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International Women’s Day: Our female Explorers

AITO’s Project Protect is an initiative to protect the places and people we visit when we’re travelling. As part of our involvement with this initiative, we have chosen to focus on gender equality – with the particular aim of increasing the number of female Explore Leaders around the world.

We hope that this will challenge perceptions of women’s capabilities in other cultures, whether physically or socially, and give them same opportunities as their male peers.

How we started out

When we began this project in 2017, we assessed which countries would benefit from our focus. In 2016 we had trained 105 new leaders and of those only 30 were female – we wanted this to change.

We chose three countries to work in that had few or no female tour leaders - India, Vietnam and Sri Lanka. We set ourselves the target to train at least nine female leaders across these countries, working with our local agents to help build awareness and address any issues they might be facing in recruiting female leaders.

Indira Wdhwa is a local leader in India

Challenging common perceptions

We wanted to understand the differences in attitudes between countries where there was a strong female presence among our leaders, such as Myanmar, against those that had few, like Vietnam, so we could see what challenges women might be facing.

In Myanmar, we have more female leaders than male. However, one female leader here told us that there was a perception that women were weaker than men and therefore less able to do several tours (particularly active trips).

We incorporated this into our training with local agents and the leaders themselves.

How far we’ve come

Since the start of the project, we have trained an additional 19 female tour leaders in countries with fewer women over the last two years.

This year’s Explore Leader of the Year Awards was won by a female tour leader for the first time in its 11-year history! Following dozens of customer nominations, Anna (pictured at the top of the page) won thanks to her passion, commitment, enthusiasm and sense of adventure.

Anna was surprised to win given the number of nominations and leaders but said, “…I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming. I’ve managed to find my vocation and it just happens to be the best job in the world.”

We’re hoping stories such as hers, of women who’ve been leading for years and loving their work, will be a source of inspiration for the female Explore Leaders of the future.

Win Zar Zar Min is an Explore leader in Myanmar (Burma)

What’s next?

Now a quarter of our leaders worldwide are women and this number has steadily increased since we began the project. Progress has been slow but we are confident that this growth is sustainable and so more likely to take hold and build. We want women, wherever they are in the world, to feel that the opportunities are there in the travel industry should they wish to take them.

Katie, our Pledge coordinator with AITO said, "Being a part of PROTECT for another year has been a privilege. This year we have achieved more than before and I feel so proud to have had an input in this change. It really doesn't matter how big or small the project is, they all make a difference and will continue to make positive changes."