Women make up over half of the tourism workforce. Because of societal norms in many countries, women have become well-suited to make money in the tourism industry because of the many skills they have honed growing up can be used in this field. From traditional handicraft creation to cooking and maintaining a household, women around the world make wonderful entertainers for handicraft demonstrations, chefs for traditional meals, and community guesthouse hosts. Despite being employed more than men, and having developed the various skillsets for the industry, women are often underpaid.
Planeterra works to break this cycle, which is why in 2016, they partnered with the San Antonio Women’s Cooperative in a rural area outside of San Ignacio. The community has its roots in Mayan traditions and currently practices subsistence agriculture. Like many rural areas around the world, they are more likely to struggle to access government services.
A small pottery cooperative, run by local resident President Timotea, who was dreaming of how to capture the volume of travellers coming to Belize. The cooperative was preserving traditional pottery, even working with archaeologists to rediscover paint colours for decorating pottery that was used centuries ago. The cooperative was a prime spot for tourists to stop, but they were ill-equipped to host groups, and struggled to get passers-by to stop. Then, along came Planeterra.
“We were all squished in a little place,” explains Timotea, “before Planeterra helped to build the workshop and space we have now.” With an introduction to G Adventures and an upgrade to their space, the small cooperative was ready to launch their tourism business in earnest.
Despite only having a primary school education, like many of the cooperative’s members, Timotea led the cooperative to a successful 2016 season, and in 2018 G Adventures increased their trips visiting the cooperative, and more revenue started to flow in. “Now, even the tourism board of Belize has taken an interest, and we have groups booking from nearby hotels,” says Timotea.
Perhaps the most remarkable part about the San Antonio Women’s Cooperative’s growth in the tourism industry is the number of people they now employ. In the beginning, they started as just nine members working at the centre. Now, 25 people work here as chefs, servers, hosts for the travellers, and to help run the tourism program along with the pottery workshop. Employees are not the only ones benefitting from the burgeoning business. The cooperative sponsors the high school fees of two female students from the local community. G Adventures’ revenue also helped them to make a small extension for an outdoor workshop.
When Planterra met Timotea, she said her dream was always to help women in her community – now, through employment and empowerment of girls in their community, they are achieving this dream.