What One Travel Expert Learned From Hosting a Women’s Empowerment Retreat in Africa

Photo: Aline Coquelle
Photo: Aline Coquelle

Travel advisor Deborah Calmeyer of Roar Africa shares a few takeaways.

By Deborah Calmeyer

September 13, 2019

I have long predicted that African women can only embrace the value of their contributions to local tourism when they work to shatter the geographical, gender, and social barriers that have been in place for centuries. This is part of what drove me to launch my company in 2005, as I truly believe as “African women rise, wildlife will thrive.” Roar Africa is a luxury safari specialist run by women, and supported by native-born guides and a curated network of experts. Thirteen years since I started the company, we remain committed to donating time and resources to the hospitality education and professional training of young, impoverished African women, with the goal of improving their lives as well as the lives of their communities.

This enduring mission was brought to life through Roar Africa’s recent inaugural Women’s Empowerment retreat in South Africa. The idea behind this specialized learning journey and safari was simple: to create a learning experience for women and led by women, which would bring gender equity onto the front lines and set in motion a change throughout the safari industry. As with all of our itineraries, this one gave guests unique access the Herding Academy, Tracking Academy, and South African Girls Tourism of Tourism, as well as a curated panel of female speakers who inspired us across the fields of conservation, philanthropy, business, and science. Ahead, I proudly share my personal lessons learned from this life-changing journey.

1. We have started a movement of shattering the glass ceiling in the safari industry.

The conversation has now been “put on the table” and there’s no turning back. We commit to seeing the process through in everything that we do as a business, and encourage everyone to ask critical questions about female representation in staff positions, management, and conservation teams when deciding where to stay.

2. Hospitality is in our DNA and this is proof positive that women can thrive on the front lines.

We chose to host our first empowerment retreat at The Drosdty Hotel and Tswalu Lodge because they are leading the way in terms of their commitment to putting women in leadership positions.

3. It takes a female village, and a brave one at that.

We were privileged to have met those pioneers — the brave wave of African women who have shattered the tribal and western glass ceilings of Africa, and carved a path for future generations of women to come. Some of these inspiring women include Isis Swarahle, a female pilot on a Pilatus PC-12 airplane; Sandy, the first female captain in the world on a Global 6000 aircraft; and Kelathilwe Malakai, the first certified female tracker.

4. The education of women is the best way to save the environment and economy.

There are approximately 30,000 women herders in South Africa left to run the herds of cattle, sheep, and goats while men go into the cities to work. This impacts grazing, climate change, and tourism in ways we hadn’t begun to imagine until we visited the Herding Academy, where women are trained to effectively graze and herd animals so that land is restored and remains rich in nutrients. Here, we witnessed their innovative train-the-trainer programs and saw life-changing skills taught to women first-hand. Spending time with the hospitality graduates from the Girls College of Tourism and Tracking Academy was equally inspiring, as these are tomorrow’s leaders in the one industry that can solve Africa’s unemployment crisis. The reported unemployment rate is around 30 percent, but tourism provides more jobs in Africa than farming, fishing, and forestry combined. It is an industry absolutely vital to Africa’s future.

5. Who inspired who?

The global female leaders I brought on as speakers to talk about the communities and conservation projects they have pioneered in their own countries both inspired and encouraged me. I knew that I could create a platform to share their successes and educate others about the work they have done in their respective fields, and in so doing inspire more women to have the courage to pursue non-traditional roles. I was blown away by the many expressions of appreciation and emotion that these women personally expressed for our group.

6. The beauty and power of philanthropy is always humbling.

Philanthropy lives in the DNA of Americans, which is why they chose to support and attend Roar Africa’s Women’s Empowerment retreat. Their generosity and will to help however they can to improve the lives of others is both humbling and awe-inspiring.

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