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International Women's Day: Celebrating women in tourism

This International Women’s Day we’re reflecting on how we can collectively #BreakTheBias. Get to know five fantastic women at Explore, and find out their highlights and challenges from within the travel industry.

At Explore, we’re proud to have women in a diverse range of roles across the business - from providing our unforgettable adventures on the ground around the world, to ensuring everything works like clockwork behind the scenes. In celebration of the fantastic women who make up Explore, this International Women’s Day we’re introducing you to five of our team members to get to know their unique roles.


Tell us a bit about you: What do you do, where in the world are you, and when did you join Explore?


Isanka: I'm Isanka Gunawardhana, an Explore leader from Sri Lanka. My higher education is in Tourism, Aviation studies & Archaeology. I've gained an MBA with Hospitality from University of West London. I joined the tourism industry as a national tourist guide lecturer in 2008, and have worked for Explore since 2016.


Prue: I am Group Head of Sustainability for Hotelplan, a collection of five different outdoor and adventure brands, of which Explore is one. Prior to overseeing the sustainability for the group I was Head of Sustainability for Explore, so I know (and love) the holidays, the people and customers really well. I live in Surrey, near Guildford, and I joined Explore back in 2009 after I finished my masters degree in London.


Haymar: I am Haymar, an Explore tour leader from Myanmar, Burma. I started to work with Explore in 2011 and really enjoyed it. Travelling is one of the things I like most to see new places in the world.


Hannah: I’ve been working at Explore for 11 years now, based in the head office in Farnborough. Originally I worked as part of the Product Team and now I manage Sustainability which covers everything from our trips on the ground to how we tackle waste at head office in Farnborough.

Jae: I live in Folkestone – a quirky seaside town with a huge art scene and an eclectic population, which I love. I joined Explore as Marketing Director at the beginning of this year.


What do you love most about your role, and what do you find most challenging?

Isanka: I think I'm so lucky to practice my hobby as my job. I love taking guests around my beautiful country, showing them our heritage, nature & culture. Each day is different to the last.

Prue: What I love most about the role is also the most challenging part of it – “sustainability” is an enormous, encompassing concept, which continually evolves and has impacts on every aspect of our working and personal lives. I love learning about all these different facets, it genuinely fascinates me and keeps me motivated - never do I not want to go to work. At the same time, you never quite feel like you can tick anything off your list! Each win creates a series of other tasks, and days, weeks and months can fly by without you taking stock of what you have actually accomplished. You’re always on the run, but I love that.

What challenges have you faced as a woman in the travel industry?

Jae: Whilst things have undoubtedly improved for women during my career, there is no question that we’ve still got a way to go. I have countless examples of times when being a woman has meant I’ve been impacted by bias. Despite having experienced countless sexist moments, looking back I didn’t react to either of these situations the way I wish I had. That’s why this year’s IWD theme of “Break The Bias” and helping women to call out inappropriate behaviour is so important. I hope that the things people at work (in three different workplaces) said to me during three pregnancies just wouldn’t come out of their mouths any more. But, if they did, I hope women and allies would speak up. 

How have you felt empowered by travel?

Hannah: Travel is so empowering because it gives you so many experiences, seeing how other people live, learning about other cultures, it’s a privilege to travel and it’s definitely shaped my attitude to life. Travelling with Indira, our first female tour leader in India, gave me such an insight in to the culture of this incredible country, as well as a lesson in how hard work and determination led to her getting her dream job - travel creates these opportunities and inspires me to push for more of them.

Where in the world would you most like to go travelling?

Isanka: I like all Explore trips. But the Sri Lanka Walking trip is my favourite because it goes off of the beaten track where guests experience the real nature of Sri Lanka.

Prue: I think like most keen travellers, the list is as long as my arms – and it never seems to get shorter! I would love to go back to different corners of India, particularly the Little Tibet trip or Assam and Nagaland. I’d also love to visit Bolivia and Chile, travel through central Asia and I’ll always have countries from all over Africa on my list – for the safaris, the cultures and people, the history and sheer beauty.

Jae: I am lucky enough to have been to lots of interesting places, but I’ve never been to South America – it’s somewhere I’d love to visit. I love Latin music, so I imagine fabulous evenings of dancing with the odd Cuba Libre!

What are you most proud to have achieved in your role?

Isanka: Whenever I feel my guests are delighted with our services I feel proud of myself. I believe that's the best achievement of a tour leader. 

Still I have an ultimate goal to achieve. I wish to regulate the tourism industry in Sri Lanka by protecting nature by stopping building hotels, preventing disturbing of wildlife, and encouraging recycling, as well as distributing a fair share among the local community and paying a reasonable wage to the workforce in the tourism sector. I wish to create a career path where the people in the lower levels could climb up to the top positions in the tourism industry. I wish to bring sustainability to a reality.

Hannah: Sustainability is a journey, it isn’t something that you can say ‘great, we’re done now’ so I’m really proud of everything we’ve done, especially with reviewing how our operations impact the climate emergency.  And I’m really excited for the future, as we start working towards reducing our carbon footprint and working with experts to support nature and biodiversity in the destinations we explore.
Haymar: I’m happy to share what I know with all of my groups through sharing quality time together - it always makes me proud to be a part of it, and also proud to be a tour leader with Explore.

Prue: I take a lot of pride in seeing my colleagues and peers working together on often complex and time consuming projects, tackling issues together and learning. Not one of us can achieve everything alone, so collaboration is really key to success. I also really enjoy it; hearing what others are working on and seeing how we can support one another.

Jae: Given all of my experiences, I know that I am in a position to be able to empower other women. That’s why I enjoy working as a Leadership Coach – with a special interest in gender equality. Here’s to a time when it’s not a subject we have to talk about, but for now it certainly is.

Yesterday I read an article which suggested that the world would look like a very different - and hopefully more peaceful - place if half of the globe’s leaders were women. We have absolutely no way of knowing whether that’s true but, given that the scientific evidence is that groups make better decisions when they have a more diverse membership, I think it’s an experiment I’d like to take a chance on. And that’s why breaking the bias, and opening up opportunities to women, and to other under-represented groups, in our society is more important now than ever.