In this excerpt from the new book Gender Equality and Tourism: Beyond Empowerment, we meet María Isabel from Ecuador. We found out about her story through our associate Carla Ricaurte Quijano, who is Associate Professor in Tourism at the Escuela Superior Politécnica del Litoral (ESPOL) in Guayaquil, the region María calls her home. Here’s her story.
“I live in Puná, an island in the Gulf of Guayaquil, Ecuador. I’ve been working in tourism for 14 years now. When I first got married I hadn’t finished school, and my husband was very traditional. He didn’t think I needed to study anymore, or to have any business outside of the home.”
María’s husband was a fisherman with a small, informal tourism business on the side – he’d take visitors around for short trips, much like many other fishermen in the area. But for María, who at first only joined him to provide company and quietly assist on some odd jobs, these trips changed her entire outlook: “I realised tourism had a lot of potential in my community and that I wanted to get involved.”
It wasn’t all plain sailing for María at first, “I asked my husband to let me finish school and, after a long struggle he accepted, as long as I found somebody to take care of our little girls.” Needless to say, María did. “I also attended every single training course in tourism – the Tourism Ministry came, the municipal government, universities and on-governmental organizations (NGOs), the provincial government, you name it. I took advantage of all the courses, workshops and training sessions they offered us.” Attending every meeting and being a reliable contact for the local authorities led to María becoming the region’s go-to woman for organising tours.
María’s involvement in the family’s business grew, and her influence on key business decisions did as well – as was her take on customer service, which proved valuable for word-of-mouth promotion and kept tourists coming back time after time. Eventually, María took over the business, investing money in the running of operations and paying her husband a salary. María says of this development, “Of course, he wasn’t entirely convinced to begin with. But some time after that, he had an emergency and he needed money. I gladly gave him everything I’d saved. He looked at me differently after that – with respect.”
Much changed over the years, and tourism has changed the dynamic of the region – some for the better, some for the worse. But María remains positive and is convinced that tourism is the great equaliser for women in the area. She experienced it herself, in her relationship with her husband: “Now, we’re equal partners and friends. I wish my daughters could work in tourism too, because through tourism they can help their community and have the comforts I didn’t have in my time. I also hope they find good husbands who really value them as women and human beings.”
To read María’s full account, and others by women from around the world, buy the book on the online CABI bookstore.