On the occasion of International Women’s Day, Ms. Payal Sahni, the editor of Travel Links, India’s top travel magazine, had a discussion with Ms. Meena Bhatia, the Vice President and General Manager of Le Meridien, New Delhi.
Meena Bhatia is an accomplished Hotelier with over four decades of luxury hotel experience. She is committed to bringing positive changes in the area of skill development and Women Employability. Under her guidance Le Meridien New Delhi and Joining Hands, a non-profit organization has trained urban women from the marginalized segments, enabling them to join the growing work force of women in the hospitality industry.
while the industry employs larger number of women as compared to other industries, unfortunately we are badly outnumbered in leadership roles.
Q. Since you have worked with organisations dedicated to the skill development of women, what is your understanding of the composition of the current female workforce of India? How can their potential be channelled by the travel industry?
Ms. Bhatia: Unfortunately we have a long way to go to get to a healthy balance. I hope, firstly that more and more women will come out and pursue their dreams of a strong and robust career. Secondly more women in the industry will make way for women entering the industry. Also, while the industry employs larger number of women as compared to other industries, unfortunately we are badly outnumbered in leadership roles. The invisible gender bias, inflexible hours and career and home imbalances are the obvious reasons, but more than that it is the male dominated industry culture that needs a correction.
Q. What would you say are the real-life consequences of your efforts with Le Meridien and Joining Hands?
Ms. Bhatia: Our initiative with Joining hands was pre Covid. Now on the WICCI Platform with our training partner SAATHIYA, we aim to not only bring more young women in the workforce but also programmed aims to guide and prepare young girls, transforming them into confident, career-focused individuals in the organised sector.
Through this we endeavour to positively transform the lives of these vulnerable and less privileged members of the society. Our goal is aligned with the country’s skill development vision, as also with the industry’s future need for a well-groomed and well-trained workforce that is gender equitable.
Rural tourism would not only be an ideal opportunity to create jobs and livelihood, but foster tourism in the area and open up the villages to travellers who seek explorative experiences.
Q. What are the challenges that face homeowners trying to earn a livelihood by setting up home-stays? Are they equipped to compete with larger chains and to establish a stable livelihood?
Ms. Bhatia: Training Home owners and creating home hotels in remote villages was a life time experience, so much to learn and understand. It was truly inspiring to see the passion the home owners have to learn and innovate, how they can build fantastic opportunity from scratch. Most villages are faced with issue of their youth migrating the city for better livelihood.
However, today, villagers are realising that the beauty of homes and villages need to be retained and that could only happen if the local youth stayed on and created a better livelihood in the villages itself. The rural tourism project is therefore an attraction to them. This would not only be an ideal opportunity to create jobs and livelihood, but foster tourism in the area and open up the villages to discerning travellers who seek explorative experiences.
The main challenges are of course that women get overburdened with additional chores as they automatically are made responsible to be the care takers of the project. Financial viability sometimes forces them to compromise, however it is encouraging that they are so adaptable and flexible, they come up with a great solution for every challenge that they encounter.
Q. How has the pandemic affected these small players? How many of them have shut down and how many have/are recovering?
Ms. Bhatia: The Pandemic has opened more opportunities as rural tourism, yearning for the unknown and lesser known destinations, exploring local culture are the emerging trends for tourism today. The new age travellers believe in slow travel, with sustainability in tourism being the key. This is time to nurture and support villagers in India to bring out with pride, the uniqueness of their simple and unexplored culture.
From this interaction with Ms. Meena Bhatia, we can glean the importance of rural tourism in boosting the travel and tourism industry, and the key role that women play in this. There needs to be more action in up skilling women, especially women from marginalised communities, so that they can be employed in stable and reliable industries.