Published: 20 November 2015

Gender and tourism academia: the elephant in the room

Canada’s new prime minster Justin Trudea formed a gender equal cabinet of 15 men and 15 women, all from ethnically diverse backgrounds. Why? Because he wanted a cabinet that “looks like Canada”.

So why is the field of tourism academia so far behind? Why are most tourism professors men? This overwhelming gender bias is an issue that Professor Nigel Morgan, Chair in Hospitality and Tourism Management at Surrey, along with other  researchers from Rey Juan Carlos University in Spain, and Cardiff Metropolitan University seek to address in their paper ‘Tourism Gender Research: A Critical Accounting’.

Professor Cristina Figueroa-Domecq of Rey Juan Carlos University et al. argue that although women make up two-thirds of the world's tourism workforce, tourism research has been surprisingly gender blind. In the UK, an astounding 87.5% of its tourism professors are men, yet the tourism academy has been so far reluctant to question this norm.

Worryingly, any attempt to critique this patriarchy has been “tainted with the politics of feminism by a male-dominated academic elite”, who deem gender to be a “minority issue”. These “knowledge gatekeepers” decide what research is prioritised and what isn’t, with the gender-elephant-in-the-room usually falling into the latter category.

For the purposes of their study, Figueroa-Domecq et al. conducted a gender-aware analysis of the entire body of tourism research on gender (466 papers). The results indicated an Anglo-centric, sluggish environment in the academic sub-field, showing that tourism and gender papers receive very few citations (a key indicator of research impact); very few make it into gender studies journals, and a significant amount are singly authored (multi-institutional collaboration is known to be a vital characteristic of healthy social science development).

Based on these findings, Figueroa-Domecq et al. identify two scenarios for the future of tourism gender study: stagnation or ignition. The former sees gender-aware scholarship driven further to tourism’s margins as the higher education sector is even more sharply shaped by governmental funding regimes closely linked to business prerogatives.

The latter sees future take off and expansion – cross-disciplinary and international collaborations opening up new vistas for gender-aware research and addressing gaps in tourism’s knowledge. Citations and funding will rise, enriching and broadening tourism’s methodological base.

In conclusion, Figueroa-Domecq et al. argue that in order to achieve scenario two, senior figures must set an agenda that recognises gender as a research leadership issue. They must mainstream gender-sensitive policies and make research decision-making processes more transparent. We need to move beyond the ‘add women and stir’ approach to an ‘add women and alter’ transformation of our research environment.

Read the full paper.

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