I’m viewing International Women’s Day through a different lens this year. Rather than focusing on the achievements of women, I’ve found myself drawn to the side of IWD which is about parity and inclusion.  

A united front 

Maybe it’s because so many of us across the globe have spent so much time in similar situations this past year. We’ve all been forced to stop. To retreat to our homes in the fight against one common virus.  

While COVID-19 has affected all of us in different waysfor the most part our response has been united. As the pandemic progresses, we are learning a lot from neighboring countries and cultures. Not just about the different measures they’re taking to contain virus spread. But about how their education system is managing homeschooling; how social norms affect lifestyle choices; compliance (or lack thereof) to lockdowns and mask wearing: and what traditions and customs have been altered due to lockdowns and social distancing guidelines 

As we’re fast approaching the anniversary of the day when the world stopped traveling, Ive realized that these are the kind of insights that I have previously arrived at through my travels.  

By spreading my wings I’ve learned a lot about the many ways that people live their lives. And there are customs, traditions, and values from around the globe that I’ve been inspired to include in my version of world. 

I find that this quote from Mark Twain sums up my thoughts perfectly: 

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"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many  of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." 

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Travel celebrates diversity 

Unsurprisingly, as Accenture’s Global Travel Industry Lead, I love to Travel. And I don’t just mean the blue skies, white sand, stretch myself out on a sun lounger kind of travel. I’m talking overstuffed backpack, dog-eared Lonely Planet and quick dry towel kind of travel.  

Let’s just say I’m the kind of traveler who knew about hand sanitizer before Coronavirus made it fashionable – and I sure needed it in those $10/night hostels!

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Caption: From top: El Calafate, Argentina 2002; The Great Wall of China, 2006; Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia, 2002

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Caption: Bhutan, 2017

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From Eurailing through Europe as a wide-eyed college junior before and after my semester abroad in Spain. Taking one year off early in my career to backpack through South America. Working with the NGO Plan International in Ecuador and Sierra Leone with Accenture Development Partnerships (ADP). All the way through to using my PTO days for a volunteer vacation in Costa Rica, a walking trek in Northeast India, and explorations all over China, Sri Lanka, and the Kingdom of Bhutan. I have been fortunate to see an incredible amount of diversity – and disparity in our world. 

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Caption: Ecuador, 2005

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Although much has changed over the years and hopefully will continue to do so, I saw the culture of machismo and the idea that a woman’s place is in the kitchennot in “dad’s chair”, in full action. 

I experienced more catcalling and whistling from construction workers than I care to remember. 

I learned all about (the lack of) personal space and saving face norms between men and women. 

I observed young girls unable to get an education so they could work in the fields while their brothers attended school and played sports. 

I learned what privilege and opportunity really means. And doesn’t mean. That going to school and eventually university, having regular meals and clothes on my back, and having access to medical care and my basic health needs met are not table stakes.

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Caption: Sierra Leone, 2006

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Beyond personal travels, my job here at Accenture has also afforded me an incredible amount of exposure to the world, various cultures, and the idiosyncrasies of inclusion and diversity. 

had never heard the expression ‘skip-level meeting’, nor did or do I care about hierarchies enough to not spend time with someone on my team who may be formally three levels below my title. 

I also never knew that being a successful female executive was considered intimidating in certain cultures and I should ‘tone it down’ so not to be threatening.

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Caption: Accenture International Women’s Day celebrations in Bangalore, 2016

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What I knew is that color, race, gender, and financial status are not what define one’s quality or importance in this world. Our humanity is. Our respect and concern for the other are. Our values, ethics, and principles do.

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Call me naïve or call me the daughter of a mother who regularly brought my sister and me to volunteer at soup kitchens on Sundays. Who encouraged us to invite anyone home who needed a safe place to stay, a family with whom to share a holiday meal, or just Mom's comforting kiss goodnight. And who would periodically pull us out of school for a day and take us to random places to expose us to how the ‘real world’ lives. From a very young age, she taught me the value of inclusion, celebrating diversity, and exploring all the amazing people and cultures out there…not to mention, unconditional love. 

Rethinking our world 

Like many others I know, I’m chomping at the bit to begin exploring againI have a very long to-travel list, many fRamily, and team members to see, clients to visit, and taxi/uber drivers to talk to. And even a long-awaited reunion with my favorite Dutch summer camp counselor from 30 years ago. And, given how much the world has changed over the past twelve months, I think Mark Twain’s quote has never been more apt. 

But COVID-19 has made us reevaluate so many things in our lives, and perhaps it’s time to re-think travel as well. 

Government restrictions and testing policies mean that at least in the short-term international travel could well be restricted to those who have both the time and the money at their disposal to navigate global borders. But expanding your horizons doesn’t have to be expensive and you don’t even have to go far to achieve it.  

We know that domestic travel will recover first and it’s where many countries are focusing their efforts in the run up to the summer season. So perhaps now is the time for travel companies to step up and hone in on offering experiences that connect guests to their immediate surroundings. Focus on conscious travel and inspire travelers to step outside of their corner of the earth.  

Technology will be key to making this happen by making it easier for more people to travel. From simple things like improving the booking process to make the experience easier across traveler demographics, to using data to market the most suitable destinations to the right target audience. And enabling a much more contactless end-to-end journey, which will help make travel more accessible to immunocompromised individuals. Technology is the backbone behind all these changes. 

Let’s use travel to inspire inclusion and make way for change. 

The opinions, statements, and assessments in this report are solely those of the individual author(s) and do not constitute legal advice, nor do they necessarily reflect the views of Accenture, its subsidiaries, or affiliates. 

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Emily Weiss

Managing Director – Global Industry Sector Lead Travel

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