On the occasion of Women’s Day, Ms. Payal Sahni, the editor of Travel Links, India’s top travel magazine, discussed the current position and future prospects of women in the travel industry with Ms. Vasudha Sondhi, MD, Outbound Marketing.
Vasudha Sondhi has 35 years of experience in the travel industry. As the Women Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry State President for the Uttarakhand Hospitality and Tourism Council, she has put in a remarkable amount of effort in setting up village homestays to empower villagers with self-employment opportunities.
One area where we need to change is in our “boys club” attitude. That unfortunately has not changed at all.
Q. You have been very active in FICC-FLO and WICCI. What changes have you seen in the travel industry since you started out, and what changes do you want to see?
Ms. Sondhi: I was very active with FLO a couple of years ago and getting active again. My focus is definitely on my responsibilities with WICCI which is as Head of Hospitality for Uttarakhand. The changes have been huge. One big change with working women is that there is definitely more acceptability with women in the industry. One area where we need to change is in our “boys club” attitude. That unfortunately has not changed at all. The change I would like to see is for more and more women to take up roles of responsibility and not drop off mid way when the pressure increases.
Q. When we talk of sustainability, women are key stakeholders, especially in the tourism industry. What has been the real-life impact of your efforts at establishing village homestays on the lives of rural women?
Ms. Sondhi: Women are the real stakeholders of any life impacting change at the village level. On the one hand homestays give them additional income and the confidence once they start interacting with guests. But on the other hand, since women do all the work at home and on their farms, we had to be very careful to sensitise the men to participate in the homestay management and handling of guests to not over burden the women and to only take a certain number of nights stay to balance the extra work.
Today the women are so confident that they are planning on setting up of a Mahila Café all run and managed by women. Empowering women financially pushes up the bar for the family. There are several success stories with women who are now financially empowered, they have bought additional land, bought gold for themselves or their daughters and are investing in higher education of their daughters.
Today the women are so confident that they are planning on setting up of a Mahila Café all run and managed by women. Empowering women financially pushes up the bar for the family.
Q. Where do you think the travel industry lacks the most with respect to women’s development- be it their recruitment or efforts at giving rural women alternate livelihood opportunities? How do you think the organisations you work with can help the situation?
Ms. Sondhi: The travel and tourism business in India is a disorganised industry. We mostly have agencies that are small size and single city units. Only 20% would be the large multi city agencies. Most agencies don’t offer training and development to push their staff to a higher level (except maybe the larger agencies). With specific reference to rural women, its not that there are no opportunities. The rural women are hesitant to get out of their comfort zone and for various reasons. A lot of work needs to be done to take the industry to the rural areas to make it possible for them to succeed and be part of the change. WICCI in partnership with Uttarakhand tourism is trying to take the skilling program to Uttarakhand within the state, so we will have a lot more participants.
Q. What has been the pandemic’s unique impact on women in the industry?
Ms. Sondhi: Post pandemic we have fewer women in the workspace and they don’t want to be back unless we make it possible for them to work from home. In many instances that be possible but in most cases in the services industry work from home is not possible.
The interaction with Ms. Vasudha Sondhi throws light on the key role that women play in the advancement of any industry. The way forward is to come up with innovative ideas on how we can channel the power of this demographic, for the progress of the nation as well as a means of women’s empowerment.