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IWD V: While women hold majority of workforce, the ratio does not yet fit for C-suite – Neliswa Nkani, Hub Head – MEISEA, South African Tourism

Women have accomplished incredible benchmarks for decades, not just in the domain of travel and tourism, but in the verticals of economic, political and social contributions at the same time. The travel and tourism sector in particular is bestowed with 54% women representation across the globe, although there remain some aspects where the women-kind is still on the lookout to set a footprint with excellence.

On International Women’s Day, T3 takes the opportunity to draw a spotlight on our women readers from cross-section of the industry. Neliswa Nkani, Hub Head – MEISEA, South African Tourism, shares her views with T3.

What is your opinion regarding the presence of an effective mechanism for monitoring and assessment of the progress made by women in the tourism domain?

Over the past few years, we have witnessed the undertaking of several significant initiatives with regard to the efficient allocation of resources and reducing inequality globally. Adoption of such schemes in the context of gender disparity can never be overlooked due to its contribution towards the society and steps like these should always be applauded.

While these measures are implemented with good intent it is also important to understand their true impact in the real world. Monitoring their progress on the ground level can help us gain beneficial insights into how well they fare and can be modified based on their effectiveness.

India’s G20 Presidency also aims to serve as an opportunity to showcase women-led development, with our Hon’ble PM Modi noting: “We have to maintain priority on women-led development even in our G-20 agenda”. What is your opinion?

It is encouraging to see India supporting and prioritising the development of women. India being the world’s largest democracy leads by example and this step will undoubtedly inspire other countries to follow suit. Development of women is imperative and a key pillar for any economy, it has the potential to increase a country’s productivity by adding more skilled labour to the workforce and fostering job creation.

Women today play a wide range of roles in society, they are leaders, innovators, entrepreneurs, and teachers. Their efforts also contribute towards empowering communities. Whether it is providing income opportunities to other women, mentoring and encouraging the next generation of female leaders, serving as role models to budding entrepreneurs, or simply being socially responsible – there is no doubt that women’s representation across industries can change the country for the better

Where are we lacking in terms of initiatives, skill development and training, and implementation of women empowerment activities by industry?

I have been in the tourism industry for over two decades and and can only share my thoughts based on my personal experiences. Firstly, I have been extremely fortunate to have worked with some of the best individuals in the industry – who went past any gender biases and treated me like a professional. There is perhaps no other sector that has contributed to new job opportunities for women, as much as tourism. As an industry, we have fared well in the last few years but there is still a long way to go until the full potential of women in the tourism industry is realised. While women make up the majority of the travel and tourism workforce, the ratio does not yet fit when it comes to the C-suite.

Such challenges exist in most industries, and instead of being demotivating, they should be viewed as building blocks to success. However, to overcome these challenges easier, we can focus on soft skill training for women, as well as gender equality training across the sector which will go a long way towards dissolving misplaced prejudices. Additionally, we can take steps to recognise and empower women to assume leadership positions that will help create environments for them to perform under equally competitive conditions. Lastly, for maximum impact, gender equality strategies in any sector must be supported by institutional and budgetary support.

What are the factors that create hindrances to a healthy ecosystem for women entrepreneurs in tourism?

Tourism is one of the fastest-growing industries across the globe and has one of the highest female representations. It is an essential sector for driving key economic development whilst also creating jobs. There is no denying that women were looked at as second-class citizens for most of history. We have lots of catching up to do! And that starts with acknowledging needs, taking notes while listening, and implementing effective changes. According to me, the greatest hurdle is fear; cause in the end, it is the only thing that holds us back. I believe that most challenges can be overcome by logical and creative thinking and basic common sense. I write down my goal – however unrealistic it seems at the time – and then detail out practical steps to get there. Some risks may be greater than others, but all things that matter usually come at a cost. So, step away from fear – be fearless. At the end of the day, fear is nothing but the unknown.

What is your message for budding women entrepreneurs in the travel & tourism domain?

I feel blessed that I had the privilege of turning my passion for travel into my profession. When I started my professional journey, I could not have anticipated that I would have the chance to be at the forefront of promoting my home country, South Africa, as a travel destination. My only advice would be to never give up on your dreams, no matter how far-fetched they may seem. People may tell you that it will not be possible or that you are not good enough. However, if you believe in yourself and have a dream, no one else should be powerful enough to stop you or slow down your journey. Keep going, always.






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