Empowering Women, Transforming Tourism: Highlights from the PATA International Conference on Women in Travel

The inaugural PATA International Conference on Women in Travel, hosted by the Department of Tourism, Philippines, concluded on Friday, March 22, 2024, at the BE Grand Resort in Bohol, Philippines. Gathering nearly 200 delegates worldwide, the event brought together industry leaders, policymakers, and advocates to delve into women's challenges, celebrate their achievements, and confront lingering gender disparities in the tourism sector. On the finale day, delegates had the option of joining two different technical tours to explore the unique beauty of Bohol, Philippines.

Beyond its title as the Philippines’ first UNESCO Global Geopark, Bohol actively empowers local women in entrepreneurship, aligning with the Department of Tourism Philippines' gender-sensitive initiatives, as noted by Governor Erico Aristotle C. Aumentado. Through skill development and economic support, initiatives have propelled women-led cooperatives and businesses in sectors like handicrafts and agritourism, spotlighting the strength and resilience of Bohol’s female community. Educational programmes and advocacy efforts further bolster this commitment, positioning Bohol as an ideal hub for discussions on female empowerment.

Take a look at the event's key takeaways below!

Senator Loren Legarda, Senate President Pro-Tempore, Senate of the Philippines

Keynote by Senator Loren Legarda

The expansion of tourism in the Philippines presents an opportunity for women to uphold the country's ecosystem and cultural values. However, women predominantly occupy informal employment roles with lower compensation and poor working conditions. By recognising women's contributions, tourism practices can become more sustainable and culturally sensitive. To achieve this, women must occupy more decision-making positions within the industry, leveraging their creativity and resourcefulness to develop gender-inclusive strategies and innovations. Societal and policy reforms are essential to ensure women have opportunities for personal growth and career advancement.

H.E. Christina Garcia Frasco, Secretary, Department of Tourism, Philippines

Keynote by Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco

The sustainability of Philippine tourism hinges on advancing gender equality and upholding women's rights. The Department of Tourism Philippines has launched initiatives like TourISM WorCS to address women and children-related challenges, alongside the Filipino Brand of Service Excellence Training programme training over 70,000 women for the tourism workforce. Notably, women constitute 56% of the department's workforce, with 62% in official positions. With the development of a comprehensive sex-disaggregated database, evidence-based policies will foster female leadership and gender-sensitive decisions, driving progress in the sector's future.

Atty. Mae Elaine T. Bathan, Undersecretary, Legal and Special Concerns and Chief of Staff, Office of the Secretary and Chairperson, Gender and Development Focal Point System of the Department of Tourism, Philippines

Remarks by the Philippine Department of Tourism

Amongst over 140 destinations, the Philippines received the 16th ranking in the 2023 World Economic Forum's (WEF) Global Gender Gap Index report (GGGR), surpassing the regional and global averages with a score of 0.791. Furthermore, a comprehensive six-year Gender and Development Agenda to combat discrimination and achieve gender parity in the tourism sector have been developed by DoT. 

Aside from various campaigns aimed at gender sensitivity and inclusivity, the organisation has appointed Tourism Integrated Services, Supports, and Mindsets for Women’s Rights and Child Safety (TourISM WorCS) Officers across the Philippines to ensure the efficient integration and sustainability of gender, women, children, and LGBTQIA+ welfare programmes.

Chieko Yokota, Gender Specialist, Gender Equality Division, Asian Development Bank (ADB)

Gender Equality and Development

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) underscores gender equality as the second operational priority in Strategy 2030, crucial for socio-economic advancement. Focused on five key areas—women’s economic empowerment, gender equality in human development, leadership, time poverty reduction, and resilience to external shocks—ADB aims to integrate gender-inclusive designs in 75% of its operations by 2030. 

Highlighting projects in Lao PDR, Fiji, and Vietnam, ADB showcases efforts to enhance women's leadership, increase their participation in technical roles, and support female entrepreneurs in the tourism sector, reaffirming its commitment to gender equality in the region.

L/R: Noor Ahmad Hamid, CEO, PATA; Maria Paz Alberto, Chair, PATA Philippine Chapter; Nandini Lahe Thapa, Officiating CEO, Nepal Tourism Board (NTB); Dr. Supawan Teerarat, President, National Food Institute, Foundation of Industral Development, Ministry of Industry, Thailand; Former SVP, Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau, Prime Minister’s Office

Leading the Way: Inspirational Women in Travel 

The panel discussion underscored women's ability to excel in C-level positions, both in the public and private sectors. It brought together inspirational female leaders in the travel industry who have navigated their organisations through crises, both daily and on the global scale, with resilience and strategic leadership. 

The need for adopting innovative concepts, mentorship, and support between female leaders and team members, as well as overcoming gender-based prejudice and stereotypes, were held as significant aspects to pave the way for women's career advancement.

L/R: Dr. Saninuj “PONG” Sawasdikosol, DM, President of San Travel Service & Business Consultants; Woman Activist & Advocate in LGBTQ Community; Maria Patria Alodia Puyat, General Manager, Crowne Plaza Philippines; Christine Ella Castañeda, DEAFInite Tour Guide; Aye Mya Mya Soe, General Manager- Cambodia, Intrepid Travel

Breaking Barriers: Women's Empowerment in the Travel Industry

Industry leaders delved into women's leadership in travel and tourism, addressing obstacles and drivers of gender equality. Key topics included fostering resilience and self-empowerment of women in male-dominated professional environments; the vital allyship between women and male colleagues; raising awareness to eliminate unconscious bias based on gender; and marking transparency as a crucial element in finding actionable solutions to systemic issues. 

In reflection of industry-wide progress, positive changes were also noted to be ongoing within the deaf women community. This is made possible by the continued efforts to enhance the status of female leaders and workers within the deaf tourism scene, mirroring the advancements seen among hearing counterparts.

L/R: Queenie Chung, Deputy General Manager, Vpon Big Data Group; Preeti Naini, Regional Product Manager- APAC, Go City

Women Behind the Scenes

The session underscored the formidable hurdles to gender equality, citing cultural norms and biases in professional sectors as significant barriers. It explored avenues for women to drive change and inspire others, notably in male-dominated fields like technology and conservative Asian societies with entrenched biases. 

As noted by Queenie, the public sector is taking action to ensure equal leadership opportunities, exemplified by Hong Kong SAR's board diversity policy mandating at least one female director in each company by 2025, creating 800 positions among listed companies. 

Preeti emphasised the importance of investing in the upskilling of women within the industry. By providing opportunities to enhance their skills and stay abreast of the latest industry trends, women can grow professionally with confidence, ultimately positioning themselves for leadership roles and enabling them to challenge unjust norms.

L/R: Paul Pruangkarn, Chief of Staff, PATA; Ha Lam, Founder, The Happy Firm; Linda Adami, Founder and CEO, Quantum Temple

Tourism Startups and Entrepreneurship

Female entrepreneurs must confront challenges in securing monetary support, with only 2% of funding directed towards them despite women controlling 80% of spending. Panellists imparted insights gleaned from their entrepreneurial journeys, emphasising the importance of networking with female investors, fostering connections, and building communities prior to product launches. They stressed the significance of maintaining passion and inner resilience in navigating the path to success.

The discussion underscored several key factors to attract the right investors. These include (1) ensuring that the product matches the investor’s portfolio, (2) establishing a strong presence within the industry, (3) refining the business pitch and (5) selecting an investor whose goals align closely with those of the entrepreneur. By addressing these aspects, entrepreneurs can increase their chances of securing partnerships that will bring their vision to fruition.

L/R: Aletheia Tan, Head of Member Engagement, PATA; Shradha Shrestha, Manager, Nepal Tourism Board and National Project Coordinator, Sustainable Tourism for Livelihood Recovery Project, Nepal; Sangeetha Liyanapathirana, Manager - Health, Hygiene and Sustainability, Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts and 2023 PATA Face of the Future; Catherine Turvill, President Nurture Wellness Village, Nurture Farmacy, Spa & Wellness Professionals

Sustainable Travel: Women as Agents of Change

From food waste reduction projects adopted by hotels all over Sri Lanka to creating sustainable living and financial independence for marginalised communities in Nepal and the Philippines, impactful women-led initiatives across the region were brought to light in this session. The panellists shared how these initiatives have made industry-wide impacts such as providing skill training, mentorship, and stable careers that changed the lives of thousands of individuals, not limiting to women but children, LGBTQIA+ and many other marginalised groups – bringing intersectionality into play with the concept of equality. 

On the last day of the event, delegates also went on a destination tour to explore the beauty of Bohol.

The Southern Bohol Circuit Tour offered participants the chance to delve into the wonders of Southern Bohol. It included visits to the historic Santa Monica Parish Church of Alburquerque, an immersive experience in the creation of Bohol’s beloved delicacy ‘Calamay’, and engaging activities at the scenic Bohol Bee Farm.

In contrast, The Bohol Countryside Tour provided delegates with a tranquil excursion through the picturesque Bohol Countryside. Highlights of this tour included exploring the geological marvels of the iconic Chocolate Hills and enjoying a serene cruise down the enchanting Loboc River.


Noor Ahmad Hamid, CEO, PATA delivering Message from PATA.

Despite comprising 49.4% of the Asia Pacific tourism workforce, women face career advancement barriers. The PATA International Conference on Women in Travel 2024 amplifies women’s voices, promoting responsible tourism development. It aims to raise awareness of equal opportunities and inspire solutions to gender disparity, emphasising gender equality and women's empowerment. By highlighting tourism as a force for good, the conference underscores its potential for positive societal and economic change.

The 3-day event brought together speakers and delegates from 15 destinations from the public and private sectors to openly discuss the brilliance of women in Asia Pacific travel and tourism and how gender parity can be championed by the industry combined efforts.

Thank you to the gracious host, sponsors, esteemed speakers, delegates, and all those who had a hand in the success of PICW2024. We look forward to welcoming you to the upcoming PATA events!

Photos of the event available here.

The inaugural PATA International Conference on Women in Travel was generously supported by the Department of Tourism, Philippines, the Tourism Promotions Board, Philippines, Cvent, the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB) and media partners.


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