If 2017 was a revolutionary year for women’s rights, the first quarter of 2018 certainly isn’t falling short in accolades. Where last year’s monumental marches asked for a general change in attitude towards women, this year the change is well and truly coming, with people from all walks of life from around the globe uniting in unprecedented campaigning to denounce inequality in the workplace and beyond. Mediatic movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp have been integral in challenging and reshaping behaviour towards women in the workplace, and this year’s International Women’s Day slogan encourages gender unity in pressing decision-makers to implement such change.
With female empowerment in mind, we’d like to celebrate the strong and inspiring women in travel who we’ve been privileged to have worked with over the years. Through their hard work and sustainable and ethical practices, they show us that there is more than one way to stand up to injustice and press for change.
Paulina Burbano de Lara, President of Metropolitan Touring
Hailed as one of the most influential women in Ecuador, Paulina Burbano de Lara’s CV is no less than remarkable. At the age of just 26, Paulina was made director of a major Ecuadorean company, and today her impressive list of roles includes Executive President of leading Ecuador and Galapagos tour operator, Metropolitan Touring, General Manager of Ecuador’s Empresa del Centro Historico and the first and only female director of an Ecuadorean bank. Excelling in the typically male dominated Ecuadorean business arena, Paulina has ensured she does not compromise her values, but rather challenges existing ones, paving the way for more women to continue to break through the glass ceiling.
“Being feminine is an attribute and asset, and one should not hide it. There will be times when board members of other organisations wonder why I am on the board. That’s fine. It just goes with the territory. I know what my job is and I work hard to achieve that goal.”
As well as business tycoon and inspirational leader, Paulina can add eco-warrior to her list. As Ecuador’s popularity as a tourist destination increases, Paulina, alongside Metropolitan Touring, is dedicated to promoting sustainable tourism and eco-friendly projects that celebrate Ecuador’s rich heritage and culture.
Melita Koulmandas Hunter, Chief Creative Officer and Co-Founder of Song Saa
While taking a year-long sabbatical from hectic city life, Melita Hunter and her husband Rory stumbled upon the Koh Rong archipelago in Cambodia. Saddened by the years of neglect the island had faced, the couple – on a wing and a prayer – decided to buy the island, hoping to protect the archipelago while empowering the local community and educating them on sustainable environmental practices. Out of their spontaneity came the Song Saa Foundation — and then Song Saa Private Island.
The creative mind behind the project, Mel curated the rustic and luxurious interiors of the hotel herself, instilling Song Saa with a strong sense of place, inspired by the surrounding archipelago. Working alongside local artisans and craftsmen and women, Mel ensured that Song Saa’s history and community were referenced throughout the hotel, from sinks made from recycled oil drums to floor boards made from old fishing boats.
“It’s incredibly important to empower women in these communities and I love that I get to collaborate with creative minds from other cultures.”
Following the success of Song Saa, Melita is set to launch her own collection of textiles, created in collaboration with many of the local artisans who helped establish Song Saa. A nod to Cambodia’s rich culture and heritage, the collection will feature natural materials and intricate designs – a take on traditional Cambodian craftsmanship with a modern twist.
Marisol Mosquera, Founder of Aracari
Often finding herself the go-to source for tips and advice for friends and family travelling to Peru, Marisol made the decision to leave behind her high-flying financial career in London to build her own business, offering luxury experiences in Peru that benefited local communities. Utilising her extensive network of contacts and local knowledge of her home country, Marisol founded Aracari, a specialist tour operator based in Lima. Twenty years since launching, Marisol hopes to put an end to the suggestion that the terms ‘successful business’ and ‘female-led’ are mutually exclusive.
“I found my way around the hurdles imposed on women by society in general by means of using creativity, and designing a life for myself that afforded me freedom and flexibility. I think the only way to achieve gender equality is to forcefully introduce female organisational structures. That way women will thrive in all roles without having to fight to break barriers.”
Recognising the importance of treading lightly and giving back to local communities, Marisol champions sustainable and ethical tourism: her tailor-made journeys ensure that clients deeply connect with local cultures and traverse lesser-known regions of Peru, while supporting local initiatives and business projects.
Lara Baumann, Founder of Quantum Yoga and Co-Founder of Tri
Growing up in India and Japan, Lara’s fascination with Eastern philosophy and adoration of yoga stemmed from an early age. The completion of an MA in Religious Studies at SOAS led Lara to further explore meditative Buddhist studies in a Thai monastery, and thus, the Quantum Yoga Method was born.
Using traditional Ayurvedic assessment methods, Quantum Yoga incorporates breathing, posture, dietary and lifestyle practices, tailoring each programme to every individual’s unique needs. Following years travelling the world teaching and sharing the Quantum Yoga Method, Lara now implements the method into the wellness philosophy at the heart of Tri, the hotel co-founded with her husband Rob. Together, the couple are paving the way for sustainable luxury travel in Sri Lanka, with Tri honouring nature, co-existing with the surrounding landscape and prioritising ethical practice.