As regional general manager for Peak DMC in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, Zina Bencheik has been keen to grow the role of the women in the tourism industry.
Here she talks to Breaking Travel News about her ambitions for the company
Breaking Travel News: Can you tell us a little about Peak and what it offers to the hospitality market here in Europe?
Zina Bencheik: Peak DMC is a global inbound tour operator.
We have 21 destination management companies across the world - from Iceland to Indonesia - and we specialise in immersive small groups trips that includes the services of a local tour leader, who we recruit and train ourselves.
Where we differ from other destination management companies is that we focus on the leisure market and creating sustainable and experiential itineraries you can’t get with any other operator.
BTN: You took on your role as regional general manager for Europe, North Africa and the Middle East with Peak just over a year ago – how has it differed from your expectations?
ZB: I started with Peak DMC back in 2010 as the finance manager for Morocco.
I had just moved home after many years away studying and working in France.
To be honest I didn’t have any expectations when I started in the role as it was my first time working in the travel industry.
I’d just come from a very corporate environment at KPMG in Paris.
Now I can’t imagine working in any other industry – I feel I’ve really found my purpose working in travel.
What I love about it is the people you get to work with.
Another unexpected benefit has been how much Peak has invested in me and allowed me new opportunities along the way.
BTN: Peak has been keen to promote the role of women in the hospitality sector, particularly as guides – what can you tell us about that?
ZB: Yes, back in 2017 we had a look at our business, and we realised that although we had many women working in our offices, when it came to our local guides the vast majority – around 80 per cent globally – were men.
Given one of our main roles as a destination management companies is to recruit and train local leaders and guides, we saw this as an area where we could make a big impact.
The reason it’s so important to us is because not only is a tour leading a great role it itself but it’s also a common entry point into the wider industry, so its important women aren’t missing out on that opportunity.
In Morocco, where I’m from, we didn’t have any female tour leaders in 2017. Zero!
There is a big cultural barrier to women becoming tour leaders here because lots of women don’t do any sort of paid work at all – traditionally they stay home and look after their families.
In Morocco you must obtain a government-issued licence to work as a guide and the government doesn’t see it as a suitable job for women.
I’ve had to lobby them to allow women to sit the test, which has been going well so far – we now have 13 female guides working with us.
BTN: Do you feel the travel industry is catching up with the ambitions of Peak – with regard to sustainability and gender equality? How much further is there to go?
ZB: I think the industry still has a way to go to become truly sustainable and even though we have instigated lots of different responsible business practices of course there is a lot more to be done!
But what I find really encouraging is there’s a strong consumer demand now for businesses to be sustainable which is creating a huge wave of interest from our partners.
For example, we have lots of different businesses wanting to work with us because of our stance on gender equality.
BTN: Peak is part of Intrepid Group – what benefits does that bring in terms of scale, sales and technical know-how?
ZB: Being part of a global business like the Intrepid Group means we can leverage the expertise and knowledge from our people around the world in everything that we do.
If we have an operational issue in Morocco, I can ask my colleagues in Turkey or India for their advice, for example.
All our destination management companies’ offices are also supported by a global team who ensure we’re offering consistent services to our partners across every destination.
Our partners can run a trip with us in Sri Lanka and then have confidence they’ll get the same great experience for their customers in Egypt.
Peak DMC is a global adventure management service operator.
The company combines global presence with local expertise and with more than 40 offices operating across 92 countries, the established and experienced local teams utilise its company-wide operating standards to innovate and deliver experiential and sustainable travel products for tour operators’ needs.
Find out more on the official website.