The era of women in global tourism innovation is now!


It is no secret to anyone that gender equity is a priority within the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

Apart from knowing that it is a challenge because only 16% are part of boards of directors, 5% are CEOs and only a few are in leadership positions, there are certain economic sectors that leading the way in women empowerment.

In tourism, the figures show us that the sector is evolving! 70% of women influence purchasing decisions in the tourism industry and most of the workforce in tourism worldwide are women. However, salaries and equity in leadership positions remains one of our greatest challenges.

Natalia Bayona delivering a presentation at a function

I would like to start this article by expressing my absolute commitment to start contributing from my leadership position in innovation, digital entrepreneurship and investments in the World Tourism Organization to help create better jobs for those young women who will be our future leaders. ..

Let’s start at home … since the arrival of the Secretary General, Zurab Pololikashvili, the World Tourism Organization prioritizes entrepreneurship and the use of added value and innovation as strategic pillars. His first addition to the UNWTO team, me, a woman …. UNWTO has a woman, millennial and Latin American as Director of Innovation, digital transformation and investments. There is only gratitude with a young Secretary-General who understands and has a vision that leadership goes beyond gender, social condition or continent in which one lives.

The Secretary General of UNWTO Zurab Pololishvili

I have the opportunity to be a Colombian, Latin American leading one of the promises that can contribute to quality employment, sustainability and youth of the most humane and promising industry of all time: tourism.

Another fact worth mentioning… my valuable team is made up of women … Spain, Canada, the United States and Uruguay working to conquer the world of investment, startups and governmental in tourism. That added up with our Legal Counsel, Africa, Middle East, Education, Ethics and Institutional Relations directors: great leaders!

Since my arrival at the World Tourism Organization, I understood that my role is not only creating and showing results. These kind of stories are the basic every-day ones, and our role is much for far-reaching than this.

Our role is to motivate, empower and support all those young and new promises that seek to connect with world leaders to take their projects to the next level: at the multilateral level, where there are no borders, walls or differences of nationality: the world of innovation and the digital transformation in tourism should be fair, where all countries have the same vote no matter how small, big, developed or emerging they are …

Today, after a year of being in the World Tourism Organization, I want to share some appreciations:

Of the 1st UNWTO Global Tourism Startup Competition, we received more than 3,000 applications … What I want to highlight today is that of those 3,000, 590 women from 77 countries applied as leaders of a startup; 45 startups were focused on solutions that include the empowerment of women in their region and 41 startups led by women went to the second round of evaluation!

What motivates me the most is what comes next. I would like to give some examples that serve as inspiration:

The launch of the global start up competition

We are working with more than 5 global investment fund communities that bet on women in startups and have capital of more than 1 billion Euros to invest in them …

With the beloved Undersecretary of Tourism of Chile, Mónica Zalaquett we are leading the II @unwto #tourismtechadventures of the Americas that promises to show the continent the best startups and the network of female entrepreneurship that Chile leads …

In partnership with the IDB, we are working with the tourism leaders to promote female entrepreneurship in the Jesuit routes in Latin America. This is clear, in the hands of Leticia Lauffer, the Director of Wakalua, the innovation hub in which we recently collaborated with Globalia.

If we go to the Middle East, with our team that leads the political relations with the region, which is 100% female, we are working with Qatar and IE University to create the first Tourism Online Academy that will promise to train more than 500,000 people in all tourism issues and where I personally hope that more than 50% are women who want to work in leadership positions.

We will end the year in Ghana, where we will launch a hackathon for women in Africa who want to solve employment and financial inclusion problems in their region.

Finally, with my counterpart in the UN innovation community, “UNIN”, is a woman and we are working with her to include UNWTO as a success case in innovation before the other UN agencies.

Since a year ago, I am fortunate to lead tourism innovation and give direction to young women. We have joined to strengthen the entrepreneurial ecosystem, we create better sources of employment for Startups to hire data scientists, managers or, why not, in the world of investment, there is more opportunity to highlight the female role.

Someone willing to take a bet on our next steps? I welcome your suggestions to

Author: Natalia Bayona – Senior Expert on Innovation and Digital Transformation at World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)


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