Women have always been an integral part of the tourism domain. Addressing the need of acknowledging the contribution of Women, the Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) initiated the formation of WITT – Women in TAAl and Tourism, in 2021. The core objective behind this was to involve “Women in Travel Tourism & Hospitality” to join hands to empower the women of India to become entrepreneurs. The maiden conference organised by Women in TAAI & Tourism (WITT) at Le Meridien New Delhi called for a cultural shift in the society to enable women empowerment.
Bettiah Lokesh, Secretary-General of TAAI, in his welcome address, enunciated a three-step process to aid women empowerment in tourism – promote women in entrepreneurship, encourage their participation, and generate accurate evidence-based gender policies.
Commencing the panel discussion, Mayal vouched for the importance of ‘Weaving Tales’ in tourism, “You have to be a storyteller to sell any dream, and that is what we as travel agents need to deliver.”
Jyoti Mayal, the second woman president in 75 years of TAAI’s inception, highlighted the dearth of women leaders in the tourism and hospitality industry. Quoting a study by World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), Mayal shared the female share of employment in the tourism industry to be only 12.1%, and their earnings are 14.7% less than their male counterparts. She stressed the need for coexistence and interdependency between men and women to actively work and ensure a level playing field for both sexes.
She said the objective of setting up WITT is to play the role of a facilitator to enable and encourage more women to become part of the travel and tourism industry and make them equal contributors and stakeholders in the burgeoning sector. She added that WITT aims to leverage the Indian travel tourism and hospitality industry to empower women with the opportunity to fulfill their economic and individual potential while growing the sector. ‘This sector has a huge value chain & an unmeasurable deliverance scope, which we all definitely need to invest in. This is the first “Mission with A Vision” & we intend to hold many such events on a similar platform.
While on the global level 52% of the total workforce in the tourism sector are women, they earn nearly 15% less as compared to men. She said that such glaring gaps needed to be bridged.
Jyoti Mayal, the President of TAAl is also the Chairperson of the Tourism & Hospitality Skill Council (THSC), and hence the conclave is being organized under her leadership utilizing the strengths of both TAAl & THSC to focus on Tourism and the Skilling perspective.
Speaking about WITT and her long-term vision for women in rural and urban areas working in conjunction, Mayal said, “We need to come up with creative concepts such as maybe a TAAI hawker street or TAAI crafts in all the cities we get the opportunity to and where we can work together with Incredible India to say how different avenues can be created in tourism going further. It’s not only about working in offices, but it is about working beyond offices.”
G Kamala Vardhana Rao, Director General, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, shared stories from ancient Indian texts touching upon the suffering women have had to face across millennia. He urged everyone to uptake responsibility and stem injustice against women. He reminded the audience of how India is the only country to address its nation as ‘Mother India’. Underlining the need for education as a catalyst to eradicate discrimination against women, Rao spoke highly of PM Modi’s initiative – Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao. “This is not an ordinary slogan, it is a very big slogan that society has to take very seriously going forward” he added. He explained further the steps being taken by the government for the skill development of women, “We are coming up with a new tourism policy in which we have a chapter on skill development through our ministries.”
Rupinder Brar, ADG Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, encouraged women to become independent and lead the movement to bring a paradigm shift. “It’s not always that you need to wait for a man to open the door for you to walk into a room. Why would you not open the door yourself as a woman?” Brar asked effectively.
She added that the safety and security of women is the key issue in the country which has let the country down and showed it in poor light in prestigious global rankings. She said that the safety and security of women and sanitation are major concerns for the country and both negatively impact the image of the country as a destination.
She called for comprehensive capacity-building programmes at various levels to bring women forward. She explained various initiatives being planned and executed by the ministry of tourism in collaboration with other departments of the government, especially the Ministry of Home, on the safety and security front and the Ministry of Minority Affairs for setting up craft villages for empowerment of women in the country. Brar underscored the 500 Vishwakarma villages overflowing with skilled artisans. These villages have been identified by the government for promoting rural craftsmanship, capacity building, and women empowerment.
Cultural Activist Navina Jafa highlighted how women in rural areas are unable to express their stories being confined to their homes, “The women in their ecologies inside their homes – one of the biggest factors is the lack of content and communication.” She insisted on helping rural women develop a sense of expression and embracing womanhood”.
Jahnabi Phookan, past President of FICCI FLO, and an entrepreneur in Tourism and Textiles from the North East said women who have reached higher positions in society should lead from the front and bring the desired change. She addressed the need for stronger incubation and mentoring programmes by women both in the formal and informal sectors.
The second-panel discussion, ‘Creating Your Sunshine’ discussed skilling and encouraging women to take leadership roles. “I feel we women hold ourselves back,” said Nandita Kanchan, Commissioner of Income Tax, Delhi. Talking about women’s general mindset of ‘family first’ and turning down important roles and opportunities, Kanchan added “You have to seize every opportunity that comes your way. Women generally think in terms of family first and as mothers we consider ourselves more responsible than the fathers”. As important as talent is to a woman’s success, it’s equally important to nurture the talent. Sonia Bharwani, GM – Learning & OD, VFS Global, shared her desire to do away with the one shoe fits all approach. “In today’s world everyone is differently talented and has their innate abilities, therefore, education has to move away from the cookie-cutter approach and look at nurturing the talent by relooking at the system of education.”
Praveen Kumar, Former Secretary, Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE), shared the introduction of flexible training models for lower-middle-class women who manage household activities and may not have enough time to learn new skills. Kumar exclaimed the importance of inculcating a sense of security within. He said, “Gender sensitization committee has a proactive role and gives confidence to women that they have someone to go to immediately in case of any problems.”
Other speakers a the conclave included Shazia Ilmi, anchor turned politician, Navina Jaffa, Cultural Activist and dancer, Aarti Manocha, Wedding Planner, Aditi Malik, Founder Director, Arohan Talent Solutions, Sanjay Bose, Executive Vice President and Head HR ITC Hotels.