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Phocuswright 2023: 4 Tech Takeaways for Women in Travel

The Phocuswright Conference drew thousands of leading travel professionals to the Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood, Florida, for three days of panel discussions, executive interviews and lots of networking. First a two part series, where hertelier correspondents Melissa Maher and Stacy Silver report conference highlights with a #feminist slant!

Phocuswright conference 2023

Buzzing with the vibrancy of innovation, Phocuswright showcased diverse new startups, and provided ample opportunities for impactful networking. The conference stands out a hub for the latest in travel and technology, consistently delivering insights on the forefront of cutting-edge innovation and emerging trends.

No doubt, the transformation of the travel industry by AI is a testament to the dynamic nature of travel and tech. As technology evolves, forward-thinking companies are positioning themselves for success. While many companies continue to figure out the role of AI and other advanced technology, we know the integration of human insight with tech advancements is reshaping the travel experience in exciting ways. One thing is for sure, we know we’ll always need the human touch in hospitality. This year's Phocuswright conference perfectly captured this sentiment with its aptly chosen theme: "You, Me & The Machine."


Innovation is King, actually... QUEEN


The conference kicked off with the Innovation Launch, where global innovators showcased their groundbreaking ideas destined to revolutionize the travel industry. Eleven companies took to the main stage, competing for the top accolade. While ConnexPay emerged as the winner, female-founded BabyQuip as the runner-up and TripFusion by Vacayou securing the People’s Choice award.

 Stephanie Daniel, CEO and Co-founder of Legends
Stephanie Daniel, CEO and Co-founder of Legends

In the realm of innovation, talks from Stephanie Daniel, CEO and Co-founder of Legends, and Vanessa Karel, Founder of Greether. Stephanie emphasized the power of human storytelling through first-party data as the core of Legends, while Karel introduced her innovative marketplace focused on making women feel safer when traveling. Their presence on stage marked a significant moment for female leadership and innovation in the industry.


A major topic of discussion was the role of AI. Debates centered on whether AI is overhyped or not receiving enough attention. The consensus pointed to AI's continuing significance, particularly in improving efficiency in areas like call centers and operations and in optimization of content The industry is poised to leverage AI for cost reduction and efficiency, with an eye towards future revenue generation.


Challenges of Female Entrepreneurship in Travel Tech

At the female travel tech founder roundtable Nina Kleaveland of Lanyard and Kristi Choi of Plug and Play Ventures delved into the challenges and opportunities of female entrepreneurship, investor expectations, pitching skills, and thriving in a traditionally male-dominated arena.


Innovation was, of course, a focal point of another roundtable session. The discussion was led by me, with a panel including Cara Whitehill of Unlock Advisors, and Chris Hemmeter of Thayer Ventures, the discussion revolved around the current state of funding, strategies for scaling startups, and the unique challenges women face in fundraising.

Top tip for female entrepreneurs from Cara Whitehill: focus more on the bigger picture and storytelling and broaden your ask of investors.

Diversity Matters in Travel Tech


The theme "You, Me & The Machine" resonated deeply in the Diversity in Leadership session led by Kimberly Newbury of Phocuswright. Panelists including me, Jessica Patel of TripArc, and Stuart Greif of Forbes Travel Guide discussed the integral role of diversity in shaping corporate culture.

Integrating Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) into core values fosters a workforce reflective of the diverse world and hospitality industry. Embracing diversity not only enhances team engagement and happiness but also drives innovation, problem-solving, and reduces turnover.


Females Flourish in Networking


The Female Founders in Hospitality (FFiH) networking lunch was a highlight, bringing together inspiring founders and supportive allies. This event reinforced many of the reasons that founders join FFiH—to expand their network, to feel supported and to get ideas, recommendations and advice.

 Kimberly Newbury of Phocuswright with Nina Kleaveland and Melissa Maher of Female Founders in Hospitality, announce partnership
Mitra Sorrells of Phocuswright with Nina Kleaveland and Melissa Maher of Female Founders in Hospitality, announce partnership

This event marked a new strategic partnership between Phocuswright and Female Founders in Hospitality – a milestone in promoting diversity and collaboration in the industry. Melissa Jurkoic of Thynk.Cloud said “this was the best event of the entire conference” as she walked out of the event on cloud nine.

Male ally Stuart Greif captures the mood and spirit at the Female Founders in Hospitality networking lunch
Male ally Stuart Greif captures the mood and spirit at the Female Founders in Hospitality networking lunch

Bottom line: As we continue to navigate the era of rapid technological advancement, it is crucial to remember the power of human connection and its role in our industry.

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