Women have been accomplishing amazing things in travel for decades, but International Women’s Day gives the opportunity to put a spotlight on them. One woman has started a not-for-profit to preserve and protect the environment and cultural heritage of one Caribbean island. Another woman has made it her mission to increase the number of females in sailing. And there are plenty more stories of women in the travel world making a huge difference.
Sea & Learn Foundation in Saba
Lynn Costenaro was a Senior Financial Analyst before trading her pinstripe suit and corporate-ladder-climbing for a wetsuit and love for the ocean. In 1989, Costenaro landed on the Dutch Caribbean island of Saba as dive instructor and took over the Sea Saba Dive Center. However, Costenaro was eager to pursue innovative ways to bring tourists to Saba. Enter the Sea & Learn Foundation in 2003 – a not-for-profit organization on Saba that brings together the local community and visitors to understand the value of preserving and protecting the environment and cultural heritage of the island.
Today, Lynn continues to serve as the Sea & Learn Foundation’s Founding Director where she organizes its three annual projects (and counting!) – Create & Learn, a month-long program of workshops and lessons with local artists; Adopt-A-Box, a project that aims to disguise electrical boxes along Saba’s road with intriguing images and stories about the island’s heritage and environment; and most notably, Sea & Learn on Saba, in which scientists and naturalists share their expertise and conduct hands-on activities with Saba’s school children to encourage respect of the island’s natural resources. The annual Sea & Learn program has converted the month of October from its previous label of a slow tourism month to one of the busiest time frames and marks the start of Saba’s “high season.”
The Sea & Learn Foundation’s work is ever-evolving. In July, they nominated Saba and the Saba Bank (the largest atoll in the Atlantic Ocean) as the first Hope Spot in the Dutch Caribbean. The foundation’s goals for the Saba Hope Spot involve science, research, exploration, restoration, education and outreach. In September, the Saba Bank was officially declared a Hope Spot, putting little Saba in the spotlight for its continued environmental achievements in preserving its delicate ecosystem, both above and under the sea.
Sailing Regatta in St. Maarten
Michele Korteweg landed an internship with the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta – the largest warm weather sailing competition in the world – in 2008. Though only her first introduction to the marine industry at the time, she immediately fell in love with the event, the island of St. Maarten and the people who were involved. She eventually made a permanent move to St. Maarten from the Netherlands and worked full-time with the Heineken Regatta, which she describes as “the most exciting event I’ve ever participated in.” Having organized her 11th Heineken Regatta in March 2023, Michele set out on a mission this year to recognize incredible women in sailing.
“Only 2% of people active in the marine industry are female,” says Korteweg. “Yet I’ve noticed when it comes to sailing events and programs in the Caribbean, there are many women involved who provide an excellent example of how it can and should be.” She notes that most sailing programs and trade businesses in the Caribbean are managed by women, and most of the big international Caribbean Regattas, like Antigua Sailing Week and BVI Spring Regatta and the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, are managed mainly by women. “Through my company Shortcut 2 Success, I will push to further develop the marine industry by establishing trade events, workshops and hosting conferences and trainings to promote women in the sector.”
Responsible Tourism in Mexico
Lisa Harper, the woman behind the newly transformed wellness resort Rancho Pescadero in Baja California Sur, wasn’t always in the hotel business. A highly accomplished CEO known for her exceptional leadership skills, Harper worked with renowned brands such as Gymboree, Levi’s and Hot Topic. After taking a hiatus from the corporate world in the 90s to camp out on an empty beach in Todos Santos, she purchased the land from local farmers and sketched her ideas for a 12-room hotel on a piece of graph paper. In 2009, she opened the original property, which quickly became known as one of the area’s leading hotels.
Now a sprawling 30-acre, oceanfront resort with 103 suites and villas, two farms and a citrus orchard that drive its wellness and culinary programs, Rancho Pescadero is a desert-meets-sea oasis with furnishings purchased through fair-trade from a number of indigenous Mexican communities.
Her aim to promote regenerative and responsible tourism doesn’t stop there – Harper and her team are building 170 homes for her employees that they’ll have the rights to own, with plans to offer affordable housing to the broader local community. They’re also building a technical school that will be open to all local residents.
Protecting Water Systems in St. Lucia
Jade Mountain is the Caribbean’s first LEED-certified hotel, recognized for its pioneering design that eliminates the need for artificial lighting and cooling. It’s also known for its sustainable water supply, which is independent from the town of Soufriere, ensuring as little impact as possible to the surrounding community. Consciously crafted by Co-Founder Karolin Troubetzkoy, Jade Mountain’s efforts to protect the region’s water systems also include restoring the historic 1.5-million-gallon reservoir in the Anse Mamin Valley and the development of a rain and river-fed catchment system that uses greywater recycling for plant irrigation and resort landscaping.
Since opening in 2006, Jade Mountain remains one of the most important employers in the region; the resort was constructed by a team of 100% St. Lucian nationals and the property currently employs a 99% local workforce. Troubetzkoy is also behind the property’s on-site Emerald Farm, which is home to over 1,000 cocoa trees and a large selection of organic produce, ranging from fresh vegetables to nuts and herbs. The farm supplies ingredients for the resort kitchens.