Women drive Boracay’s thriving informal tourism sector. They are often drawn to the flexible hours and additional income the sector provides for their families. A study presented during a recent webinar by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) recognized the vital role of women engaged in tourism and highlighted the need to address gaps through better data collection, gender sensitivity training, and appropriate support.

Authored by PIDS Philippine APEC Study Center Network Project Development Officer Jean Clarisse T. Carlos, Central Luzon State University – College of Home Science and Industry former Assistant Professor Marie Jel D. Bautista, and Asian Institute of Management – Dr. Andrew L. Tan Center for Tourism Research Manager Eylla Laire M. Gutierrez, the study “Gendering the Informal Tourism Sector toward Inclusive and Sustainable Growth: The Case Study of Boracay Island” tackled the challenges and opportunities for women in the informal tourism sector. It emphasized the critical need for improved data on these workers and other supportive government programs.

Gutierrez, who presented the study’s findings, highlighted the diversity of women’s roles in sub-sectors like souvenirs, food and beverages, excursions, and emerging tourism segments such as beach mat vending. “We found that while informal workers are organized in associations, there are challenges related to seasonality and competition with formal establishments,” she revealed. “Issues of sexual harassment are also more prevalent in certain sectors,” she added.

These challenges are often overlooked due to the informal nature of their work. Nonetheless, positive signs of a shift towards recognizing their critical role within the industry are emerging. As highlighted by webinar discussant Karen Joy Sargado from the Department of Tourism (DOT) Western Visayas, DOT initiatives demonstrate a growing awareness of the contributions made by this vital workforce.

“Despite regulations often favoring the formal sector, the DOT recognizes the crucial role played by informal tourism workers,” Sargado explained. “This recognition is evident in initiatives providing technical assistance, livelihood programs, and support for small businesses within this sector,” she highlighted.

The study also noted inconsistencies in government efforts across regions making their effectiveness difficult to measure. Some areas prioritize initiatives specifically for women workers, while others integrate gender considerations into broader frameworks. Evident is the strong desire among women informal workers to be included in the formal economy for its attached benefits and security. The study recommends education and training, capacity building, creating gender and development indicators for tourism, community organizing, and private sector involvement.

Compounding the above challenges is the difficulty in collecting and sharing data on informal tourism workers. Carlos, co-author of the study, further elaborated that, “while there is available data, the sophistication of data gathering and sharing remains a challenge”. Streamlining data collection and collaboration among different organizations are essential for establishing a more comprehensive understanding of the informal tourism sector and its specific needs.

“Collaboration among different members of the tourism sector, as well as gender sensitivity training, are critical for driving the empowerment of women”, Carlos and Gutierrez aptly concluded.

Watch the webinar here: https://pids.gov.ph/details/resource/videos/unveiling-women-s-roles-in-circular-economy-adoption-and-tourism-growth. ###

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