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Amplifying the Voices of Women in Travel Media: Jacqui Gifford, Editor in Chief, Travel & Leisure

Jacqui Gifford has been the editor in chief of Travel + Leisure, the world's leading travel media brand, since 2018 and with the publication in various other roles since 2013. Under her leadership, the T + L has won numerous awards. Jacqui also appears frequently as an expert guest on television programs, including NBC's Today, to share travel ideas and discuss trends within the industry. A life-long traveler, Jacqui was born in Japan and raised in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and New Hope, Pennsylvania. During her tenure with T + L, Jacqui has worked to amplify the voices of women in travel. We chatted with her about what she sees happening in terms of gender equality now and coming down the pike.

Jacqui Gifford, Editor in Chief, Travel + Leisure
Jacqui Gifford, Editor in Chief, Travel + Leisure

Thanks for taking the time to speak with hertelier! Tell us about the shift you’ve helped along by covering more women in travel.

Thanks for reaching out. I’ve been at T + L for nine years and covering travel as a journalist for even longer. One thing that has struck me is how few women are in leadership positions in the travel space––whether CEOs, CMOs, or General Managers, there just aren’t that many at the top. So when I stepped into this role, I wanted to talk about that––how to make workplaces more equitable, fairer, and how we elevate people who haven’t had opportunities before.

How did you approach addressing the issue?

In 2019, we held a breakfast event for women at ILTM, the big luxury travel show in Cannes, really with the aim to get women in senior leadership positions to talk about their challenges, how they got to where they are, and share some frank stories about what they do. We had a panel of women in various positions: Tina Edmundson of Marriott International, Nancy Novogrod, formerly of T+L, Audrey Hendley of American Express Travel, Amina Belouizdad of the Private Suite, and Valerie Wilson of Valerie Wilson Travel. Some of the key takeaways were that we need to nurture women and teach them to have more confidence in themselves. It was a great event and we were looking to do more and then the world shut down due to the pandemic.

The pandemic has definitely been a moment of reset for the industry. How did this impact your plans and coverage?

It was heartbreaking but it created the opportunity for another level set for the industry. Everyone realized you have to rethink your business. All of a sudden, people are hiring from different places, and starting companies virtually…it was really a whole revolution. In our coverage, we accelerated and put our foot on the gas to show how women have built their businesses. People need inspiring stories, especially now. We’ve run a few stories about women who own hotels, and what makes them special. Our readers respond really well to women-focused stories.

Looking forward as we emerge from the pandemic, do you think women are going to be more at the forefront?

I think that’s a great question. The challenge––and this is universal–– is getting people back into the workforce. Many have rethought their careers. Paying people fairly is really important, and a lot of people in hospitality work crazy long hours. We need to help people find mental health and work/life balance. Most companies will try to address that, but we are in hospitality and service. This requires being face to face, so if people can’t do remote work how do you bring other programs and benefits to the table to incentivize them to make it more healthy and fulfilling?

Related to this is the working mom issue, which I know personally. The childcare burden primarily falls on the woman, and as a result, you often don’t see your family. But is that really the way it has to be? Can we find new ways to have successful careers but also have a family life? I hope the industry finds ways to pay competitively and think more broadly about benefits for employees.

We are starting to see some of it: shorter shifts, so women can do the school run, or care for elderly family members…

That’s the age-old thing…thinking from my personal experience, when we didn’t have childcare during the pandemic, doing my job at home with my sons and remote school, god it was crazy. We think about kids’ programs for our guests, but what about for employees? I think companies should start thinking about offering more support if they want to retain women. Company culture and fostering loyalty are going to be really important moving forward. If you do these things right, people will stay with you, even in the bad times.

What does that change look like to you?

In terms of change––every company is going through this right now––shifting the make-up of the company, listening to more people and more perspectives. Making it feel like a more holistic ecosystem. Oftentimes people don’t see themselves in somebody else in a senior leadership role. Say you start as a doorman, if you don’t see yourself as a GM, there is going to be turnover in that job. Giving people a path up is critical. And when they see more women represented, more BIPOC people represented, they think “I can do that, too” and people naturally start to aspire to more.

That is actually the mission of hertelier, to show women the paths and how to get to different places along the journey.

I totally agree with that. People have to be able to see the way.


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