Women's rights

Women make up a large part of the tourism labour market, and are especially likely to occupy low paid positions. Inequality in wages and career opportunities for women and men is common. Challenges and risks for women in the tourism sector mostly concern low-status work, gender stereotyping and inequality in opportunities. These issues are similar across the globe – in destination countries as well as where tour operators are based.

Even though women outnumber men in the global tourism labour market, representing more than half of the workforce in travel agencies and tour and accommodation services, they are significantly under-represented in senior and executive positions as well as boards of tourism businesses. Women make up a high proportion of lower-skilled and poorly paid areas of the tourism industry and are more often employed in part-time and temporary jobs than men. This segregation of women in the tourism labour market negatively impacts their ability to participate in decision making processes and be promoted.

Women earn significantly less than their male counterparts in the tourism and hospitality sector at an operational level. According to EU reports, the overall average wage difference in the EU-27 in the tourism sector was around 18% in 2014.

Sun, sand and ceilings: Women in Tourism and Hospitality boardrooms

According to a survey by Equality in Tourism, which was published in 2018 and covers 53 tourism companies, women made up 23% of board members in the assessed companies. The survey is based on data made publicly available on the company websites or on relevant business communication portals.  Companies include tour operators, airlines and cruise ships, hotel groups, international professional associations, and certification bodies. The report identifies several root causes for gender inequality in the tourism and hospitality sector:

  • Preconceptions and gender bias;
  • Dominant masculine organisational culture;
  • Lack of commitment and determination at top management level to instigate and implement change;
  • Lack of work/life balance; and
  • Lack of role models in senior positions and informal promotion procedures.

The city of Reykjavík undertook a range of measures to sustain gender mainstreaming in the tourism sector, among which was an analysis of the city’s website “Better Reykjavík” from a gender perspective and the awarding of grants for culture and tourism from a gender perspective.  

Based on a complaint by the Workers’ Commissions Union, the Canarian Superior Court of Justice annulled productivity bonuses received by staff at the Costa Adeje Gran Hotel S.L from 2012 – 2015 due to gender discrimination. The bonus received by chambermaids, an all women workforce, was significantly lower than that received by other staff categories of the same professional level, which mostly consisted of male employees.

The case is highlighted in the Gender Dimensions in Tourism Work report by Alba Sud (2018). The report focuses on several cases and key issues for the gender debate in tourism, such as informal work, precarious work, criteria for the selection of the labour force, wage gap, and sexual harassment at work, and presents conclusions and recommendations on the integration of a gender approach in tourism analysis.  

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Take action

Policy and process

  • Include a commitment to gender equality/equal opportunities in hiring in personnel strategy and Code of Conduct.
  • Ensure fair labour conditions and fair wages at your company, as well as the promotion of women to executive positions.
  • Take a gender perspective in employment policies, placing emphasis on salary gaps, sexual abuse and harassment by colleagues and tourists, and fostering female workers’ participation and decision-making.

Training and capacity building

  • Institutionalize training aimed at combating and overcoming gender stereotypes in the work force.

Find more information on potential measures to take on the "take action" site. 

Learn more

Find more information in the Resource Centre.