Could enterprising with purpose be the answer to women’s empowerment in travel and tourism?

Could enterprising with purpose be the answer to women’s empowerment in travel and tourism?

Women-Led Enterprises Are Growing

Enterprising is a growing sector of the global economy. In some cases such as the USA, women’s enterprising is the fastest growing sector of the economy and female owned businesses already account for 30% of total businesses according to Prowess. Statistics differ considerably depending on where you look, both in terms of sources and of geography, for example: in the UK, only 18% of businesses are women led, whilst in Africa overall the figure sits at 53% according to the World Bank. RBS has calculated that boosting female entrepreneurship could deliver approximately £60bn extra to the UK economy (Anne McPherson, Guardian April 2013). For this as well as many other reasons it is true that female entrepreneurship is getting close to the top of governments agendas.

As I speak to women around the world and travel to different locations to run events at shows such as ATM and WTM Africa, I realise that even in those places where women are culturally discouraged from taking up corporate jobs, entrepreneurship is a viable option. Technology has made it so that with a laptop and a good Wi-Fi connection everyone has the potential to be an entrepreneur!


Women and Social Enterprises 

Even more interesting to me is the fact that women often default to entrepreneurship as a way to do something they are passionate about but can’t do elsewhere. By this I mean something that provides fulfilment, meaning and purpose as well as profit. This is where we enter a relatively new world of social enterprising, impact business or social business which increasingly appears to be making a difference to women.

  • According to Prowess, for the UK as a whole, women are more likely than men to be involved with a socially orientated start-up [5.8% of women compared to 4.9% of men] (Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Focus on Social Entrepreneurs, GEM 2004)
  • Women are more likely than men to think that social, ethical and environmental considerations in business are important. (59% compared with 48%) (A Survey of Social Enterprise Across the UK, DTi, 2005)
  • The gender gap for social entrepreneurship activity is far narrower than for mainstream enterprise activity (ibid Prowess/GEM 2006)
  • 44% of women-led SMEs considered themselves to be a social enterprise, compared to 26% of all SMEs. However, only 9% of women-led SMEs (and 7% of all SMEs) conform to the BIS definition of a social enterprise (‘BIS Small Business Survey 2010: Women-led business boost’ Department for Business Innovation and Skills, 2011)

Recent work from the British Council also shows that social enterprise is often a way to increase equality and women rights, and that:

  • 75 per cent of women interviewed said starting a social enterprise had given them an increased sense of self-worth;
  • 56 per cent said it had made them more able to make their own choices; and
  • 64 per cent reported increased confidence.


Social Enterprises in Travel & Tourism

So, what is the situation for social impact businesses in Travel & Tourism? Bearing in mind that social enterprises are a specific UK legal entity, it is still possible to identify enterprises worldwide that at their heart have a social mission. As I was researching for this blog I have found evidence of many, owned by women and men alike.

One of the most famous is G Adventures, owned by entrepreneur Bruce Poon Tip who in 2003 set up their foundation, the Planeterra Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to ensuring communities touched by tourism benefit from the opportunities it provides. They have a focus on supporting rural and indigenous communities, women and at-risk youth.

Last February, The Meaningful Travel Map of Jordan was released as part of the Tourism Cares with the Jordan Tourism Board, offering twelve experiences by a nonprofit organization or social enterprise that, in addition to providing a quality cultural experience for travelers, also has a program for directly benefiting a disadvantaged population.

The potential of these enterprises for women is illustrated in the story of Halima Al Qa’aydeh, who started with the Bani Hamida Women’s Weaving Project as a volunteer, rose to supervisor and project manager, and now is one of six women elected in municipal elections. Another is Eisa, a hiking guide who, since the 2017 launch of the Jordan Trail, has seen business boom – so much so that he has added a second floor to his home to host guests. Um Khalid has a longer story: baker for the Feynan Ecolodge since its founding, tourism has allowed her to buy solar panels, electrify her goat hair tent and purchase a washing machine.


Other socially minded enterprises I have encountered (also thanks to this blog include:

  • that offers long-term unemployed people access to a unique hospitality training programme and a chance to re-integrate into the economy.
  •, which makes socially-conscious travel easy, fun, and accessible to all by providing an online platform through which you can book tours. Organisations and not-for-profits register with the site and their tours are vetted to ensure they meet social and environmental criteria, giving travellers peace of mind.
  • Unseen Tours isa social enterprise working with the homeless, ex-homeless and vulnerably-housed Londoners to provide tours of the city with a difference. It evolved from the inspiring work of The Sock Mob, a volunteer network that engages with men and women living on the streets of London.


Social impact businesses are certainly on the rise in Travel & Tourism and for good reasons. It is possible to pursue your passion, run a successful business and at the same time impact positively and benefit local communities. Women in Travel is leading by example having been set up as a social enterprise in January 2017. We know from talking to hundreds of women in the UK and internationally that the combination of passion, purpose and profit is very attractive to female entrepreneurs. We hope to encourage many of you to take this pathway and aim to support (female) social entrepreneurship in industry going forward.

Tagged .

Alessandra is founder of social enterprise Women in Travel CIC which she launched in January 2017 to provide communities in key regions (for example UK, Middle East, Africa and Latin America) with a sustainable livelihood by enabling women to become economically independent through entrepreneurship and a thriving career in the travel and tourism industry. Alessandra is also Chief Mentor & Consultant at Everyday Mentor, where she provides mentoring, coaching and consulting services to a range of clients in the commercial and public sector. Alessandra also collaborates with a number of Universities, including Hertfordshire, Normandy and Surrey. Alessandra is passionate about gender in tourism and has written and spoken extensively on the subject over the last 12 years, including at the United Nations World Tourism Day. She is well known as co-founder of Shine People and Places – a boutique outfit dedicate to supporting women in the workplace - and The Shine Awards for Women Achievements in Travel Tourism Hospitality and Events, which she ran between 2004 and 2010 before Sector Skills Council People 1st took them over. Prior to Shine Alessandra worked at KPMG, where she built the Travel & Tourism division, and the World Travel and Tourism Council. Alessandra has an executive MBA from the University of Ediburgh/Grande Ecole Pons combined; she is a qualified coach/mentor for performance in the workplace and she is a member of several industry bodies including AWTE and the UK Tourism Society.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *