I’m fortunate enough to lead two incredible communities, one of the tour guides and trip leaders who take groups on tours around the world, and another community of entrepreneurs creating tour companies of all shapes and sizes.

Both communities are overwhelmingly comprised of women. Approximately 75% of the tour guides I train are women. Creating and leading group travel experiences has long been a field where it doesn’t matter what your age, gender, race, or sexuality is; what matters is your commitment to sharing your passion for the world with others. But the industry has its challenges, too. For this article, I’ve asked women from the community to share their benefits and challenges of being a woman in this field.

AN EMPOWERING CAREER

“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” – Jane Goodall

This quote came to Jennifer Andres’s mind when I asked her about her experience as a female New York City tour guide and trip leader across the country. She said that the quote “speaks to me now more than ever as I venture into the world of tour directing, meeting students and adults from all over and showing them a place in this world they may or may not have seen before.” At its best, trip leading opens others’ eyes, and is a way to make a difference in a person’s life. Andres said, “Being a woman in this industry has allowed me to be able to help empower and inspire the younger generation of women and show them that they too can do whatever they put their mind to.”

CHALLENGES AND GROWTH OPPORTUNITIES

Tour operating and leading have been, for many women, a chance to come out of their shells, and from behind the scenes. Monica Leck leads groups all across the U.S. and found a home for her talents and the diverse sides of her personality. “I have never felt like it was a ‘female’ or ‘male’ industry – pay seems merit-based, as well as hiring opportunities. For me, it’s the sweet spot that brings together my talents in logistics and customer service. However, as a woman, I feel this is a strong industry for attributes that women bring to the table, in my case, it’s my approachability and calmness in the face of the adversities of the job.”

As she mentions, there are certainly adversities. Guide and tour business owner Sarah Covey shared “There are definitely moments where I’ve felt like I’m being treated as someone’s adult child and scolded when a guest is mad about something. I’m not entirely certain a male colleague would be treated as such. I think there’s sometimes some sort of permissibility to treat me like a child because I’m a woman.”

Amy Hiett is new to the industry, having just completed her first busy season of leading tours of Washington, D.C., and has seen herself come alive. “I’m very much an introvert at heart,” she says. “I get nervous over the small stuff and naturally overthink things. But this job has empowered me; telling a powerful story is a specific activity that I can grasp. Reflecting on classroom experiences in the past, I realized that the teachers that inspired me were the best storytellers and engaging speakers. Now I enjoy presenting material in front of people, and that has made my social interactions in general blossom!”

AN OPPORTUNITY FOR ENTREPRENEURSHIP AND OWNERSHIP

Sarah Covey explains that “I started my own tour business because I wanted to be in control after decades of waiting for someone else’s permission to do what I wanted to do. I wanted to decide how to shape the experience for my guests and ultimately shape my own life.”

Like Sarah, Kaitlin Calogera founded A Tour of Her Own to tell the lesser-known stories of women in American History, and to run her own company. She shared that “women throughout history have been empowered through transportation. Whether it’s a bike, train, bus, or airplane, access to new styles of mobility creates opportunities for women to grow both independently and collectively. When we have the chance to step outside of our familiar homes, towns, and lifestyles, we can see what is possible outside of the structures we know but perhaps weren’t designed for us.”

Whatever your participation in the group travel industry, there’s a chance for you to personally learn and grow, and in turn, inspire others—and new generations—to change the world and themselves through the power of travel.

By Mitch Bach