Report on Women in Tourism goes on to note that targeted interventions by public, private and civil society actors that include promoting equal pay, tackle sexual harassment and encourage recruitment of women into high-level employment helps to promote decent work for women.

Gender-sensitive policies at the national level increase women’s economic empowerment that is then more effectively implemented into sectors like tourism. While investment in skills training for women can lead to greater outcomes for gender equality.

As a progressive industry, albeit in a holding pattern currently, these issues are already in play and being seriously addressed at several different levels.

So, while in a said holding pattern, we welcome news of the first dose of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines into the country as part of the COVAX facility initiative to distribute the vaccines to countries like Fiji.

The first batch of vaccines has been earmarked for our frontline workers including medical staff, disciplined forces involved in maintaining border security and COVID-safe operations, and relevant airline, airport and transport staff. This was rolled out yesterday with several frontliners getting the first of two jabs.

There is expected to be over 100,000 vaccine doses in total brought in-country via the COVAX facility and we know that once again, the vast majority of the hard-working medical staff tasked with ensuring Fiji’s population is safely administered the required doses that will provide us with another important layer of safety against the virus, will be women.

Women who will be working long hours, managing anxious and often difficult crowds, while staying away from families and friends until their work is completed.

A measure of one’s passion for their work is often simply noting their time in that industry and their approach to each challenge that comes their way.

The tourism industry may not have much in common with health workers except for the high number of women employed in both sectors. They will therefore find kindred spirits who can match any need to keep going until the job is done.
Persevering, supporting and ready to make any changes needed once the pandemic dust settles. So, onwards and upwards, all women working towards personal, organizational and national goals.

We acknowledge you and everyone else that is hanging in there doing the best they can to preserve and prepare our side of paradise.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 12 March 2021)