“YOU can choose to be a leader or you can choose to be a follower, I chose to be a leader”.
These were the inspiring words of Lena Florri, a woman who started off as a barefoot goat-herder but elevated herself to regional manager of Wilderness Safaris.
Stories of influential women in the tourism industry like Florri, Melba Tjahere, Landine Guims, Janet Mwatota and others were shared at the first Women in Tourism Summit that was held in Windhoek last Friday by Team Destination Namibia.
The theme for the event was “Imagine, inspire and invest”, an event that attracted women from all sub-sectors of the tourism industry coming together for one common goal – to inspire women to invest in the tourism sector through the success stories of other women in the industry. It was also aimed at celebrating women’s achievements, share their different paths in tourism, and share their hopes and dreams for the Namibian tourism sector.
The event attracted influential women such as Glenda Manthe-Grobler from Democratic Media Holdings, who is also involved in the annual Tourism Expo, and prominent local businesswoman and chairperson of the United Africa Group, Martha Namundjembo-Tilahun, who shared her own story on how she got her hotel projects off the ground in the face of nay-sayers.
The event comes ahead of the Adventure Travel World Summit, which Namibia will be hosting for the first time from 20-26 October 2013 and is expected to attract more than 700 tourism industry decision-makers from around the world.
One of the women, Tjahere, who owns a popular traditional food hot spot in the heart of Katutura, Otjikaendu Den Restaurant, narrated her journey from humble beginnings to owning a cuisine business that now employs 17 people.
“I’m honoured to contribute to the tourism industry and Namibian economy as a whole,” she said.
Patron at the event, Minister of Foreign Affairs and former minister of Environment and Tourism Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah said the progress made in terms of women empowerment and gender equality in the country is inspiring and should be encouraged.
“The focus on gender equality has helped women to become more independent and has relieved pressure on their families because they are able to provide for themselves,” said Netumbo-Ndaitwah. She said women can do so much with the little income earned, even in the tourism industry.
“At hotels, lodges, booking-centres and even in the boardrooms, women continue being the care-givers, that is why the role of women in management is increasing,” she said.
The event also highlighted the 42%, which is the amount of land under conservation in Namibia.
According to the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, the tourism sector is recognised as an important generator of employment in Namibia, particularly in rural areas where most tourism occurs. Additionally, through employment and income injections in the rural area, mainly through conservancies, tourism has had a marked impact on reducing rural poverty.
Tourism presents a wide range of income generation opportunities for women in both formal and informal employment. It provides better prospects for women’s participation in the labour force, women’s entrepreneurship, and women’s leadership than other sectors of the economy.
According to the Namibia Tourism Board, a report on communal conservancy stated that in 2011, in 57 conservancies, there were about 665 people employed full time and that in about 857 conservancy committee members, 33% of them women. The industry employs about 260 000 people.