International Women’s Day 2023

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we are excited to invite 6 female leaders from travel and tourism to share with us their thoughts on #EmbraceEquity through Social Innovations and their heartfelt messages to young women and the industry.


Jane Sun
CEO, Group

“Social innovation is more than just a good thing to do. It is key to creating both social impact and business value and benefits the company, employees and society.”

Dr. Fanny Vong
President, Macao Institute for Tourism Studies (IFTM); Executive Board, PATA

“It is important to find ways to empower different community groups and ensure equal representation in discussion and decision-making.”

Noredah Othman
CEO, Sabah Tourism Board; Executive Board, PATA

“The industry requires a collaborative effort to create an inclusive environment, especially in order to achieve a sustainable tourism industry goal that will benefit everyone.”

Maria Helena de Senna Fernandes
Director, Macao Government Tourism Office (MGTO)

“Gender equity in the industry is not only desirable but also necessary.
Women will choose destinations to visit that best cater for their needs and as workers in the tourism industry they certainly have a valuable contribution to make.”

Shiromal Cooray
Chairman, Jetwing Hotels

“The larger industry players have a vital role in creating access and building capacity of women outside the industry to provide entry into the industry, as well as those within the industry to develop their skills and opportunities.”

Anneke Brown
Women in Tourism & Hospitality - Western Australia (WITH WA)

“Women are arguably the most untapped resources. Having greater female representation in leadership will help to increase female participation in our sector, and ultimately, this will change the lives of women and families.”


Celebrating and acknowledging women all over the globe committed to achieving gender equity for a more inclusive world. 

PATA invited female leaders from the tourism and travel industry to present their perspectives, knowledge, and approaches to achieving gender equity through 'social innovation'.

In a short video or written statement, each leader addressed the concept of ‘social innovation’ in response to a series of questions that seeks to provide solutions to achieving gender equality and providing equal opportunities for all women to push travel and tourism in becoming a gender-equal industry.

What is Social Innovation?

Social innovation comprises innovative activities addressing a social issue or meeting a social need while generating additional value for certain groups, communities, or society as a whole.

How’s Important?

Social innovation can empower stakeholders through capacity building, resulting in new forms of cooperation and collaboration.

When developed and diffused through organisations, social innovation will lead to optimised daily routines, more efficient resources streams, more equal power relations, or improved overall values.

‘Social’ and ‘innovation’ – two words which when looked at individually leave room to interpret in different ways. Though when putting these two words side by side, the term ‘social innovation’ is formed. But what is social innovation and is it really as abstract as it sounds?

Jane Sun

CEO Group

Awarded the UN Women’s Empowerment (WEPs) Award in the Gender-Inclusive Workplace category in 2021, Group continues to promote female representation, gender diversity, and empowerment, highlighting female success as part of its company-wide corporate culture. Hear how Jane Sun is leading the organisation to set new standards for the industry.

What is Group, as one of the world's leading online travel booking companies, currently doing to increase gender equity in the tourism industry?

“We adopt fair employment practices, and our recruitment, training and development, and promotion-related decisions are fair, merit-based and non-discriminatory.

Today, women make up more than half of Group employees, far exceeding the industry average for tech companies. Women make up 43% of employees holding middle and senior-level positions, and 30% of management positions at VP level and above. In addition, 33% of our technological development and innovation-related positions are currently held by women.

Their presence helps to drive gender awareness and equality which will, in turn, empower our female employees to recognise the significant value of their roles in the tourism industry..”

To what extent does gender equity in an organisation contribute to a firm’s competitiveness?

Wider Talent Pool
Gender diversity and equity enable companies to tap into a wider talent pool with different types of skill sets and perspectives, which are key to enhancing their overall performance and competitiveness.

Retention of Talents
With proper career development plans and fair practices in place, capable and committed female employees are more likely to stay in companies and seek career advancement opportunities internally which leads to cost and time savings. 

Positivity and Productivity
A diverse and inclusive workplace will strengthen the employees’ sense of fairness and empowerment and happiness, leading to higher productivity. ”

In Jane’s full interview, she provides more details about Group’s various social innovations and the outcomes of these efforts, in hope of inspiring more travel and tourism firms to adopt.

Noredah Othman

Sabah Tourism Board

Sabah’s travel industry was never askewed toward genderism; there have always been a few key women's leaders or pioneers in our travel industry.”

As the CEO of Sabah Tourism Board that continues to ensure gender equality in the sector, Noredah Othman shares her thoughts from an executive perspective.

How can social innovation contribute to more equity in the tourism sector and can you give examples of best practices from your organisation?

Social innovations can contribute more equity in the tourism sector by addressing these social and economic imbalances that exist within the industry.

At Sabah Tourism Board, we remain committed to solidifying our effort in developing our community-based tourism or rural tourism for that matter, and our team continues to empower rural communities, irrespective of their gender, to get involved and venture into tourism sustainably in order to equip the local community within a necessary knowledge and skills.

What’s the ONE message that you would like to send to the industry on achieving gender equity in tourism?

“Provide an inclusive culture in our practices at all levels.

I believe everyone can contribute and add value and should have access to education as well as training programmes. The industry requires a collaborative effort to create an inclusive environment, especially in order for us to achieve sustainable tourism industry growth that will benefit everyone.

Happy International Women’s Day!

In Noredah’s full interview, she elaborates in details how non-profit organisations in the industry can contribute to social innovations and what can be done to overcome the possible obstacles.

Dr. Fanny Vong

Macao Institute for Tourism Studies

Macao Institute for Tourism Studies (IFTM) is the first institution in the world to be accredited by the UNWTO and a prominent provider of internationally-recognised vocational and occupational training. As the President of IFTM and a member of PATA Executive Board, Dr. Fanny Vong shares her thoughts from an educational perspective.

In what ways do you think non-profit organisations in tourism can help the industry progress in the field of social innovation as a whole?

“Tourism is a highly inclusive industry, whether on the demand or supply side. On the demand side, anyone from anywhere, of any gender, age, ethnicity, religion, nationality, etc. can be a tourist. Because of this diversity, there is a wide range of needs and expectations to meet on the supply side.

Non-profit organizations in tourism often advocate themes that acknowledge and respect such diversity. The ultimate aim is to balance tourism development with quality of life improvement. To achieve this, national tourism organizations, education institutions, tourism associations often work with local communities to launch social innovation initiatives, e.g. applying smart technologies to mitigate the negative impacts of tourism, developing open learning resources to help minority groups find better jobs, encouraging the use of local supplies, and promoting renewable energies. “

Where do you see potential obstacles to social innovation and how can those be overcome?

“ A potential obstacle to social innovation is the lack of support and funding to push through new initiatives. Government authorities can consider setting up special funds to support social innovation initiatives that benefit the community.

Nonetheless, there is sometimes a lack of understanding among certain community groups, including women, about their role in social innovation. Under-representation of these groups in local committees and decision-making bodies reduces the chance to participate actively in the debate of social issues.

It is important to find ways to empower different community groups and ensure equal representation in discussion and decision-making. Organizing training workshops and sharing sessions on successful examples elsewhere would be useful to get the community thinking.”

In Dr. Fanny’s full interview, she shares her powerful messages through simple words, highlighting the potential of social innovations and how the industry can come together to achieve the desired goal.

Maria Helena de Senna Fernandes

Macao Government Tourism Office

Macao Government Tourism Office (MGTO) serves an important role in Macao, China as tourism is the backbone of the destination’s economy. As the director of MGTO, Maria Helena de Senna Fernandes explains the essentiality of non-profit organisations in social innovation to achieve equity, not just for gender, but for the entire community as a whole.

How can social innovation contribute to more equity in the tourism sector and can you give examples of best practices from your organisation?

To start, by making destinations more inclusive to all kinds of visitors. An example that comes to my mind is a collaboration that we had on a travel capacity programme for travel trade on sign language to better serve deaf and hearing impaired visitors.

On the other end, destinations need to innovate to ensure the whole community feels included in tourism development. A case in point is a new strategy we are adopting in Macao, China to help develop community tourism.

What’s the ONE message that you would like to send to the industry on achieving gender equity in tourism?

The one message I would like to send is that gender equity in the tourism industry is not only desirable but necessary.

If we look at tourist flows, women are travelling in great numbers in Macau last year- 53% of our visitors were female whereas a decade ago they were less than half. This is an important travel segment and destinations should take note. At the end of the day, it is a two-way street. Women will choose destinations to visit that best cater for their needs, and as workers in the tourism industry, they certainly have a valuable contribution to make.

In Helena’s full interview, she presented more examples of how tourism in Macao, China is striding toward a more inclusive community and how different stakeholders come together on this matter.

Shiromal Cooray

Jetwing Hotels

Jetwing Hotels“Second Careers” programme, awarded at PATA Gold Awards 2022, provides an opportunity for women aged 45 and up from economically challenged backgrounds to enter the workforce. With the systematic onboarding and skills development, participating women were able to enhance their current talents in managing their households in a professional environment. Hear from Shiromal Cooray on how a private organisation can bring great changes to women in the community.

What comes to your mind when you hear the term ‘social innovation’ and how does it relate to gender equity?

“Achieving gender equity is a challenge due to the various conventional social and gender norms.

Tackling these crippling norms and ideologies which hinder women and other minority groups from becoming economically and politically active through conventional strategies may be challenging or even unsuccessful. Social innovations are a great way of trialling solutions to address such conventions. These new approaches are essential to drive and inspire social change, within the industry and beyond, as the private sector is an influential stakeholder in social development.

The barriers which affect each gender group may be different, and the solutions to overcome these challenges are equally diverse. Therefore, there is much scope to introducing innovative solutions to address gender inequalities which limits a person's participation and accessibility to opportunities. “

How can companies in the industry develop social innovative initiatives for local communities like Jetwing did?

“ It is our belief at Jetwing that tourism cannot exist in isolation, but with harmonious relationships with our environs and local communities.

The conversion of this ethos to action through our sustainability strategy has integrated the local communities into the business as valuable stakeholders. Through the Second Careers programme, we have been successful in tackling conventional norms through out-of-the-box solutions, inspiring a change of perspective for other industry players, to adopt strategies to bridge the gender gap.

In essence, strong relationships with the community make us more aware of the problems and barriers they are faced with. It is also important to be open-minded and creative, and have the willingness to take possibly an untrodden path to trial these out-of-the-box solutions.

In Shiromal’s full interview, she touches on how women in the industry, especially at the grass-root levels, can be empowered through innovations by organisations and how they can support themselves through various resources.

Anneke Brown

Women in Tourism & Hospitality WA

Established in 2019 by ten professional women to support and assist women in the tourism and hospitality industry in Western Australia, WITH WA is a place where women can come together to network, connect, share opportunities and support one another. WITH WA works to recognise the challenges and opportunities for women in the sector and advocates for greater balance. Hear from Anneke Brown how her organisation is building gender equity and equality in leadership roles.

How is Women in Tourism and Hospitality WA contributing to empowering women to be more innovative, especially in leadership roles?

WITH WA has a vision to address challenges and mitigate barriers to career progression for aspiring female leaders. Mentoring and assisting up-and-coming females to advance their skills and bolster the industry with empathetic skilled and understanding leaders is really at the core key pillars of our association.

Our “Why” is to make it easier for women to develop the confidence and opportunities that are invaluable in succeeding in our industry. We want our future female leaders to learn the key leadership and life skills that they need to succeed and thrive.

What comes to your mind when you hear the term ‘social innovation’ and how does it relate to gender equity?

Social Innovation to me really speaks about the people’s awareness of the social impacts that our policies and procedures have on society, on the social fabric of our community.

In regards to gender equity, it's about recognition of the conscious and unconscious bias that exists around women and men in the workplace and how to overcome this challenge with new innovative activities to deal with that social need.

In Anneke’s full interview, she provides more food for thought: on how innovations and initiatives are the much-needed tools to support women, and how empowering women can actually resolve current issues in the travel and tourism industry.

Did you know? In 2019, 15% of tourism ministers in the Asia Pacific are female; three years later in 2022, the number is, surprisingly, 5.4%... LOWER!

How much do you know about genders in the workplace, especially travel and tourism? Take this 3-minute mini quiz for you to fact-check and renew your understanding of women in tourism!

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