Australia’s MDF study reveals factors influencing women’s participation in tourism industry

Monday, 1 April 2024 03:25 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


From left : Sri Lanka Tourism Alliance Chair Malik J. Fernando, MDF Sri Lanka Country Director Maryam Piracha, Australian High Commission’s First Secretary (Political and Economic) Dr. Paul Zeccola and MDF Tourism Country Coordinator Mathi Tayanan  - Pic by Sameera Wijesinghe

  • ‘Women in Tourism: Advocate Engage Achieve’ hosted by Sri Lanka Tourism Alliance and MDF reveals lack of awareness, societal perception, limited education as barriers for women participation 
  • Only 30-35% of women economically active with less than 10% represented in tourism
  • Family referrals, particularly male members play significant role in women’s employment decisions
  • Highlights Provincial disparities; Uva, Central and North Western Provinces show higher women participation
  • A staggering 72% of women in Northern Province rely on newspaper advertisements for job search
  • Positive shifts in perception observed among women actively engaged in tourism sector
  • Challenges include retaining women after marriage, language barriers, unsupportive middle management
  • Stresses on importance of investing in women to bridge gender gap, underscoring need for scalable solutions for industry’s growth

By Charumini de Silva

A recent study conducted by Australia’s Market Development Facility (MDF) has shed light on the factors influencing women’s participation in Sri Lanka’s tourism industry, uncovering a range of challenges and opportunities. 

The study findings revealed last week at an event titled ‘Women in Tourism: Advocate Engage Achieve’ hosted by the Sri Lanka Tourism Alliance (SLTA) in collaboration with the MDF, served as a platform for industry to engage in constructive dialogue in co-catering solutions to increase women’s participation in the sector.

The study, which examined provincial level differences in women’s decision-making processes, highlighted several key insights to address the gender gap in the sector. It highlighted the importance of inclusive practices and advocacy programs to empower women and address the identified barriers to encourage employment in tourism.

Among the findings were women’s reported lack of awareness of available opportunities in the tourism industry alongside concerns about negative societal perceptions. The study highlights the importance of investing in women to bridge the gender gap, underscoring the need for scalable solutions rooted in a deep understanding of women’s needs and challenges.

With a total female population of 11.4 million in Sri Lanka, comprising 55% of the employable demographic aged between 20-60 years, the study revealed that only around 30-35% of women are economically active, with less than 10% represented in the tourism workforce.

Referrals were the primary means of entry into the industry, with family influences, particularly from male family members such as father or spouses playing an impactful role in employment decisions. A total of 44% women cited a male family member (mostly spouse) highlighting the influence of societal perceptions.

The study also found that below 10% women working in the tourism industry possessed education qualifications beyond Advanced Level (A/L) examinations, indicating a potential barrier to entry for women seeking higher-level positions.

It also revealed provincial disparities with Uva, Central and North Western Provinces showing a greater tendency among women to join the tourism industry compared to the Western Province.  In terms of job search methods, the study found that 72% of women in the Northern Province relied heavily on newspaper advertisements, highlighting regional variations in preferred sources of information.

Despite the challenges identified, the study highlighted positive shifts in perceptions among women who entered the tourism industry, suggesting that negative perceptions often change once women are actively engaged in the industry.

However, retaining women after marriage, language barriers and unsupportive middle management were cited as ongoing challenges within the industry.

In response to the findings, the study highlighted the necessity of industry experts, companies and stakeholders to explore business models that are encouraging greater gender diversity and inclusivity within the tourism sector to enable Sri Lanka as a safe and a vibrant destination for all. Australian High Commission’s First Secretary (Political and Economic) Dr. Paul Zeccola, MDF Sri Lanka Country Director Maryam Piracha and SLTA Chair Malik J. Fernando shared their commitment to supporting Sri Lanka’s tourism industry.

The event also had a panel discussion featuring industry leaders including Jetwing Travels Managing Director Shiromal Cooray, Hilton Colombo General Manager Manesh Fernando, Dialog Axiata PLC Chief People Operating Officer Chandi Dharmaratne and MDF Sri Lanka Tourism Country Team Coordinator Mathi Tayanan.