Over the last decades tourism has become one of the major international economic activities, creating much needed employment and economic development worldwide. The project report “Gender and tourism: Women’s employment and participation in tourism” developed by UNED-UK in 1998, demonstrated that, in what concerns gender employment, tourism is an important sector for women. The percentage of women in tourism employment is generally higher than in other sectors, particularly in countries where tourism is a more mature industry. However, just like in many other sectors, women are much more likely to be employed on a part time basis (temporary and seasonal employment), and being paid less than men are. The tourism sector has also a significant horizontal and vertical gender segregation of the labour market. Horizontally, man and woman are placed in different occupations; and vertically, lower levels and occupations with few career development opportunities are dominated by women. On the opposite, key managerial positions are dominated by men, despite women around the world possessing higher levels of education.

“Tourism opens doors for women” was the theme for the United Nations’ World Tourism Day in 2007, in order to increase public awareness of the great opportunities that the tourism sector provides to women, and to highlight some issues that still need to be revolved around, which are relevant to Millennium Development Goals, such as ensuring income parity, raising employment quality, creating reasonable workplace conditions and penetrating glass ceilings. The UNWTO launched a new action plan for the empowerment of women through tourism – as a part of UN Millennium Development Goals on gender equality – which represents an opportunity for innovative programs and strategies to foster women’s empowerment and gender equality in tourism. Plans for new and innovative research, policies and strategies in this area have started to develop.

The conference organizers themselves are involved in a research project on gender and tourism (GenTour). The project combines gender, education, entrepreneurship and employment with ethic and economic issues. It aims to examine the importance of women in the tourism sector, and analyze and evaluate the reasons for and constraints to women’s vertical mobility. Suggestions will be made for improving the role and situation of women in tourism, in order to allow more balanced gender participation in the economy. In this sense, it is believed that the project can have strong managerial implications, thus contributing gradually to the empowerment of women, so that they can play a greater role in the global marketplace, also promoting national competitiveness and higher levels of wellbeing for the society. Besides its managerial implications, the project will provide substantial contributions to the advancement of knowledge on gender studies, namely on women’s participation in the tourism economy.

The conference, a part of this project, represents its forward looking component. It aims at creating space for critical thinking and debate, while bringing together scholars, young researchers, practitioners and policy makers, who have experience in research, teaching or practical work in this field. Presentations on innovative perspectives and critical discussion of the existing strategies, ideologies, current practices and projects of empowerment of women are especially welcomed. The aim is to build a critical glance at the endeavours and practices in this field, gain and exchange knowledge about chances and challenges of similar projects, and to think about their social, economic and political impact. The conference purpose is to both disseminate the findings of the GenTour project and raise awareness and critical thinking on women’s vertical mobility, and to explore new research possibilities, including cross-national research in similar domains.

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