Look back through the encyclopedia of travel, and you’ll see a theme reflected throughout history: reaching from the odysseys of ancient Hellenic heroes, European conquistadores, and ‘New World’ settlers to the origins of modern aircraft and package holidays.
These movements were all helmed disproportionately by men, namely white men, whose voices overwhelmingly saturate society even today — and the travel industry is just one area where this disparity comes into play. With male-oriented stories, ideas, and perspectives dominating the majority of the space as they do, it perpetuates a view of the world steeped in patriarchal bias and privilege. But more and more, this imbalance is being challenged.
Female representation across senior roles within the sector is gradually increasing. Whilst the numbers may still need much improvement, they do provide proof of a revolution unfolding, telling of incredible female changemakers switching up the narrative with inspirational initiatives focused around travel, culture, global citizenship, and community. We’re sharing just a small percentage of some of these today in honor of Women’s History Month and the work that must continue hereafter.
1. Lola Akinmade Åkerström and Sara Mansouri, co-founders of Local Purse
Who doesn’t enjoy perusing markets when they go away, or being shown around new places by people who know them best? With Local Purse, you can relive these seemingly distant memories from a safe distance whilst ethically supporting those affected by the recent global slump in tourism.
“When the pandemic hit, we all felt it emotionally and financially,” Local Purse co-founders Lola and Sara shared with Matador Network. “We wanted to find a way to connect travelers who can no longer travel freely with experienced local guides who have lost their jobs and local artisans who have lost their revenue. So, we created Local Purse as the solution to address all three problems.”
Through a combination of live-video shopping experiences and virtual tours, Local Purse unites vendors and travel-lovers from across the globe in a mutually beneficial exchange. By teaming up with the responsible travel experts at Intrepid Travel, Local Purse has unlocked the doors for its users to learn about and purchase items like beautiful Berber rugs and traditional Moroccan spices, as well as the opportunity to virtually explore Marrakech.
With Lola’s credentials as a creative entrepreneur, acclaimed travel photographer, and author, and Sara’s background in business coaching and facilitation, together they have developed a crucial enterprise built upon the values of human connection, outreach, and the preservation of cultural practices.
2. Yulia Denisyuk, founder of Genius Womxn
Growing up in Kazakhstan and Estonia, Yulia was interested in travel at an early age and dreamed of pursuing a creative career. But, after moving to the US in her teens, she squashed her true passions and instead followed a path she thought would lead to a more typical image of success: joining the navy, getting an MBA, and then becoming a corporate brand manager.
It was only a matter of time before Yulia needed change, and she left that lifestyle behind to finally begin chasing her dream. Nowadays, she is an award-winning travel photographer and writer with clips in AFAR and BBC Travel, among other publications.
In 2020, she founded Genius Womxn, an online community for aspiring travel media creators with its own membership program and podcast: “I wanted other womxn to experience the support of a community as they enter this industry, something I was looking for myself — and couldn’t find — when I was starting on this path,” Yulia explained. “There isn’t a lot of knowledge-sharing, guidance, and uplifting support in this industry, and we aim to change this status quo. I want more womxn to get confident, use their voice, and go after their creative dreams because when womxn are bold and empowered to fulfill their beautiful potential, our whole world — from our immediate circles to our larger communities — benefits as a result.”
3. Evita Robinson, founder and CEO of NOMADNESS Travel Tribe
From being the most recent cover star of Unearth Women to one of NGT India’s Visionary Women Travelers, Evita has well and truly grabbed the travel industry by the cojones since forming the NOMADNESS Travel Tribe 10 years ago. Launched to be both a digital and physical hangout for Black travelers to find one another — the first network of its kind — NOMADNESS began with only 100 dedicated members in its first year. In 2021, they now have over 26,000; a total that just keeps on growing.
Upon asking Evita about the vision behind starting NOMADNESS, she replied: “I was a three-time expat; living in Japan, Thailand, and France. I didn’t see a lot of travelers who looked like me, or who shared my experiences, so I decided to create a space for us to connect…”
This philosophy of embodying the change she wanted to see in the world is something that has always guided Evita’s work, from the very inception of NOMADNESS to the evolution of Audacity Fest, a conference for travelers of color and their allies: “I want my legacy to be that of an organizer and a leader who led her community through service and compassion; someone who completely changed an industry for the better and more inclusive, forever — not just in this moment.”
4. Alina Rudya, founder of Bell Collective
Berlin-based badass and professional photographer Alina has worked with some pretty big names across the travel and lifestyle niche, from tourism boards to clothing brands. In 2017, she founded Bell Collective, an all-female group of creators made up of fellow photographers, videographers, and explorers.
“The whole idea behind Bell Collective is to use visual storytelling to change stereotypes about female travel and creative choices. There are so many ways to show travel and there are so many ways to take pictures. There is no one female gaze since we are all different and see the world differently as photographers and creators,” Alina shared with us. “I founded Bell Collective because I didn’t feel that creative and active women on social media are represented enough.”
Creating a home for individual artists to join forces on the basis of shared creativity is clearly working, as Bell Collective has secured several impressive commissions, published their own photography book, and recorded a collection of interviews with amazing women in the field. On Instagram, they’ve amassed a following of over 10K and invite users to post under #bellcoll so that their work has the chance to be featured.
When asked about her future goal for Bell Collective, Alina continued, “to inspire a new generation of young female creators and adventurers through media, lectures, workshops, and our work.” We say amen to that.
Keep up with Bell Collective on Instagram.
5. Kelley Louise, founder and executive director of Impact Travel Alliance
If there is anything the last 12 months have taught us about the way we travel, it’s that there are more conscious methods to do so once we can get back out there again. Taking the reins on educating travelers about these more responsible habits is Impact Travel Alliance (ITA), a community with operations in six continents and a non-profit organization “aimed at improving the world through travel”.
At the forefront of this journey towards enhanced social and ecological awareness is ITA’s founder, Kelley: “I wanted to explore the intersection of travel and sustainability, and go beyond the traditional narrative that often limits impactful travel to niches like ecotourism and voluntourism,” she outlined. “Our content is designed to help travelers explore in a way that has a positive impact on local communities and our earth; no matter your travel style, budget or destination.”
Kelley’s ethos has steered Impact Travel Alliance to vast international growth and momentum. They currently have 30 different chapters all over the world and have presented more than 400 events since starting out. But their progress won’t stop there, and they are now encouraging people to sign up for a new series of challenges, where they can “go beyond learning about sustainable travel and actively participate in advocating for a more impactful industry.” The first challenge, geared towards supporting diverse-owned businesses, is still ongoing.
6. Alessandra Alonso, founder and CEO of Women in Travel CIC
When Alessandra launched Women in Travel in 2014, she committed to helping women find employment, training, and entrepreneurial possibilities within the travel, tourism, and hospitality space. Leveraging her notable experience and the potential of more inclusive thinking, Alessandra pledged herself to the cause of achieving better gender diversity across the sector, establishing Women in Travel as a social enterprise to create effective, enduring change.
Whilst speaking to us about the continued need for ideas like this, Alessandra emphasized that “women continue to be underrepresented and often marginalized across the economy, yet women are key to pandemic recovery as women lead the well-being of communities and the education of next generations.” She firmly believes that by getting women more seats at the table, the capacity for both individual and societal progress is significant.
“In 2020, Women in Travel CIC supported over 150 women who would have otherwise been invisible or lost to the travel and tourism industry. We continue to challenge stereotypes to ensure women’s talent and skills can fully contribute to the rebirth of the sector, and to increase opportunities in the workplace and across the sector for women.”
To mark Women’s History Month this year, Alessandra and her team have put together a program of exciting, progressive initiatives to be announced throughout March, with more information available on their website.
7. Karthika Gupta, founder of CulturallyOurs
India-born, US-based writer and photographer Karthika decided to knit together her passions for culture and storytelling by forming CulturallyOurs, a multi-layered platform whose purpose is to nurture connections and dissolve barriers. Taking inspiration from her own travels and the people she has met along the way, Karthika’s project comprises a podcast series, an online journal, and curated retreats allowing her audience to “collectively explore, showcase and celebrate lifestyle, food, art, travel and culture from around the world.”
In this generational age, we all appear to be more connected than ever thanks to technology and digital socializing. But Karthika perceives this to be a fiction, pointing out that “more and more people have admitted to feeling isolated, misunderstood, and alone. Even in a crowd, we often feel like we don’t know anyone or, worse yet, belong. Emotive, heartfelt conversations get lost in a sea of texts, emails and swipes.”
So, Karthika saw where she could add value and created a tonic to these issues: “CulturallyOurs exists to bridge that gap. It is a space to share stories and get connected to people from different parts of the world to explore cultural diversity without prejudice, religious bias or a political agenda. When we are given an opportunity to share our story and offer our unique perspective, we feel welcome, included, heard and appreciated.”
8. Fernanda Silveira, founder and CEO of Wanderher
Any woman who has ever traveled solo would likely be a millionaire if they had a dollar for every occasion that they were warned against its dangers — dangers often sensationalized to try and confine them to a very specific box. The narrative around solo female travel is rife with fear-mongering and oppression, so thank goodness for initiatives like Wanderher that are bringing the focus back to autonomy and a more positive, motivational approach.
Fernanda launched Wanderher in 2017 whilst enrolled at the Founder Institute, a renowned start-up accelerator program. Linking up solo women both prior to and during their adventures, Fernanda’s brainchild uses geolocation and correlations in common interests to identify compatible travelers. Through sharing helpful resources and inspiring messages, opening up their blog to guest contributors, and profiling intrepid women on social media, Wanderher aims to demystify the planning and practice of traveling solo through a female lens.
Having visited over 30 countries and lived in four of them, Fernanda is a keen traveler herself. She said, “Wanderher was created to connect all solo female travelers — regardless of age, race or ethnicity — so that they feel supported and empowered on their journey. Whether you’re traveling for adventure, to heal your heart, or even to relocate and start a new life, we want you to know there is a whole community out here to cheer you on.”