As part of our Women in Travel month, we take a look behind the scenes and shed light onto the women working in the industry. Gender diversity in senior management is, similar to many other male-dominated sectors, still noticeably lacking in the tourism industry.
At Buffalo Tours, we recognise the positive impact of diversity and are proud that 65% of our leadership positions are held by women. To obtain insights, we invited four of our female leaders to discuss the challenges and opportunities of working in this industry as well as the importance of travel. In this interview, meet Suyin Lee, Buffalo Tours’ Managing Director; Thuy Tran, the Regional Sales and Reservations Manager; Khin Thet Mon, the Assistant Country Manager for Myanmar; and the Product and Contracting Manager for Indonesia, Tu Anh Le; and hear their thoughts on women in travel.
Please introduce yourself and explain how travel has changed your life.
Suyin: My journey in the travel industry started 18 years ago and I have been with Buffalo Tours for the past 18 months as Managing Director. My family immigrated from Malaysia to Australia when I was 10 years old. I thought we were going on a holiday, but we simply never returned! It changed my life in every possible way, made me curious about the world around me and very adaptable to new environments and cultures. Travel opens your eyes and mind, it breaks down intolerance and biases, and it connects humanity and builds empathy.
Thuy: I graduated with a major in Tourism and Hospitality Management and started working full time for Buffalo Tours more than 10 years ago. Travel has changed my life in many positive ways. It’s like “real-life education”; meeting people from different cultures provides knowledge that is impossible to receive in a traditional school environment.
Thet: I started as a tour guide in 1999 and have spent almost two decades in the industry in a variety of different roles. I joined Buffalo Tours in 2014, and a few years later was promoted to my current position. Before I became a tour guide, I had no self-confidence and I didn’t dare speak with foreigners. However, when I started travelling and experienced different destinations and cultures, I realised that I should get out of my comfort zone and challenge myself. Travel fuels my desire to experience new things and helps improve my perspective of reality.
Tu Anh: I grew up in Vietnam and have always had a deep desire to expose myself to different cultures, environments and people. In 2014, I began my journey with Buffalo Tours in Hanoi and since then have had many opportunities to travel, work and live in different countries. Travel has broadened my perspective of the world, giving me a richer understanding of the outside world and I’ve become a more confident and independent person.
Do you have any exciting trips coming up?
Thuy: I am going to spend a week in Kuala Lumpur. I have never spent any time outside the airport, so I’m excited to explore a new city this December.
Thet: Yes, for the upcoming Christmas holidays, I am planning an annual family reunion trip to Southern Myanmar for a few days. It’s a great way to reconnect with loved ones.
Tu Anh: I have been away from Vietnam for more than a year; thus, I’ll be going back to Vietnam to celebrate the Lunar New Year in early Feb 2019. I hope to combine it with a short adventure trip to the Tu Lan cave within the unique caving region of Central Vietnam.
Suyin: I am going to Finland, Russia and Estonia at Christmas. I am looking forward to having a white Christmas, exploring Helsinki, Lapland, St Petersburg and Tallinn.
What challenges do women in travel face?
Suyin: As a Malaysian born Chinese-Australian woman, I have faced both gender and racial biases throughout my career, having to work harder to prove myself or to be promoted. Like in other sectors, there is generally a lack of women in senior management, due to the pressures of balancing family with work. In Asia, there is also cultural pressure on women to start a family once they get married.
Thet: I agree with Suyin. There are high demands on time and working hours. Many women struggle with family tasks and are not given enough support.
Thuy: Also, women are often pressured into dividing their time between work and family and are made to believe that they don’t have the option to focus one-hundred percent on their career. But it’s their choice! This is true for all industries, not only tourism.
How can we create a more gender diverse environment within the industry?
Thet: Successful role models have had a huge impact on my life and I think that strong female leaders can attract and retain talented women. Women in travel, especially in leadership positions, continue to inspire me.
Suyin: Yes, having strong role models in the industry provides young women with encouragement and inspiration to pursue their dreams. I think that the travel industry could be more accommodating for working mothers through flexible work hours, part time roles or working from home arrangements. Women can also re-enter the industry more easily after having children because the nature of what we do does not go through rapid change. I am seeing the younger generation of leaders being well represented by women and this is encouraging. They are ambitious, resilient and confident.
Tu Anh: I believe equal pay for equal work, childcare options and flexible working hours are crucial. Buffalo Tours offers all of these throughout its destinations and is one of the few travel companies to have such a high ratio of females in leadership roles.
What’s the best advice you have received or what advice would you give to women wanting to work in the travel industry?
Thuy: ‘Treat your customers how you want to be treated.’ Put yourself in their shoes and think about how you would expect to be consulted. Also, spare time to travel to the destinations you love and do the activities you like. Self-care is not selfish.
Suyin: You should be passionate about travel and about helping people travel. You need to constantly evolve to meet changing needs and expectations of customers. There is a lot of complexity in travel and to become great at what you do takes time and effort. Be brave, be fierce when you need to be and be prepared to make sacrifices. Success does not come without sacrifice and whatever decision you make about what you want in life, make peace with that.
Tu Anh: 'Be who you are’ is still my favourite advice ever received. It strengthened my belief and kept my head up to lead my team to unity. I would advise women in travel to be curious, open-minded, creative, and never stop learning.
The very nature of travel is about diversity, acceptance and forming connections around the world. And whilst there are still many obstacles to overcome, the industry has great potential to transform into an environment more accommodating to diverse needs. Thanks to the hard-working and resilient women at its core who help push for transformation, the travel industry is definitely on the right track. Recognising the positive impact, Buffalo Tours’ is proud to have such a high representation of female leaders within the company. For more on women in travel, check out our recipe for the perfect girl’s trip.