Here’s how Indian women are changing the face of travel trade

About four decades ago, ‘women in travel trade’ was an expression unheard of.  About three decades ago, a few women dared to venture in but were stuck in lower rungs of the industry ladder. However, this did not stymie their ability or their enthusiasm to make it big in a sector that’s predominantly male-dominated.

The mighty transformation took place about two decades ago when women decided to break the proverbial glass ceiling and were determined to make a name for themselves. However, it wasn’t an easy transition. While most women gave up during the journey, some survived. They fought against all odds and made their presence felt, and these survivors are the ones headlining the industry today.

Ranjini Nambiar is one of those few brave women who chose to take the road less traveled. Today, she is the CEO of Footloose Yatra Consultants and the president of Skål International India. Like all great leaders, her growth story does not stop with her. Ranjini has taken it upon herself to empower women around her and strongly believes that women can play a crucial role in making travel trade better.

iLit FOUNDERS: Mildred Noronha, Ranjini Nambiar, Loveleen Multani Arun, and Bhawna Rao strike a pose at Soda Bottle Openerwala. Over 70 women from the travel trade fraternity gathered at the cafe to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8.

“Women are good at adapting to change, embracing new trends, and multi-tasking. Travel trade being a service-oriented industry, ladies can stay resilient at any crisis situation, be composed and bring out cost-effective solutions. Out-of-the-box thinking translates into great dimensions for a holiday planning and MICE events,” says Ranjini, who is also making use of her leadership in Skål to bring in more women to travel trade.

Business aside, any empowerment initiative requires the support of friends and well-wishers. Nambiar, along with Loveleen Multani Arun, Director, Panache World, Bhawna Rao from Stratos- Lifestyles, and Mildred Noronha Smith from All About Travel conceived the idea of iLiT (Ladies inTravel). Though still in its nascent stage, the community has the potential to grow into one of the biggest women-centric movements in the country.

iLit is all about amplifying the success stories of the women in travel trade, says Loveleen, who has brought about several changes in her own organization to make life easier for women. Loveleen, an embodiment of beauty and brains, wit and charm, is someone that the travel trade industry looks up to.

“I have never differentiated between my male and female staff. I have trained them to play all roles confidently, including handling MICE events, financial planning, and more,” says Loveleen, who is keen on getting young talented women as well as older women who are looking for a fresh start.

But when it comes to travel trade and women, age is just a number. It’s the attitude that counts. Renu Saigal, now 58, is a shining example of how women can continue to contribute despite a career hiatus.

Renu made a comeback to travel trade when her husband passed away.  She was 50 at the time, but the hospitality industry welcomed her with open arms. Her husband’s demise did not dampen her spirits or her enthusiasm to make an impact in the industry. Today, Renu is the Assistant Manager (sales & marketing) at Adarsh Hamilton Hotel.

Despite the vastness of the industry and the immense potential it offers, retaining women has been a never-ending problem, but one that can be easily addressed.

Shagufta Sumbul, who works as a senior travel coordinator with Vacations Exotica (Balmer Lawrie, lists out challenges like safety, the difference in pay packages, and the stigma attached to maternity leaves.

“Companies must ensure the safety of women, during long and late working hours. A lot of IT companies provide cab transfers and security when women return home after certain hours. The same needs to be duplicated in the travel industry. So, when women feel safe and secure in and out of the workplace, they will, no doubt, want to work in the travel industry,” she says.

She also added that women must be offered attractive pay packages. “Equal pay for equal work done might encourage more women to join the travel trade,” says Shagufta.

“When women rejoin the workplace after taking a maternity break, they don’t get as many attractive offers. This needs to change,” she says.

Ritushri Dhankher and Reem Khokhar left their cushy jobs in travel trade to become entrepreneurs. Today, they are the founders and directors of a company called Elan, which represents Taiwan Tourism Bureau in India. The enterprising duo believes that women are clearly the dominant consumers and sellers of travel, and yet their numbers aren’t reflected in the highest decision-making positions in the industry.

“Several factors appear to have been holding women back from the top spots in travel, ranging from culturally ingrained gender dynamics to the challenges of balancing work and family life. We all need to make a conscious effort to nurture success among women in the travel and tourism sector,” the duo said.

To excel in travel trade, women must focus on self-improvement. This means, besides their regular full-time job, keeping abreast of the latest developments in the industry and honing their skills in networking, digital marketing, and creative storytelling will help propel their career forward.

Women leaders in the travel sector have proven themselves by offering great thoughts, strategies, and plans to progress their businesses. We should encourage more women to achieve top positions and offer skill development programme to value workforce diversity. – Heena Akhtar, cofounder, TripXoXo

More opportunities than obstacles: Nalini Gupta

The 8th edition of Global Economic Summit by World Tarde Centre, which focused on ‘Services: Enabler of Growth for Trade and Industry,’ felicitated Nalini Gupta, Head of Costa Cruises in India, for her outstanding contribution in promoting the cruise tourism in India and encouraging the spirit of women achievers on the occasion of International Women’s Day. In a  tête-à-tête with Voyager’s World, she talks about opportunities and challenges.

What steps must be taken to attract more women into travel trade?
Travel companies should expose women to various spheres of the business to give them the ability to find a niche which works for them. There should be training institutes which girls can attend after their graduation which can inspire and assist them in deciding if they wish to enter the tourism industry.

As the travel sector is working to expand its gender equality status, training the female staff, restructuring their pay scale, offering flexible working hours and providing a safe work environment will definitely encourage more women to be a part of this industry.

What are the key challenges of being a woman in travel trade?
There are various factors that are holding women back from the top positions in the travel sector, extending from socially created gender dynamics to the task of balancing work and family life but with technology many women are able to freelance and also work from home. 

Women in the travel and tourism sector know that their business is visible to trends like political enhancements, economic changes, health, and other situations. Some circumstances are out of control for women in the travel trade industry and there might be a need to respond to such situations. The alertness of current challenges can assist women to prepare for subsequent challenges and to pursue a way out to overcome the situations.

Have you personally taken steps to empower women in the industry? If yes, please elaborate?
I have been in this industry for more than 4 decades and have consciously recruited women in the team as they are hardworking, committed and are able to connect well with people. I have empowered them by giving them responsible assignments with the required briefing and tools to perform well in those tasks. This, in turn, has helped them build their self-confidence, gain financial independence and become a good team player.  Needless to add, we have always ensured the staff has a safe environment in their working life so that they and their families feel secure with them working outside of their respective homes.

How do you encourage your women staff?
The young women in this sector possess immense potential and are ready with solutions and strategies to expand the travel business. We encourage our women employees by creating a better and safe working environment. We support their thought process which boosts their confidence and inspire them to be the next budding leaders in the industry. More importantly, based on their potential, we expand their roles and job functions to enable them to capitalize on their strengths.

What keeps you going on a bad day?
In this industry, no single day is the same. There are challenges sometimes which are not in one’s control.  I think the best way is to calmly do one’s best. Efforts which are sincere and honest will always get the required understanding and helps dilute the impact and find a solution to the problem. I personally think there is a long way to go and one challenge or problem could not dampen your futuristic approach of achieving greater success.

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