Latest News

Back to Latest News back


ATTA explains the influence and impact of women in adventure travel

ATTA explains the influence and impact of women in adventure travel
March 5, 2022

A new report released by Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), in partnership with Switzerland Tourism, describes the findings of a 2022 survey on women in adventure travel - relating to women employees, women travellers, and women in local communities.

The second in a series from ATTA and Switzerland Tourism, the report considers how the adventure travel industry can use current interruption in travel to reassess their impact on the world around them and put sustainability first.

Describing what it says is ”a critical moment for women in adventure travel", The Influence and Impact of Women in Adventure Travel report discusses what roles are held by women at adventure businesses, the types of benefits offered to employees to support a work-life balance and encourage leadership development, what adventure travel businesses are doing to serve the needs of women travellers, and learn how the adventure travel industry might be proactive about identifying and supporting pathways to success for women.

A few key findings from survey respondents in the adventure travel industry include:

  • The percentage of board members identifying as women (34%), and the percentage of boards that have at least one woman (74%) have both decreased in the past five years.
  • Only 33% of companies with 2021 revenue of $5-10 million are led by women, and a slim 11% of companies with 2021 revenue over $10 million have a female chief executive/top leader.
  • 35% of respondents have experienced sexual harassment or assault at work by a coworker. 30% have experienced sexual harassment or assault at work by a client or guest.
  • Overall, respondents were pleased with the level of equality in their own organisations. However, many view the adventure tourism industry and the overall tourism industry as only being “somewhat equal” in opportunities for men and women.
  • 23% of respondents have personally experienced or witnessed instances of gender bias in their own organisation and 53% have personally experienced or witnessed instances of gender bias in the adventure industry.
  • Women comprise 57% of respondents’ clients on average, showing a clear demand for adventure travel. Products and marketing need to support this demand by listening to what women want and encouraging equity in all areas.
  • Organisations led by women are more likely to be concerned about team culture, product development, project management, and training and development. Male-led organisations are more likely to be concerned about technology.

The report discusses these findings in more detail, and spotlights ATTA member businesses that showcase the dedication and innovation that happens when focusing on women as guides, hosts, and as unique travellers with specific values and needs.

Making Women Leaders and Employees a Priority
Although women comprise more than half of the tourism workforce, and more than half of adventure travellers, they are much less likely to be present at the top levels of organisations.

Only a third of board members are women, and although half of survey respondents’ chief executive s/top leaders are women, they typically run smaller companies.

Only 33% of companies with 2021 revenue of $5 - 10 million are led by women, and a slim 11% of companies with 2021 revenue over $10 million have a female chief executive/top leader.

This means that the largest and most visible organisations in the industry are overwhelmingly led by men, who therefore have more access to resources and more influence. 

Overall, respondents feel their own organisation is quite fair in the areas of professional development opportunities and equal pay, and do not see a large gender bias internally. However, it appears that many people see the wider adventure travel industry and the travel industry as a whole as being quite biased and unequal.

As one survey respondent said, “The industry is equal except in management or positions of power.”

The high prevalence of sexual harassment and assault also has to be called out as a concern for the industry as a whole. Even for organisations that are led by women and employ mostly (or all) women, this is an issue that must be recognized and changed. Sexual harassment and assault is less likely to have occurred in organisations that have a formal mechanism for addressing these situations, but it is unclear if this is due to higher resources in general available to these organisations, a more formal team culture, or some other reason. This topic needs further research and guideline development.

Making Women Travellers a Priority
About 150 years ago, Lucy Walker was the first woman to reach the summit of the Matterhorn. Neither the gloating of men at the time nor the voluminous skirt she had to wear on the climb could stop her. But even today, female climbers and guides are in the minority.

Travellers are obviously an essential part of the adventure tourism industry, particularly women, which make up an average of 57% of respondents’ clients. Many organisations are taking actions to address the specific needs of women travellers, particularly hiring women guides, ensuring proper gear, offering products on trips that women request, and having women-only trips.

Outdoor women represented in advertising and the media are often young, slim, with long hair, and perfectly styled creating a biased assumption of who average women-adventurers are.

Also, many may think that a 28-year-old male would be the average adventure traveller, when in fact it is a 47-year-old female, who wears size 12. These real women want to see themselves portrayed in marketing images, therefore, giving visibility and airtime to as many different types of women as possible plays an important role in creating a more welcoming and supporting travel environment.

Making Women in Local Communities a Priority
Women travellers often want to connect more with local communities, as they have a hunger to hear women’s stories and learn about their lives, to understand the local culture through a woman’s perspective. They want authentic connections with women from other countries through tours led by local women. This leads to opportunities for local suppliers and guides, but needs to be managed carefully. 

The gender gaps discussed throughout this report affect women in local communities serving as hosts to adventure travellers. In many cases, they have been impacted more by COVID-19 than travellers or industry organisations, particularly in underdeveloped tourism destinations and poorer countries. Women generally struggle more in these countries as they often have less access to capital and are paid considerably less than men.

A survey respondent said, “I’ve been leading an adventure tour operator for more than 20 years. I work very hard to train women adventure guides, because a high percentage of the guides still now, are men. I think women need to hear more from women that work in the business to motivate them to be part of this amazing lifestyle that adventure and outdoors mean in our lives!!”

This is one area where adventure travel can make a massive difference. By putting forth an effort to work with local communities and leave as much money as possible in them, adventure travel companies can increase women’s earning power, therefore magnifying the positive impacts. Supporting women in local government and encouraging participation in conservation efforts will also result in a more positive world.

Recommendations and Taking Action
The report concludes with recommendations on how to reduce gender gaps and increase equality in all areas of the adventure travel industry. A few examples include:

When looking at leadership, add more women to your boards, especially as you consider the global and business issues that differ between genders. This will allow a more balanced representation of priorities. In addition, when you consider succession planning and professional development, look to women in management in your organisation as potential future leaders, especially those in larger companies. And lastly, reconsider mentorship programs–they may have become informal during COVID-19 but consider reinstatement if applicable.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the tourism industry worldwide, its effects have been far worse for women, especially in developing tourism destinations. Adventure tourism organisations can make conscious programmatic choices to benefit women in local communities.

Be more inclusive in your organisation’s marketing and communications. Travel advertising and the media often show young, slim, perfectly styled models in staged scenes. However, women travellers relate to ‘real women’ who look like them, are similar in age or behaviour, or who could be their best friend. Adventure travel needs to be welcoming to all by breaking away from prevailing stereotypes and showing as many different women as possible in varied, realistic roles and situations in life. Having women at the top levels of leadership is beneficial here, as they make the final decisions on how the creative team represents women.

The report also includes a ‘self-check’ list of items compiled by Switzerland Tourism for organisations to use when taking an account of their current approach to women. A list of reading recommendations also is available to encourage more discussion. ATTA also coordinates a Women in Adventure Travel group on LinkedIn, and welcomes anyone interested in the topic to join.

Click here to view The Influence and Impact of Women in Adventure Travel report.

Images courtesy of ATTA.


About the author

Karen Sweaney

Editor, Australasian Leisure Management

Artist, geoscientist and specialist writer on the leisure industry, Karen Sweaney is Editor of Australasian Leisure Management. Based in Sydney, Australia, her specific areas of interest include the arts, entertainment, the environment, fitness, tourism and wellness.

She has degrees in Fine Arts from the University of Sydney and Geological Oceanography from UNSW.

Read more from this author

Related Articles

19th February 2022 - Adventure Travel Trade Association moves to facilitate tourism development among forward thinking nations

31st January 2022 - Adventure Travel Trade Association names new regional director for Asia as it focuses on the region’s potential

30th December 2021 - United Nations study outlines route to creating a more sustainable mountain tourism model for people and the planet

3rd December 2021 - This Girl Can 2021 campaign encouraged record number of women to get active and stay active

8th November 2021 - Tourism Industry Aotearoa advises caution required around adventure tourism proposals 

1st November 2021 - Japan promoted as an adventure travel destination

29th October 2021 - Mogo Adventure Trail Hub will be major draw for mountain bikers

17th August 2021 - Adventure Tourism Victoria says tourism is dead

8th March 2021 - Second edition of Adventure Travel Guide Standards published

10th December 2020 - Insurance crisis set to force closures of Australian attractions and adventure tourism businesses

4th September 2020 - WTTC launches Safe Travels protocols for adventure tourism

19th August 2020 - ISO advises of update to adventure tourism standards

12th June 2020 - Insurance refusals impacting adventure tourism operators

27th January 2020 - International adventure tourism community rallies to support Australia during bushfire crisis

27th September 2019 - Adventure Travel Trade Association offers ‘Neutral Together’ bulk carbon offset purchase to members

31st August 2018 - Study shows education can change homophobic attitudes in sport

19th June 2018 - Gymnastics Australia empowering women in Samoa

13th May 2018 - Adventure Travel Trade Association shares report on trends in adventure tourism

3rd March 2017 - Conference to explore US$7.88 trillion adventure tourism market

17th November 2016 - Australia and New Zealand ranked among top adventure tourism destinations

11th December 2015 - International Adventure Travel Guide Qualification and Performance Standard launched

13th March 2015 - Workshop to aid adventure tourism operators safety procedures

30th November 2014 - UN report shows growing value of global adventure tourism