The theme of this International Women’s Day is equity, and part of creating equity across genders is acknowledging that not everyone starts life with the same advantages, and giving people access to the same starting line is the way to achieving overall equality. For this International Women’s Day, we want to highlight our women-led MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experiences which promote activities and organisations which aim to help and establish vulnerable women across the world.
We spoke to Nadine, the Global Sustainability Manager at The Travel Corporation, our parent company, to talk about how Contiki sources these experiences, the impact they have on our travellers and local women, and why they are so important for us a brand.
From your perspective, when it comes to our MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experiences, how important is it that there is strong representation of women leaders within the businesses with which we partner?
“Absolutely critical. Our MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experiences all line up with the UN’s Global Goals, and Goal 5 is to achieve gender equality, and to empower women and girls. So, it’s really crucial that the travel experiences we provide are able to support those goals as well. We purposely seek out experiences that are owned by women and led by women, it’s one of our main criteria for the MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experiences supporting Global Goal 5: Gender Equality.
It’s really incredible. Tourism is such an incredible way to support gender equality because it allows women to get involved in the local economy, which is one of the first steps into equality and a great way to empower women as well.”
What kind of impact do you think these experiences have on our travellers?
“From the traveller’s perspective, they’re getting a really unique experience that they might not have otherwise been aware of. There’s two types of women-led experiences that we have and I think they impact people differently.
One is in areas like Morocco or Jordan where women have been historically marginalized in the economy, and we visit these co-ops where women are producing local items, training other women and sharing their artistic skills. We bring our guests to these places and they’re able to purchase their handicrafts and support them economically in a country where they may not have had these opportunities. Our guests will get to learn from these women firsthand.
And then we have women-led experiences which put a spin on the more traditional experiences, like a women-led walking tour. But the difference here is that when you go on a regular walking tour, you hear about the history of the city, the wars that have been fought, the architecture, all those sorts of things… But on these women-led walking tours that are emerging, you get told about the stories of the women who were pivotal to building the community and the city.”
Do any specific examples come to mind?
“Sure, a prime example of this is the Herstory walking tour of Split in Croatia, which is now part of our Croatia Island Sail (Luxe) itinerary. It’s so cool because they talk about the famous women in Croatia throughout time, so you’re not just learning about Croatia’s history as a whole, but the history of the women who were instrumental in shaping it as well and whose stories often get left behind.”
Apart from the Herstory walking tour, are there any other women-led MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experiences that you can tell us about, and the women who run them in particular?
“The Dhonk Centre in India is a really cool and fun one just because the area [Ranthambore] is so secluded and there’s not much opportunity for these women to get involved in the economy in any way other than tourism. I’m a really big fan of that one.
We also have a visit with Warrior Women which is part of Canada and the Rockies’ itinerary in Jasper. This one is really special. It’s led by Matricia [Bauer] who is such an inspiring speaker. You can really tell she wants to share her experiences and her indigenous heritage with all our guests. You get to experience these drumming circles, and it’s incredible that women are leading these activities and sharing their culture and the women’s indigenous history in Canada.
On a more personal level, I’m really excited as I’m going on a Contiki to Morocco that departs this year, and there’s a women’s argan oil cooperative that I can’t wait to see for myself. I’m looking forward to meeting the people there and getting their perspectives.”
Are there any more women-led MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experiences being planned? What is the criteria for them?
“Yeah, for sure. When we visit new destinations, we actively seek out experiences that are women-led, for example, we’ve included Bosnia & Herzegovina on several new itineraries, a destination that is still relatively new to tourism. In Sarajevo our travellers will dine with locals and hear the stories of local women, the hardships they endured during the Balkan conflicts, and learn about their cuisine through family recipes passed generation to generation.
In terms of criteria there’s two main aspects we look at. The first is that 51% of the experience or organisation has to be owned or run by women, and the second is that we want to make sure the organisations actively and directly empower women and girls through community investment and are providing secure employment for vulnerable women.
We also look for things such as whether an organisation provides daycare or flexible hours. A crucial part of women becoming part of the economy and becoming equal is the ability to not just be at home taking care of their children. When this kind of childcare is available, they’re able to gain financial freedom and grow their own income. When our travellers support this organisation, they’re supporting these overall goals.”
In your opinion, why are these experiences so important and why do you think our guests should participate?
“In terms of our goals it just makes sense. Our sustainability strategy is based on the UN’s global goals, and to achieve gender equality it makes sense that we highlight these women-led MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experiences. They’re a ladder up to achieving these important goals and supporting these women.
There’s also so much meaning behind these experiences. For example, the Herstory walking tour I talked about supports a women’s centre which provides a safe resource for women falling victim to domestic abuse, and so we’re supporting that foundation as well in a way.
Sheroes Café in Agra is part of our India itineraries, and it’s this café run by women who have survived domestic abuse and acid attacks (a common form of violence in India). These women are able to work here, and also to provide a safe space for other women in the community.
Our guests should visit these experiences to learn about new perspectives, and while it may be uncomfortable to see or learn about the inequity of women, it’s exactly why travel – to learn new things. When we visit these experiences we’re reminded that inequity does exist, and we should do our best to acknowledge it in our own lives and help offer resources to those who need support getting to that ‘starting line’.”
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is equity, what does equity mean to you?
“This is a tough one. I think it’s all about acknowledging that we don’t all start from the same place – and adjustments must be made to rectify those imbalances to ensure all people are treated equally. It’s about making sure that everyone gets to start at the same point with the same resources.”
Is there anything else you’d like to add about Contiki’s women-led experiences?
“It’s important that our guests understand that Contiki is actively seeking out these experiences: we want these women-led tours and experiences and opportunities like that because it’s what we want to do as a business; we see gender equality as integral to the communities we support, and our own community as well.”