Analysing the Gender Dimensions of Tourism as a Development Strategy

Lucy Ferguson's studies are among the first and the richest, focused on our subjects. 
She -member of our Forum- is a researcher and consultant in tourism, gender equality and women's empowerment, Research fellow at Sheffield University, and author of the blog 

This is the summary of her paper on Analysing the Gender Dimensions of Tourism as a Development Strategy

La frase chiave in italiano: la conclusione della ricerca è che il rafforzamento economico, come esperienza di molte donne nelle comunità in cui il turismo si sta sviluppando, non tende a trasformarsi in significativo ritorno nei rapporti di potere, nonostante un relativo miglioramento nelle condizioni economiche. Si suggerisce: alle società operanti nel turismo di capire meglio come il genere è implicato nell’uso delle risorse macroeconomiche, quindi più formazione e promozione. Ai politici di mettere in agenda modi più creativi di agevolare il turismo. Ai decisori e strateghi di considerare in modo più ampio gli studi di genere.


For several decades, the relationship between tourism and development has been explored

in the discipline of tourism studies and in policy-making circles. However, very little research

has been carried out into the gender dimensions of this relationship. This paper is

a first attempt to unpack some of the issues involved in such an undertaking, and to provide

an overview of some of the key empirical areas that need to be taken into account for

further research. Using the third Millennium Development Goal – gender equality and

women’s empowerment – as its focus, this paper explores this theme from a critical perspective

informed by feminist approaches to development. Combining literature reviews,

analysis of policy documents and primary research this paper aims to provide an overview

of the potential of tourism to contribute to the gender equality and women’s empowerment,

and the tensions and complexities that this presents. It concludes by offering some

tentative policy recommendations and an agenda for future research.


Conclusions and Recommendations.

This paper has taken a critical approach to the

relationship between tourism and MDG3. By

exploring both implicit and explicit gendered

assumptions embedded in tourism development

policy, the paper has highlighted some of

the tensions and complexities of this issue. A

key criticism of current policy is that very limited

notions of women’s empowerment – that

is, economic empowerment - are used to justify

and legitimise these policies. As Chant

(2006: 101) argues, access to material resources

is ‘unlikely to have a significant impact

on women’s empowerment without changes in

other social, cultural, and legal structures of

gender inequality’. There is no necessary correlation

between an increase in resources and

the redress of power relations (Kabeer 1999).

As such, it can be concluded from the research

that economic empowerment as experienced

by many women in tourism development

communities does not tend to translate into

meaningful a redress of power relations beyond

a relative improvement in economic

conditions. That is, empowerment through

the market remains empowerment in the market,

to the exclusion of more wide-reaching

societal change. Although tourism development

may reconstitute gendered power relations

in narrow economic (or market) terms,

in reality the broader power structures of inequality

across society remain profoundly gender-

biased, a pattern which is in many ways

not only reinforced but also fuelled by processes

of tourism development.

However, such a critical perspective is not

necessarily the most fruitful way of opening

channels of debate and exchange with policymakers

and development practitioners. In an

attempt to do this in a constructive manner, I

offer some tentative guidelines or recommendations

for channelling the potential benefits

of tourism more effectively towards achieving

MDG3. First, the promotion of tourism as a

macroeconomic development strategy for

poorer countries could be carried out with a

more explicit understanding of the gendered

implications of this policy. Extensive research

exists into the unequal ways in which tourism

work is structured. As such, tourism companies

should be held to account for their gender

policies (whether explicit or implicit) in order

to provide more opportunities for promotion

and training for women workers and to redress

the historical imbalances in tourism work.

Second, there could be a more open debate in

tourism policy circles about the politics of

women’s empowerment and gender equality.

This would allow gender and tourism policy to

move beyond narrow, market-based conceptualisations

and to present more creative and

innovative ways of achieving MDG3. Third,

policy-makers could pay more attention to

feminist analyses of tourism development. We

need to move beyond generalised statements

about the contribution of tourism to MDG3

and begin to explore the practical ways in

which this relationship can be operationalised.

This would require the involvement of feminist

academics and practitioners at all stages of

the tourism policy process – including implementation

– to ensure that such policies retain

a political commitment to broad notions of

gender equality and women’s empowerment.

As demonstrated in this paper, research into

the nexus between tourism and MDG3 is currently

limited. The guidelines above are tentative

precisely because of the lack of detailed,

analytical research in this area. This would

benefit from further research in a number of

priority areas: the outcomes of World Bank

gender and tourism projects; gender and tourism

policy in bilateral and regional funding

agencies; and UNWTO’s emerging gender

agenda. Also, more research into grassroots

feminist tourism projects across the world -

such as the Zona Franja tourism and women’s

empowerment project in Nicaragua - would

offer alternative ways of understanding gender

and tourism, and provide inspiration for creative

and progressive ways of harnessing tourism

to contribute to gender equality and the

empowerment of women.

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