Gender, Globalisation and Tourism Cultures

Dr. Annette Pritchard

Good morning, my name is Annette Pritchard and I'm honoured to be invited to speak at this special meeting of Women Ministers of Culture, which also honours the former President of Iceland, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir. I'm going to be focusing my presentation on gender and tourism marketing; first however, I would like to begin with some contextual material on the role of women in the tourism industry.

Tourism is the world's largest and fastest growing industry. It is a significant area of economic activity and employs over 200 million people worldwide. It is a particularly important sector for women as their percentages of employment in most countries are higher than in the workforce in general. The numbers of women employed in tourism vary greatly between countries - from under 10% in some Muslim countries to close to 70% in others from Bolivia to the UK. There has been a broad increase in the participation of women in tourism at a global level, largely driven by growth in the industry in developing countries.

Indeed, tourism is of critical importance to the world's poorest countries, which already account for a third of all global international tourist arrivals. Virtually all of these countries now have national tourism development strategies focusing on promoting economic growth and increasing foreign exchange earnings, often without specifically taking the needs of the poor into account in tourism development - what has been termed ‘pro-poor tourism'.

International tourism is significant or growing in almost half of the world's 50 lowest income countries and in the 12 countries that are home to 80% of the world's poor. But tourism investment in these developing countries is typically dominated by international corporations and local elites. As a result, profits tend to be repatriated abroad and links with local economies are weak, with the exception of employment.

Although women dominate tourism employment, they face numerous barriers. The situation for women mirrors that in other sectors with significant horizontal and vertical gender segregation. Horizontally women and men typically have different occupations and most women are employed in jobs, which reflect their traditional domestic roles; they are typically employed as receptionists, waitresses, cleaners, babysitters and travel agency sales people. Vertically women are concentrated in lower level occupations with few opportunities for upward mobility while men dominate managerial positions, although recent occupational statistics do indicate that women's presence in middle and upper management in the industry is growing and the gap closing in some developed countries.

Women are marginalized and squeezed out of directorships and senior posts, particularly in large organisations. To give you just one illustration, male executives of American Convention and Visitor Bureaus outnumber their female equivalents by 3 to 2, they tend to work with bigger budgets (only 8% of women manage budgets over US$2 million, compared to 40% of men), have more impressive job titles (over 40% of men are Presidents or CEOs, compared to only 12% of females) and there remains a significant salary gap with women earning less than two-thirds of the average male salary.

Generally, employment in the tourism industry is characterised by low pay, low status and low skill jobs, offering poor conditions of employment, meagre benefits, unsocial hours and little workforce development. Contracts are often short term, informal or non-existent and as women are disproportionately likely to be on non-permanent, casual and part-time contracts they generally receive less training opportunities as employers often focus training and investment on permanent staff.

Many workers face difficult, often exploitative conditions. The International Labour Office recently published a report highlighting the high levels of violence, stress and sexual harassment in hotels, catering and tourism. Unsurprisingly it is mostly women in junior positions who experience these problems, but unlike in other sectors, women face harassment not only from colleagues and managers but also from clients. Factors such as late working hours, service of alcohol, dress codes, racism, negative attitudes towards service staff and the uninhibited, sexualised nature of tourism and tourism promotion contribute to a high-risk environment for women and younger workers, as well as ethnic minority, migrant and part-time workers.

This takes me to the heart of my presentation – to the notion that tourism as an industry sexually objectifies women. Not only is this the case in employment practices, where women are typically the front-line of the industry, but also in tourism marketing, where they are similarly the ‘face' of the sector. In the following slides, we will see that stereotypical gendered, sexed and often racialised images of women are in many cases part of the tourism product itself. The images that I have chosen to illustrate the presentation are in no way unusual and I could have chosen any number of alternatives simply by picking up any tourism brochure or travel magazine.

Despite decades of feminist study, shifts in gender roles and equal opportunities legislation, media representations of women and men have seen little serious change. This photograph of a woman sitting beside a swimming pool demonstrates how women are far more likely than men to be seen as sexual objects or in today's language ‘eye candy'. White women invariably adorn and frame product promotions and in tourism they are usually seen as passive and sexually available in the context of the holiday experience – as are the indigenous women of the destinations they visit.

This ad for Air France exemplifies the prominent media studies scholar Judith Williamson's comment that women are the face of advertising, that, quote ‘we are the language that is spoken on posters and screens, inasmuch as "Woman" is an image'. Here, her face dominates the poster and the product is almost invisible (you can just discern a tiny plane emerging from a strand of her carefully windswept blond hair). The model's open eyes and parted lips convey a breathy, sexuality – it is not quite a smile, more an invitation – and a typical example of how discourses of desire, sensuality and sexuality permeate both the tourism experience and its marketing.

Women and sexual imagery are thus ‘the face' of tourism advertising and they are often used to portray the airline, which flies us to our vacation destination. But these images of attractive, attentive young women not only symbolise high levels of service but also create a link between woman and place. The Singapore Girl and the Smooth as Silk Thai Air campaigns are both well known and have been specifically critiqued for drawing on discourses, which link Asian women with a sexual and submissive femininity. On the right here, the Nippon Air ad features a male business traveller (and the business traveller is still typically seen to be a man) being cared for and nurtured by a female cabin crewmember. The cabin crew call button is a stylised woman, so here literally and figuratively the attentive Asian woman is at the beck and call of the western businessman – a metaphor seen in countless advertisements around the world.

This next advertisement for Lauda Air goes one step further and displays a naked woman, lying back on exotic silk drapery, eyes closed. Her dark, glossy skin merges with the drapery, suggesting an affinity between the woman's body and the silken commodity. Other details such as her closed eyes, her upturned face, her pouting lips and her hand placed over her naked breast, together with the rumpled sheets all create a sexually charged scene. And just in case we miss the message, the airline's advertising tagline is ‘Fly your dreams' – all creating an ad which explicitly sexually objectifies women.

This advertising device of a woman posed with eyes closed and face upturned, seemingly lost in her own sensual reveries is very common in tourism marketing. Here, in this example from Tourism New Zealand, we see a woman luxuriating in a pool in just this way, with the flowing water both outlining and caressing her partially submerged body. In virtually every category of product and every destination, tourism advertising is dominated by images of attractive women. Given the choice between portraying an attractive man or an attractive woman enjoying the product, marketers invariably choose the latter. Crucially, when you do see men (unlike the women we have seen here) they tend to be active, often enjoying adventure sports or, as I mentioned before, they are portrayed as business travellers.

The important point I want to underline is that that gendered and heavily sexualised representations of women are used in particular ways in tourism advertising to market places. Here, in an advertisement for Austria, the attractive model and the setting are intimately and explicitly related so that her breasts (the focal feature of the ad) are aligned to perfectly mirror the mountains in the distance. In such ways is the reader invited to make the connection between the sexuality of the attractive young blonde woman and the femininised landscape. As if the point needed further underscoring, the woman's eyes are again closed and her face upturned, seemingly inviting a lover's kiss.

As we have seen, such openly sexualised representations of women in tourism marketing are used to market a range of destinations, from Europe to New Zealand. So far, all the examples we have seen are of conventionally attractive white women portrayed as tourists enjoying the holiday experience.

However, when we turn our attention to the marketing of destinations of the South and the East, the scantily clad female tourist is now joined by images of sexually exoticised and eroticised indigenous women. The key point is that these representations also take on racialised stereotypes, which recycle not only hetero-patriarchal, but also ‘colonial' myths and fantasies so that gendered and sexed representations of women are used to exoticise and eroticise Asia-Pacific and Africa.

In advertisements for destinations in the Caribbean and the Pacific, women are hyper-feminised and sexualised; indeed, in addition to marketing material, postcards, travel writing and even television travelogues all play a part in mapping the sensual topography of land and skin so that the women and the landscapes of the Caribbean and the South Pacific become analogous.

A brochure produced for the Jamaica Tourist Board tells potential tourists that ‘tempting sunsets appear as girls with cinnamon-coloured skin walk the beach wearing bikinis the size of butterflies. This is your Eden. Welcome to Negril' – a resort it later describes as ‘The Capital of Casual' – all of which combine to link exotic places, eroticised women and casual sexual encounters.

Similarly, a male travel writer describes Tahitian women as ‘dusky, voluptuous village girls' who ‘tempt tourists' with their ‘long hair? velvet skin [and] ? fragrance.' Such descriptions are clear echoes of masculinist and colonial discourses. This feminisation of Tahiti and its women directly draws on the nineteenth century paintings of Gaughin, which continue to frame contemporary travel writings on Tahitian women - seen here to represent the enticing and inviting land to be explored, mapped, penetrated and known by the male traveller. Despite the readership of travel magazines such as Conde Nast being split equally by gender and research, which indicates that women take the lead in making couples' holiday decisions, such advertising and travel writing seem to speak overwhelmingly to a male audience.

In view of what I've just said about the masculinist colonialist imaginary addressing a male audience, it is instructive to note that the world's major advertising agencies which dominate tourism marketing are all based in metropolitan centres and have a heavily male culture - with 70% of all creative department staff being men. Cultural forms such as the media, advertising and travel shape and reflect stakeholder expectations and in every site of cultural representation (including film, advertising and travel) we can see a recycling of stereotypical ways of seeing people and places.

In terms of the marketing of Africa and Asia, women and young children are very clearly the ‘face' of these destinations. The marketing of both continue to be framed by colonial myths and fantasies, so that these leisure landscapes are feminised and eroticised. Travel brochures and tourism marketing thus perpetuate the metropolitan gaze on ‘colonial' spaces and bodies, which are seen as dramatic, exotic, barbaric and feminine.

Here, marketers feminise Sun City so that ‘by day, she shimmers under an African sun ? by night she is the jewel of Africa', whilst we are told how India ‘awaits you ? she is an indescribable and unforgettable land [where] ? every whim will be gratified.'

Here we can very clearly see examples from websites offering travel packages to Africa, how young women are the face of the continent, which is also often represented by its indigenous animals, frequently seen in otherwise, wild, empty landscapes.

Whilst time does not allow me to discuss it in detail, it is also important to recognise that tourism does not exist in isolation and the cultural forms I have mentioned above all entwine to perpetuate the metropolitan gaze. Here, in this fashion shoot from Conde Nast Traveller magazine, we can see the recycling of the Oriental stereotypes of cinema, opera, literature and other cultural forms which portray Asian women as submissive and dangerously sensual - the so-called China Doll stereotype.

The composition of the page on the left juxtaposes the dangerous and hypnotic savagery of the snake with images of Asian women seen as tempting, provocative and highly sexual. On the right, the model is posed before a birdcage, a symbol of captivity, which seems to echo stereotypes of submission and domination. Such fashion-travel iconographies thus combine to reinforce particular imaginaries of place and people, constructing Asian women as sexually tempting, sensuous and available.

To move to a conclusion; at the beginning of the presentation I noted the economic and socio-cultural power of the tourism industry. It is undoubtedly ideally placed to empower and advance women and has done so in many countries and contexts.

Women can find a voice and independence through their involvement in tourism activities - by becoming part of decision-making processes and carving out new roles in their families, homes and within local power structures. Much more can be done on the ground to further these initiatives and the UN (amongst other bodies) has already identified some of the ways in which this can happen.

Key to the UN's recommendations are that employers should set up programmes and schemes encouraging women to move into non-traditional occupations, invest in women's training and appoint them in managerial positions.

Particularly significant in the context of this presentation is the recommendation that the tourism industry and national tourism boards should abolish advertising which uses stereotypical images of women as part of the product and should more realistically portray the diversity of workers and indigenous women.

Despite such reports, indigenous women and female employees continue to be objectified as part of the tourism "package", their traditional roles perpetuated within an industry that feeds on uncomplicated images grounded in notions of sexual availability and desire. Arguably there is a direct connection between such tourism promotion images and exploitative practices such as sex tourism, trafficking in women and children and sexual harassment of female employees who are sexually objectified, expected to dress attractively, to look beautiful and to tolerate customers' unwanted attentions.

Tourism research provides a key means to challenge and critique stereotypical promotion of people and place and there are now some very thought-provoking examples of research on gender issues, particularly by a new generation of young female doctoral students. But such work is often under-valued and even discouraged by funding sponsors who see gender as of peripheral importance to the tourism research agenda. It remains difficult to obtain funding for gender research in tourism and there are very few female professors of tourism to champion such research in a tourism academy dominated by white, middle-aged men. In my own country, less than 10% of tourism professors are women – well below the average of 20% across all subjects – itself an unacceptably low figure.

It is only by valuing research which critiques advertising that we can understand the political and cultural consequences of a tourism marketing which continues to draw on gendered and racialised stereotypes rooted in a colonial Caucasian imaginary directly linking body, race and culture and merging the feminine and the exotic.

This is a remarkably durable imaginary, which is routinely recycled in the gendered, sexed, and racialised cultural iconographies of the travel industry – only some of which I have explored today.

So what is at stake when we sex the globe?

When the destinations of the developing world are routinely feminised and sexualised in the world's metropolitan centres, this continued construction of exoticized desires affirms gendered and racialized international power relations.

The continued sexual objectification of women in advertising across the globe similarly affirms the reality of the world's unequal gender relationships.

Addressing the issue of gendered and racialised stereotypes is of course, not tourism-specific; rather the tourism sector is yet another example where traditional stereotypes come into play. With sustained action and a commitment to change tourism could play a key role in challenging these stereotypes, although it seems that at the moment the likelihood of success is not high.

Significant change requires us to not only challenge existing marketing practice but also to confront those very powerful gendered and racialised discourses which continue to shape our world.

The fact that you have chosen to include tourism in your conference here today offers considerable hope that such challenges can be mounted.

Thank you for listening.