Women on the verge of amazing travel!
In honour of International Women’s Day, Canadian Living intern Leslie Emmons interviewed Paula Vlamings from Planeterra Foundation, the fund-raising arm of G Adventures. As Executive Director of Planeterra and a seasoned traveller, Paula is keenly aware how tourism can change the lives of women everywhere.
-interview by Leslie Emmons
Q: For those readers who’ve never heard of Planeterra, how would you describe the organization?
A: We are a corporate foundation of G Adventures and we provide sustainable solutions to local communities, often through tourism-related enterprises. We have 23 projects in 14 countries and support small business projects, many of which help women and girls in developing countries, as well as other small business developments that tie into the tourism supply chain.
Q: Can you explain the relationship between Planeterra and G Adventures?
A: G Adventure founder Bruce Poon Tip established Planeterra back in 2003 and it was really to have a vehicle to give back to the communities where G Adventures was running trips. He saw the opportunity and the need because there are sometimes negative impacts on local communities from tourism and Bruce really wanted to make a difference in those communities. He started Planeterra with a women’s weaving co-op in Peru in order to maintain traditional weaving and provide an income opportunity for the women who live along the Inca trail, where his tours pass through.
At the moment, 100 percent of what we raise through travellers’ donations and corporate sponsors, along with other partners, goes directly to the projects that we support.
Q: How is sustainable tourism different from just heading out on vacation?
A: Sustainable tourism is about preserving both the environment and the culture, and making sure that the benefits of your trip [money spent] stay in the community.
This means using local transportation, local home stays, making sure that you’re very conscious about your footprint in terms of the environment, as well as the impact you, as a traveller, have on the cultures and local traditions. Often on all-inclusive trips, money goes to a foreign owned company – the locals don’t always benefit and that money doesn’t stay in the local economy.
Q: What’s top of mind for you on March 8, International Women’s Day?
A: In the developing world and within charitable groups, there’s an understanding that empowering and educating girls and women is really the key to alleviating poverty, and we at Planterra make an effort to do just that. For instance, in Peru we support a small women-owned business that sells biodegradable soaps and detergents to visitors passing through the Inca trail.
We’re keeping this money in the local economy and the women are now hiring other women, so it’s really been a great income generator and empowerment opportunity.
Q: Why do you think there are so many women in the tourism industry?
A: Tourism really is a great avenue and a great industry for women. There are many obstacles facing women who want to enter other industries such as agriculture or manufacturing. But women have more opportunity in travel and tourism. They can make things at home, work in a small hotel or even work as a guide. There are fewer barriers and that’s important because tourism is such a large employer around the world.
Q: Are there any stories that stick with you on how the lives of women have considerably changed because of Planeterra’s support?
A: We have a training restaurant in Siem Reap, Cambodia, The New Hope Community Training Restaurant, which is located in one of the tougher slums. This was a community that was taken over by the Khmer Rouge and destroyed. One of our tour leaders thought to bring travellers through the area for a local meal to help support that community.
We got involved and helped build a proper kitchen and a vocational training restaurant that has been able to support women who were formerly forced into undignified labour. It’s doing quite well and five women have graduated from that program and are now working in some of the nicer hotels in Siem Reap and earning a decent living.
Kudos to Leslie for a great interview with Paula.
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