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27 Takeaways from the International Women in Travel and Tourism Forum (IWTTF)

A sold-out crowd gathered at the Women in Travel CIC third annual International Women in Travel and Tourism Forum (IWTTF) held in London on Thursday for conversations centered around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

The day started with a welcome from the organizer, Alessandra Alonso, MD of Women in Travel CIC, followed by a somewhat sobering opening by Zina Bencheikh, MD, EMEA, Intrepid Travel, who highlighted that the pandemic was a “she-cession” as McKinsey calls it, impacting working women much more severely than men, and that in general, between the expectations placed on women from both society and often times ourselves, it has been a difficult few years. However, despite these setbacks, Zina galvanized the crowd to raise the discourse on these

important issues.

Alessandra Alonso Women in Travel
Alessandra Alonso welcomes the crowd.

So it began, throughout the day, so many insightful discussions took place about why we need more female energy in leadership roles and the value that brings; why DEI is the key to attracting much-needed people to the sector; and how we can all do better to retain the next generation of talent. The final sessions were on the importance of allyship and how mentoring works in practice.

Offering way more than 27 takeaways––such an inspiring day–as one of the women I met, Krystina Hawkett, put it perfectly, “It just feels like my batteries have been recharged.” Here are some highlights:

Moments that Matter: moderated by Fiona Anderson, GEC PR the panel included Georgina Lawton, Author and Travel Writer, Alexa-Maria Rathbone Barker, Founder, tripAbrood, Anna Pollock, Owner and Director, Conscious Travel, Cat Jones, Founder, Byway and Nena Chaletzos, Founder, Luxtripper. The women shared personal stories of pivotal times in their lives.

International Women in Travel and Tourism Forum
Anna-Marie Rathbone Barker, Cat Jones, Nina Chaletzos, Anna pollock, Georgina Lawton
  • Don’t listen to the naysayers. For Georgina, there weren’t women of color writing about travel, so she carved her own niche despite people telling her it wasn’t possible.

  • Be intentional. Cat takes time every quarter to think about and set her personal goals. She reflected on times in her life when discussing and creating a plan led her on a path to entrepreneurship.

  • Look after your people. Nena shared moments where she had to choose between cutting perks or losing people. A memorable example: to save money, instead of paying rent on an office she had everyone work from her home, resulting in one of her team using her cats’ climbing frame as a desk : ) She always put people first which allowed the survival and growth of her online luxury travel agency luxtripper despite the pandemic.

  • Let your values guide you. Alexa shared a heartbreaking memory of her son not recognizing her on a video call while she was away for work with her high-flying finance job, this was the pivotal moment that made her quit to take a chance on starting tripAbrood.

  • Be open. Anna recounted several times where her open mind led her to incredible opportunities.

  • Don’t be afraid to take risks. Fiona, the moderator, spoke of taking chances as she moved from a variety of PR jobs to ultimately starting her own firm.

Julia Lo Bue-Said, Adolfo Penzato, Jo Rzmowska, Nishma Robb, Amanda Mason and Emily Goldfischer (me)
Julia Lo Bue-Said, Adolfo Penzato, Jo Rzmowska, Nishma Robb, Amanda Mason, Emily Goldfischer (me)

The Big Conversation: why women need to lead in turbulent times, was moderated by me! It was an amazing discussion, thanks to a powerhouse panel including Jo Rzymowska, VP & Managing Director, EMEA for Celebrity Cruises; Julia Lo Bue-Said, CEO, The Advantage Travel Partnership; Nishma Robb, Senior Director, Brand and Reputation Marketing, Google; Amanda Mason, Director of Marketing, Roadchef; and last but not least, Adolfo Penzato.

  • Learn from the challenges faced during the pandemic and “completely reset”, said Jo, “we are living with Covid and on top of that we have got the devastating situation in Ukraine, the cost of living crisis, and the current air travel chaos, so we are in a situation that is non-stop.”

  • It’s OK not to know the answers, said Julia, who felt that showing vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness.

  • Use storytelling and visual aids to break down barriers. Several panelists had great examples of this. Celebrity’s new All-Inclusive photo project is FREE for anyone to use and offers a range of images from many gifted photographers including Annie Leibovitz, who was the overall curator, featuring ethnic, disabled, and LGBTQ+ changemakers. It is the world's first free "open source" travel image library, which aims to change the meaning of "all-inclusive" in the travel industry.

  • Equality should never be a competitive advantage and starts at the top. Building off the last point, a combination of thoughts by the whole group, but particularly by Nishma, who spoke about the importance of sharing resources, and Adofo who spoke about Intrepid’s efforts to make diversity a priority doing everything from working with governments in places the like Morroco to enable more women to work, to Intrepid creating a board of directors that is 60% female and 40% male. Celebrity has also worked hard to get more female bridge officers, going from 2% to 32%, but the reality is that only 8% of leadership positions in UK travel are held by women.

  • The juggle is actually a struggle. Amanda brought the perspective of a new parent with a new role. While mass media makes it seem like it all should be so doable, the reality is much harder. Compromises must be made daily, even with supportive leadership and a supportive partner at home. Companies or the government need to come up with more solutions for caregivers to help with the costs of childcare and offer better parental leave.

Women in Travel CIC
Patrice Gordon, David Meany, Aisha Shaibu, Dr. Sumeetra Ramaskrishnan

DEI in Travel & Tourism: Tipping Point or Boiling Point? This session started with a vote between tipping and boiling and the latter won. On the panel: Dr. Sumeetra Ramakrishnan, Senior Teaching Fellow University of Surrey; Patrice Gordon, Director Commercial Strategy Development, Virgin Atlantic; David Meany, Director Partner Marketing, The Travel Corporation; Aisha Shaibu, Founder & Director, Moonlight Experiences, moderated by Jamie-Lee Abtar, Multicultural Lead, Women in Travel CIC.

  • We need to get comfortable being uncomfortable. A common theme across this session (and others). The panel agreed that we need to challenge stereotypes and unconscious bias. Part of this is showing people as they are in marketing (as in Celebrity effort) also Virgin has a new campaign showing the diversity of their actual employees with piercings, tattoos, and no make-up.

  • We need to question everything and not just do things because “that is how it has always been done.”

  • DEI is a journey and we’re not perfect. Travel companies need to reach outside their organizations and look within the wider community to get help in learning how to create more diverse organizations.

  • Lack of data on DEI and the industry needs to study this more. Even the data we do have does not reflect nuances of different cultures.

  • Representation matters. Came up throughout the conversation, that seeing is believing and this needs to happen from leadership to every piece of the business internally and externally.

YOU MATTER. Ashleigh Morgan, Head of IT Quality and Risk, EasyJet provided a case study on why and how DEI is working at EasyJet. A very deeply rooted and well thought out effort across all areas of the company under the umbrella of “You Matter.”

I’m not different from you, I’m different like you.
International Women in Travel Forum
Christina Lawford, Nadira Lalji, Dr. Claire Bonham

Addressing the Talent Crisis Through Recruitment. An interesting discussion with Christina Lawford, CEO, Diamond Air International; Nadira Lalji, Founder at Inhabit Hotels, Director at Precis Advisory; Dr Claire Bonham, CEO, Sculpt moderated by Juliet Kinsman, Sustainability Editor, Conde Nast Traveller and Founder, Bouteco.

  • DEI starts with recruitment. Companies need to look beyond race and gender to include neurodiversity, past convicts, and other segments of the population.

  • Diverse guests want to see a diverse set of employees, it makes people naturally feel more welcome.

  • There is a lack of awareness around hospitality as a career and the variety of jobs within the sector.

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.––Mark Twain
Nelma Neto, Jacqueline Costa, Hayley Bowd, Claire Steiner

Harnessing the power of DEI in attracting and retaining a younger generation of talent. In partnership with ITT Future You. An eye-opening conversation Moderated by Claire Steiner, UK Director, GTTP / Founder, ITT Future You with Ella Paradis, Director and Founder, The Black Explorer, Jaqueline Costa, Marketing Executive and Tourism Graduate, Hayley Bowd, Lead Global Early Careers Recruiting, Expedia Group, Nelma Neto, Graduate.

This panel covered some of the themes from earlier in the day, but with a more personal perspective. As Nelma and Jacqueline are recent job seekers, Ella shared her experience navigating her career and creating the space she wanted to see in the industry with The Black Explorer Hayley spoke of the challenges of the massive recruiting effort Expedia hiring thousands annually. According to Claire, before COVID there was a 40 million shortfall of employees globally in travel, now it is 62 million.

Daniel Pearce and Toby Horry
Daniel Pearce and Toby Horry

Allyship in theory and in practice. The final two sessions were around the importance of allyship. This discussion was in two parts with Toby Horry, Group Brand and Content Director, TUI first interviewed by Daniel Pearce, CEO TTG Media. Followed by a lively “couples” session with mentors and mentees from the Women in Travel CIC Mentoring Program, which included Shaon Talukdar, CEO, Geotourist, Tom Power, CEO, Pura Aventura and their mentees Danica Smith, Director of Product Engagement, ReviewPro; Chantal Potgieter, Founder, Themba Travel; Felicia Severns, Owner, Odyssey World.

  • Allyship is essential. Men or women can’t do it alone and the more we all are involved in the conversation and share perspectives the better we all become.

  • Mentorship doesn’t require a lot of time. Just dedicating an hour every other week with an ally makes a huge difference. Non-judgemental support is invaluable.

  • Allyship is a two-way relationship. Both the mentors and mentees learned so much from each other and found it very rewarding.

A new cohort of mentors will start soon, check with Women in Travel CIC to get involved.

International Womens Travel And tourism forum
Group conversations to end the day

The event concluded with small group sessions to discuss the themes of the day and remarks by Alessandra Alonso, MD, Women in Travel CIC, and Finnbar Cornwall, Head of Travel, Google about the importance of hearing all voices and Google’s commitment to furthering these conversations. Google has also agreed to sponsor 10 women to go through Women in Travel training.

This recap by no means covers all the conversations and learning. #IWTTF was a tremendous event with an incredibly engaged audience, so mark your calendar for June 22, 2023!! The forum will be held in a larger space to accommodate more attendees. I cannot wait!

Women in Travel CIC
Closing the day with a glass of wine and a selfie! Juliet Kinsman, Lindsey Walter, Ella Paradis, and Emily

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