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Shannon Guihan on sustainable tourism, careers and International Women’s Day


The theme for International Women’s Day for 2019 is ‘balance for better’. This week (let’s be honest, one day was never going to be enough), the world is celebrating everything from grassroots activism to worldwide action that is leading us to a world where true gender balance exists. Naturally, we had to get involved.

So, in honour of International Women’s Day, we sat down with Shannon Guihan, the Toronto-based Program Director at The TreadRight Foundation who has dedicated her career to the sustainable development of destinations worldwide. She is proof that true career success occurs in the sweet spot where hard work, grit, and passion collide.

Can you please tell me about yourself, where you call home and your role at TreadRight?

I’m a consultant focused on the sustainable development of destinations worldwide, and am currently calling Toronto home. I oversee all project selection and management on behalf of The TreadRight Foundation – and in addition to that I developed Contiki’s Social Responsibility Strategy. How to reasonably manage and reduce the travel industry’s impact on our communities and swing the impact we cannot avoid towards the positive is what I do.

What drew you to a career in tourism and sustainability?

I started as a sea kayak guide and instructor in my home province of Newfoundland (the most easterly province of Canada) when I was 16. Around the same time my province’s tourism industry was really starting to boom, but it appeared to me that it was just happening – despite itself. As someone who spent nearly all of their time on the water, and always had done, the idea of more and more tourist boats surrounding and upsetting our marine life and sleepy corner of the world bothered me, so I carried on to study environmental management for tourism – and here we are!

Why do you believe it is important to integrate sustainability practices into tourism?

Consider it quality control. Every other industry has it – but ours does not. Our ‘product’ is people, their communities and cultures, natural and built heritage. A sustainable tourism industry isn’t just a nice idea, it’s an imperative if we want to keep being travellers.

What does the 2019 theme for International Women’s Day #BalanceforBetter mean to you?

What that means to me, is that this issue isn’t just for a few to carry, it’s for all of us to carry. Balance is the key to most things, isn’t it? But more gender-balanced communities, businesses, and governments would mean that we are all carrying it a little – and that’s when true change happens. When everyone carries a little.

What is the proudest moment of your career to date?

I never know how to answer these questions – so tough. Thinking…

Editor’s note: Shannon is being modest. She has presented at many conferences on the issues of over tourism and climate change, is the Program Director at The Travel Corporation’s not-for-profit The TreadRight Foundation, holds a Master of Science in Tourism and Environmental Management from Oxford Brookes, is the founder and director of Bannikin, a niche travel and tourism consulting group that works hand in hand with travel businesses and destinations that provide “unparalleled travel experiences in the wildest parts of the planet”, and has been named by Canadian Traveller Magazine as a Top 40 under 40 in the Canadian travel industry. Like I said, she’s being modest.

What is your advice for women who are trying to break into the travel industry?

A passion for travel simply isn’t enough – you need to understand this business: the destinations, supply chain, sales, marketing, all of it.

And what is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

To always ask for what you want. The worst thing anyone can ever do to you is say ‘no’. And that’s really not so bad.

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