Still Fighting To Be Heard
Data released by Statistics SA shares that one in every 22 working South Africans are employed in the tourism sector, but only 4 in every 10 employees working in the sector are female.
This under-representation of women led to the Department of Tourism launching a campaign in 2018 called “WiT 30in5”, which is tasked with increasing the proportion of women in tourism management to 30 per cent representation in executive management and board directorship positions by 2022, in line with the goals set out in the Tourism B-bBEE scorecard.
Lee Zama, the first woman to be appointed CEO at the Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa (FEDHASA), says that while women are under-represented in leadership roles, “we have carried the industry on various platforms and our leadership is gradually being recognised.
“My appointment at FEDHASA is one of the clear indications that the sector is ready and willing to open up to women in leadership,” says Zama.
One of the challenges faced, she adds, is the negative connotation attached to anything women say; their statements are not understood as factual. “Often, a male peer will make the same statement and it is seen as a business decision,” she says. Zama advises women to be cognisant of this and to ensure they have a voice.
This sentiment is echoed by Caroline Ungersbock, the chair and co-founder of the Sustainable Tourism Partnership Programme (STPP), which aims to make the tourism industry more sustainable. “Women aren’t taken as seriously as they should be. The Department of Tourism has a female deputy minister, but it is the women on the ground who do all the work and they aren’t taken seriously,” says Ungersbock.
Another challenge for women in the industry is “the lack of funding”. She cites lack of political will in developing tourism and a shortage of women representation in leadership positions as stumbling blocks in the industry.
Over the past seven years, Ungersbock has travelled to more than 120 towns across the country to assist tourism businesses and municipalities with sustainable tourism awareness, development of travel plans, responsible tourism implementation and community tourism development. Her passion lies in local economic development, particularly in rural areas and using tourism as a vehicle for development.
She believes that the only way things will change is if women speak out. “I overcame the challenges in the industry by persevering against all odds,” explains Ungersbock.
“I learnt over the years to have patience, to continue to advocate about sustainable tourism and never give up,” she says.
Suzanne Bayly-Coupe, the owner of Classic Portfolio, a collection of owner-operated camps and lodges across Africa and the Indian Ocean, employs 24 people across four continents, 23 of whom are women. “I never set out to employ women, but we all just seem to ‘get it’ because women often take a different, humble approach and offer collaborative efforts that men might not,” says Bayly-Coupe.
According to her, tourism is not a big moneymaking profession and women tend to be paid less than their male counterparts and often have to work harder to prove themselves. Few women are lodge or hotel owners, they don’t own bed stock, or manage conservation — this is where the credibility lies within the industry.
“I had to work extremely hard to have a voice, and it seems that I have only properly been heard in the last five years. You have to consistently be visible and display a great amount of determination,” says Bayly-Coupe.
She advises women to step out of their comfort zones, challenge the status quo and lead the way in bringing more diversity to the industry.