We have previously highlighted What Matters to Female Tourists at Tourism Tiger but did you know that today two thirds of travelers are women and 80% of travel decisions are made by women, according to membership-based female travel network, Wanderful(opens in a new tab). As CEO of Wanderful, Beth Santos, explains in The Power of Women in Travel(opens in a new tab), “Women’s travel is not a cute little segment of the market—it’s almost the entire market…And every time we go on a trip, we spend hundreds, thousands of dollars. There are not many other industries where every time you engage with that industry you drop that much money. The industry needs to start looking at it that way and seeing the real buying power of women.”
Long story short, women are essential to the travel and tourism industry. And though there may be more ladies traveling now than ever, the desire to explore and see the world is nothing new for women. Despite being denied the right to vote, open a bank account, access education or travel, women have done all of the above, for thousands of years. This March, in honor of Women’s History Month at Tourism Tiger, we want to highlight three adventurous women who traversed the globe and broke barriers in the world of travel. As tour operators, what lessons can we take away from these bold trailblazers?
One of the first recorded female travelers in history was a 4th century Christian woman by the name of Egeria. The details we know of her travels come from the diary she kept of the journey. Though there’s not much information on her background, it’s been deduced from her writing and the fact she had the means to travel, that she must have been from a wealthy family in Western Europe.
It was around 381 A.D that Egeria set off on a 3 year pilgrimage to visit biblical sites throughout the ancient Mediterranean. Her diary details the religious rituals in which she partakes and according to the Daily Beast profile on Egeria, “At every stop…she would consult local clerics about the customs and traditional practices in each location. Sometimes this meant ascending a mountain, other times drinking from a stream that God created in the wilderness for Moses and the people of Israel…”
You don’t have to be religious or wealthy to take a page out of Egeria’s book. Just as Egeria respected the local culture and customs of the places she visited, tour operators would be wise to do the same! If you are an international tour operator this may involve taking the time to educate your guests on the customs and culture of the regions you visit before and during your trip. Take advantage of your website space by adding a page, section or blog with information on the local culture and how to be respectful guests.
Whether you are an international or local tour operator, making the effort to hire and work with the local people and businesses in your area can help support the local economy. Dedicating a page or adding a section of your website to highlight your local partners and affiliate businesses is another great way to stay connected to the community. Check out the partners page on St Augustine Experiences(opens in a new tab) as a good example.
Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore
Eliza Scidmore was an American travel writer and photographer. Born in 1856 in the midwestern United States, she attended Oberlin College before moving to the east coast where she began contributing her writing to various newspapers. Her career as a travel writer began soon after when she took a trip to Alaska and wrote extensively about her exploration of the uncharted territory. Her writing on Alaska was so prolific, Scidmore eventually had an island in Glacier Bay named after her.
In 1890, Scidmore became the first female member of the National Geographic Society, an organization created just a couple years prior as a means to document and share geographic knowledge. After her travels to Alaska, Eliza became known for her time and documentation of East Asia, particularly Japan, where she reported on the 1896 earthquake for the National Geographic. Although her writings of Asia apparently(opens in a new tab), “reflected the perspective of a Western tourist…applauded British colonialism and viewed non-Westerners in a sometimes condescending manner”, it was ultimately her time in Japan that led Scidmore to what she’s most known for today – bringing cherry blossom trees to the tidal basin in Washington, DC.
While in Japan, Scidmore encountered cherry blossoms for the first time and fell in love, calling the blooming trees “the most beautiful thing in the world”. She then spent the next 24 years petitioning to have the trees brought to the city, as a symbol of friendship between the US and Japan. After advocating to bring cherry blossoms to DC for three presidential administrations, she finally succeeded when first lady, Helen Taft, took up the cause. In March of 1912, with the help of Japanese and American officials, the trees arrived in the nation’s capital.
To this day the Cherry Blossom Festival is one of DC’s most popular attractions for tourists and locals alike. The festival even has its own non-profit organization, “dedicated to promoting the beauty of nature and international friendship through year-round programs, events, and educational initiatives that enhance our environment, showcase arts and culture, and build community spirit.” Without Scidmore’s bright idea and determination, we wouldn’t have these iconic trees and all they represent. As tour operators, Scidmore’s story serves as a reminder that travel and tourism can not only be a chance to learn about another culture, but also an opportunity to educate, build relationships and strengthen connections across borders.
Bessie Coleman was born in Atlanta, Texas, in 1892. She was of African American and Native American descent. Her mother worked as a maid and her father as a sharecropper. After working to save up money, she briefly attended college, but had to drop out due to the price of tuition. A few years later she moved to Chicago to live with her brothers and trained to be a manicurist. It was after hearing from her brother, who had been deployed to France during World War I, about French women being allowed to fly planes that Coleman became determined to be a pilot.
Coleman applied to numerous flight schools in the US and was rejected time and time again for being African American and female. Unfazed by rejection, she began taking French classes and applying to flight schools in France, where she was eventually accepted into the Caudron Brothers’ School of Aviation. She received her international pilot’s license in 1921.
Coleman had a dream to own her own plane and open a flight school to encourage other African American women to learn to fly. She began speaking at public events where she showed video footage of her performing air tricks as a form of income. She gave her first public flight performance, and the first by an African American woman, in 1922. Coleman became quite popular both in the US and abroad, and was able to tour the country performing flight shows and giving lessons, eventually earning enough to purchase her own plane. Unfortunately, in April of 1926 at just 34 years old, Coleman died tragically when a test flight she was on in Florida crashed.
Bessie Coleman’s death was mourned by many and famous activist, Ida B. Wells even spoke at her funeral. Beyond Coleman’s incredible resolve, talent, and work ethic, what made her stand out even more as an icon, was her unfaltering integrity. Throughout her career as a pilot she refused to speak or perform at segregated venues or anywhere that discriminated against African Americans. Her dream was to inspire other women, particularly Black women like herself, to fly and she hoped to share her hard earned opportunities with others.
Besides her refusal to give up on her dream, if there is just one lesson we can take from Coleman’s incredible life, it would be to use your travel to encourage others and make equity non-negotiable. Whether you are a tour operator or a lone traveler, if you can use your experience to educate and pave the way for others, you will be making Coleman proud.
In regards to women’s rights, we have come quite far since these prominent ladies in history set off on their travels. Yet mainstream tourism does not always seem to value the women that keep the industry running. For Women’s History Month, let’s honor these ladies and recognize that female travel is not a niche market. It is pioneers like Egeria, Scidmore and Coleman that have paved the way, making females the majority in the travel and tourism industry.
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