International Women’s Day 2024: Celebrating Women in Tourism 

Meet some of Argyll & the Isles’ female leaders

In light of this year’s theme for International Women’s Day 2024, #InspireInclusion, we would like to celebrate the achievements of female leaders in tourism and inspire those wishing to work in our industry as well as recognise the importance of resilience during sectoral challenges and change. 

Meet some of Argyll & the Isles’ female leaders, who have been shaping the region's identity through their hard work, enthusiasm and dedication to creating phenomenal visitor experiences. Now, more than ever, we recognise the need to foster and amplify the voices of the talented young women who are embarking on their careers within the Scottish tourism sector. Together with our partner UHI Argyll, we remain committed to inspiring, supporting and nurturing the next generation of female leaders.

The Team of Bute Kitchen, a community of food & drink producers on the Isle of Bute.

Meet Argyll’s Female Leaders

From entrepreneurs creating unique visitor experiences to wild swimming coaches and foraging guides passionate about our great outdoors, meet some of the women who play a big role in shaping Argyll & the Isles' tourism narrative.

Crafting unique experiences whilst finding your tribe

Meet Ute Amann - Director at Wild at Art Ltd & Owner of Studio on the Shore

With her creative travel business Wild at Art, Ute has been curating and hosting immersive art experiences in Scotland since 2012. She’s made it her mission to create opportunities for curious travellers from all over the world to connect with our stunning locations at a deep and personal level, through doing arts and crafts. The small group art holidays, retreats and cruises include creative workshop sessions, led by some of Scotland’s most inspiring artist tutors. Locations include Argyll, Skye, Orkney and the Outer Hebrides. 

For visitors who are looking for a private retreat space for their creative work and for exploring the Scottish West Coast, Ute recently set up Studio on the Shore in Innellan. Studio on the Shore is a self-catering artist studio with accommodation, right on the seafront on the Cowal peninsula. Ute offers the opportunity to connect with Argyll artists in advance so guests can arrange studio visits and workshop sessions during their stay. 

We spoke with Ute about her favourite elements of curating and hosting immersive art experiences in Scotland and what led her down this career path to begin with.

What inspired you to pursue a career in tourism?

I moved to Scotland from the southwest of Germany 27 years ago after falling in love with the country and its people. I’ve always liked doing creative things and I was absolutely amazed by how many brilliant artists, workshops and galleries there were, and yet very few opportunities for visitors to join in at classes and workshops while on holidays here. 

Scotland deserved to be on the map of the world’s best creative travel destinations and – together with my co-founder Ellen – I made it my mission to make this happen. A few years in, I packed in my day job as a senior management consultant and have never looked back. I love sharing my passion for Scotland and all things creative. In a way, even after all these years of living here, I still manage to see things from a visitor's perspective, which helps with curating and shaping experiences that really enrich and inspire our guests. 

What are the elements of your career within tourism you enjoy the most?

It’s been a conscious decision to keep the business small and personal as that is what our guests appreciate most – “I can tell that you really care”. This means I usually travel with the group and get to meet the most amazing people from different countries, most of them confident, open-minded solo travellers. They love exploring and creating in the company of like-hearted people and are also very interested in Scotland’s rich history and heritage. Many wonderful connections are made on the trips, and many of my guests come back to travel with Wild at Art again and again, which feels deeply rewarding. They feel they’ve “found their tribe”. 

I also get to work with wonderful artists and partners, and visit the most stunning locations – what’s not to like! 

For young individuals, who are considering a career in tourism, what would you say to inspire them that it is a rewarding and fulfilling path to follow?

If you’re passionate about Scotland and like connecting with people from all over the world, a career in tourism can be very fulfilling. I’d say the most rewarding roles are those where you have opportunities to directly connect with visitors. If you see the person and not just a customer, you get to share some of the “real” Scotland and guests will appreciate this. 

You may want to consider starting your own business. Argyll offers countless opportunities for finding your niche and creating unique experiences, and we have a strong community of businesses open for partnership working. 

Embracing a life outdoors

Meet Chris Sifleet – Owner of Inchbaggers Island Swims

Chris has been an open-water swimmer for many years, having crossed the English Channel twice. After moving to Loch Lomond in 2001, Chris started looking at whether it would be possible to swim around the islands of Loch Lomond. She realised that there are about 20 swimmable islands of varying distances. Many of these island names begin with the name ‘Inch’ meaning Island in Gaelic. She thought about how climbers are ‘bagging Munros’ and decided that they should not have all the fun – so, she founded the equivalent for swimmers: Inchbaggers.

Over the past years, Inchbaggers Island Swims has grown into a thriving open-water swimming community that encourages participation, and a sense of achievement and is all-inclusive for all swimmers of various abilities from beginner to experienced. 

We spoke with Chris about her passion for tourism and a life in balance with the great outdoors.

What makes open-water swimming special to you?

When you’re in a pool, you’re swimming in a box. You go back and forth, touch a wall and of course the water is chlorinated. But when you’re outside it’s all so much more interesting. You see things; wildlife, the clouds, islands. You’re in the fresh air and it’s exhilarating. Swimming in the rain is a very special experience.

On that note, however, make sure you stay safe! You shouldn’t jump straight into the waters but instead, walk in slowly to allow time for your body to acclimatise to the cold water. Then get in and start swimming. 

Creating this safe space and friendly environment is a big part of why I founded Inchbaggers. I want to pass my experience on to new and experienced swimmers and hope they can enjoy the sport as much as I have. 

What’s your favourite part of being an open-water swimming coach?

Being outdoors and enjoying the amazing views never gets boring; it is truly freeing. Also meeting people who are nervous at first but then exit the water with a big smile on their faces because they have achieved something they never thought they could never get old either.

Being someone who has a successful career in the great outdoors, what are your top tips for young people wanting to follow a similar path?

Just go for it! There’s so much more to life than doing a job you don’t enjoy.

Whatever your idea is, plan carefully, set achievable goals in stages and don’t try and grow too quickly. Establish what you have, tap into your local community and watch your business grow. 

Take control of your well-being through the power of nature

Meet Vicky Manning – Founder of The Little Foragers Kitchen

Vicky is the founder of The Little Foragers Kitchen. She is a wilderness therapeutic practitioner, trauma-informed coach, forager and outdoor educator.

She has worked with both community groups and private individuals in Scotland for over 20 years, running wilderness & foraging experiences to enhance mental health and well-being and boost personal development, empowering folk to take control of their health and well-being through the power of Nature and the great outdoors.

Empowering people is a big part of your mission. Is that why you started running foraging experiences?

Partly, yes. I wanted to reach as many folk as possible, encouraging them to live a more balanced life in connection with nature. My mission statement for my business is;

“To help people to take control of their own health and well-being through the power of Nature and the great outdoors and in doing so, forge a greater respect for our planet”

Engaging with visitors to the area enables me to work with people from all over the world and I hope that they go home and put the skills they learned from me to good use for the benefit of their area.

What are the elements of your business that you enjoy the most?

There are so many, that’s a difficult question to answer.  I really enjoy meeting visitors from abroad because they often live in a part of the world that has a completely different landscape to ours and are blown away by our rugged, sometimes quite savage environment, but in a really good way I should hasten to add.

Also, it’s really wonderful having the opportunity to meet such a diverse mix of people. I absolutely love it when visitors keep in touch and let me know how they’ve benefited from my sessions once they’ve got home. That is very rewarding. I should also add that I’ve not yet had a single person leaving one of my experiences without a smile on their face.

I love swapping skills with visitors too. Often a participant will have a skill, tip or some little nugget of wisdom to share with me. Every day is a school day and no single person has all the answers on how to do things or live life. It’s a learning experience for me as well as them!

For young individuals, who are considering a career in tourism, what would you say to inspire them that it is a rewarding and fulfilling path to follow?

I think there’s a bit of a misconception that a career in tourism means working in hospitality.  Yes, there are lots of opportunities to take a career path in either a hotel or restaurant, and this can be very rewarding, but actually, tourism presents so many more opportunities, from business management, law, history, commerce, administration, finance etc. I cover all of the above and more in my role as a solo entrepreneur, but every business needs someone who can do one of the above roles.

Tourism is growing and people are constantly seeking out new and exciting things to do. Think about what you are passionate about and how you could use that as a career in tourism, either as a start-up business yourself or as part of a team delivering exciting experiences to visitors.

What makes a career in tourism different from other sectors?

If you don’t fancy a career doing a 9 to 5 job, then a job in tourism may be for you. People who are on holiday don’t stick to 9 to 5 hours. They’re on holiday for the duration they are here, and that means they want to be entertained/fed/thrilled or whatever at all hours of the day and night.  A career in tourism can take you outside of stuffy corporate environments giving you flexibility and variety in your role, which can be very rewarding.

Customers who are on holiday are usually very happy, especially if they are enjoying themselves, which in turn, means you will be more relaxed and happier too. Happiness is definitely contagious!

If you are someone who really is a total people person, then tourism as a career is absolutely for you. Tourism revolves around people and this means interactions with both customers and colleagues. If you like socialising, you’ll probably find a career in tourism very rewarding.

The Diversity of Tourism: There’s Never a Boring Day

Meet Emma Macalister Hall – Director at Beinn an Tuirc Distillers and owner of Torrisdale Castle Estate

Emma is a director at Beinn an Tuirc Distillers Ltd, the home of award-winning Kintyre Gin and other delicious, sustainably distilled spirits. Together with her husband Niall, she also runs a selection of self-catering properties at Torrisdale Castle Estate where the distillery is located. Emma has been living in Kintyre for over ten years, having moved from the central belt for the reasons outlined below!  

What inspired you to pursue a career in tourism?

First I fell in love, then I fell into tourism. 

It ultimately brought me to a castle in Kintyre where I helped run a self-catering business with my now husband, Niall. Over the years, this venture has grown arms and legs – we now run a gin distillery, a cafe, and a selection of self-catering accommodations. I can safely say that no day is ever the same. 

There is always some sort of drama happening, e.g. a tree down blocking the road, water shortage, flooding, run away sheep. But nothing that can’t be solved after a mild panic – and the rewards far outweigh the challenges. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of reviews that make your heart sing, returning guests that are now good pals, and visitors that send lovely jumpers because you admired theirs in the café (see photo above)! 

Considering your very varied daily routine – if we can even call it a routine – what are some of the overarching elements you enjoy the most?

Luckily I am a people person – I blame my mother! I love talking to people and hearing their stories. I feel very privileged that in this role I’ve ended up in, I get to meet so many different people on a daily basis. I love the way that no gin tour or gin school is ever the same as there is always different input from visitors, talking about their own experiences and stories. Maybe the gin helps! I also love the fact that I get to talk up Kintyre, the place I now call home, and which has stolen my heart. This is one of Scotland’s less visited places but when people discover it, they come back again and again.  It’s a very special place. 

In your opinion, what makes the tourism industry special? And why should young people consider pursuing a career within this sector?

I can’t think of another industry where you become an ambassador for the business, the region and the country as a whole. 

It is fantastically rewarding when you are delivering amazing, unique experiences to people that make them want to come back again and again. As a young person, nothing improves confidence like dealing with the general public! You will gather life skills that will far outweigh anything you learned at school or university (BUT THESE ARE STILL USEFUL OBVS!!) and if you thrive on variety then there is no better path to follow. 

It was an absolute pleasure to speak with these female leaders of Argyll & the Isles. If you are considering pursuing a career in tourism, visit UHI Argyll for more information about their apprenticeship programs and various educational courses. Make sure you follow Argyll & the Isles Tourism Cooperative on LinkedIn and Facebook for industry updates and networking opportunities.