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Regenerative Tourism Needs Women In Leadership To Activate Solutions For Change Highly visible women leaders not only enhance female status within a society, but they also are known to shift policymaking toward female interests.

By Aradhana Khowala Edited by Aby Thomas

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The global tourism industry stands at a crossroads, facing the urgent need for transformation. As we navigate environmental challenges, social inequities, and cultural preservation, regenerative practices offer a new vision for tourism- a vision that goes "beyond" sustainability, and fosters holistic regeneration. A passionate commitment to a shared, higher purpose is at the core of the regenerative agenda in tourism. One that enhances the natural, cultural and social capital of a destination to create net positive benefits for people and the planet.

Much of the focus of regenerative tourism thus far has been on reducing carbon emissions and environmental impact, but real progress requires solutions that also incorporate social impact, and, in particular, gender equity into the solution. While women in leadership and regenerative tourism may seem like unrelated issues, research shows that women are uniquely positioned to lead the fight for sustainability, and that they are crucial to make the leap to being restorative, reparative, and regenerative as an industry.

Regenerative tourism is built on the principle that actions in one area can have ripple effects throughout the entire system. This is why women in leadership and policies that emphasize gender parity can have positive, outsize effects, and accelerate the progress towards achieving the net positive development. Research from World Bank shows how empowering women in tourism can lead to a greater emphasis on preserving local cultures and traditions, as women often play a central role in passing down cultural knowledge and practices to future generations. Women also possess instinctively more responsible attitudes towards climate change, and they also have greater interest in protecting the environment as they are disproportionately impacted by the challenges. In many destinations, women also tend to be first responders to natural disasters, and they contribute to the recovery by addressing the early rallying needs of their families and community.

Now, empowering women is not only one of the United Nations' (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in itself (i.e. SDG 5: Gender Equality), but it's also a cross-cutting theme that influences the success of other goals. In fact, the UN has placed gender equality as central to all the SDGs, such that if it's not achieved, the implementation of all the goals will be compromised.

Nonetheless, women continue to be hugely underrepresented in the C-suite and on boards, despite the fact that gender equality is critical for companies and industries to succeed in an increasingly competitive landscape. A study by the Credit Suisse Research Institute found that companies with more women on their boards showed higher levels of sustainability performance. Another study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics analyzed 21,980 companies globally, and it found that firms with more women in top leadership positions were more likely to have better environmental, social, and governance (ESG) performance.

Related: Unpacking The Dreamhouse: Where Barbie's World Meets Entrepreneurial Gold

Unfortunately, tourism trails many sectors when it comes to women in leadership. In-house research from a study conducted by my company, Aptamind Partners, which was published earlier this year, revealed that the leisure industry is facing a gender diversity crisis in leadership, with only 7% of the top CEO and Chair spots held by women. We need to move the needle on the number of women in leadership in tourism to make real progress on sustainability.

Data is key to build a business case, and make strategy actionable. Today, a persistent gender data gap limits many organizations' ability to disaggregate data by gender, making it impossible to identify and work on these interconnected challenges. And we need very specific data on the intersection of social and environmental sustainability- as an example, as much as we know that climate change affects women more, unless we have gender segregated data, we can't develop evidence-backed solutions to address these issues.

Regenerative tourism can only be achieved by embracing new leadership paradigms, and more inclusive acting principles. It involves a shift in mindset from exploitation to stewardship, from short-term gain to long-term flourishing, and emphasizes a transformative approach to leadership that prioritizes sustainability, community well-being, and ecosystem restoration. While many tourism leaders might want to make a difference on issues of diversity, there is little concrete change on the ground. Psychologically, we need to shift out of the mindset that "things need to change," to asking, "what can I do differently." Plus, we need to make a closer link to how female leadership can improve the regenerative agenda if we wish to scale our efforts quickly.

The UN released a report that measures female empowerment and gender parity in 114 countries, which noted that only 1% of women in the world live in a place that scores "high" on both measures. More than 90% live in places where the gaps in both are "large." The new world order thus seeks a giant leap for mankind where women are catalysts to positive change.

Creating a radical shift in women's empowerment and leadership requires sustained effort, perseverance, and a willingness to challenge ingrained biases and systems. We know that when women join the C-suite, they don't just bring new perspectives- they actually shift how the C-suite thinks. Highly visible women leaders not only enhance female status within a society, but they also are known to shift policymaking toward female interests.

If we want a sector with a more positive footprint on the environment and society, we need bold organizations that are committed to ensure women and girls have the opportunity to make decisions, control resources, and reach their full potential. Advancing equality in the workplace -and in society- is thus a critical success factor to achieve that regenerative agenda.

Related: Here's How Gender-Balanced Organizations Can Drive Success In The Middle East's Business Landscape

Aradhana Khowala

Founder and CEO, Aptamind Partners

Aradhana Khowala is the founder and CEO of Aptamind Partners, a United Kingdom-based private client advisory firm that helps ambitious leaders in governments, emerging destinations, public and private sector firms and increasingly social-sector organizations understand the impact of tourism as a change agent. She is also a Board Member of Elaf Group (SEDCO Holding) and the World Tourism Forum in Lucerne, Switzerland, as well as the Chair of the Group Advisory Board for Red Sea Global in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. 
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