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World Travel Market: Empowering Women to Change Travel

A crushing (particularly if, like me, you traveled by tube), 40,000 tourism industry professionals gathered in London for the annual World Travel Market (WTM) trade event to discuss the latest trends shaping the industry. The energy was infectious, and despite current world events, the mood was upbeat with everyone seemingly busy doing deals, debating and learning about what's next as travel continues its bounce-back from the COVID-19 pandemic.

y Alessandra Alonso, founder and managing director of Women in Travel CIC, with Zina Bencheikh, Director EMEA, Intrepid Travel and the First Lady of Iceland, Madame Eliza Reid
Alessandra Alonso, founder and managing director of Women in Travel CIC, with Zina Bencheikh, Director EMEA, Intrepid Travel and the First Lady of Iceland, Madame Eliza Reid

As always, our laser focus was on women in travel, and there were two panel discussions under the umbrella, "Empowering Women to Change Travel."


Getting to Gender Equality in Travel


The first, moderated by Alessandra Alonso, founder and managing director of Women in Travel CIC, with the First Lady of Iceland, Madame Eliza Reid and Zina Bencheikh, Director EMEA, Intrepid Travel, focused on getting to gender equality.


Alessandra opened the session by noting some sobering stats:

  • The World Economic Forum estimates it will take 131 years for women to reach gender parity.

  • Only 9 CEOs in FTSE 100 are female

  • Women do 3-6 hours a day of unpaid labor compared to 30 mins for men

  • the current Gender Pay Gap for women in travel is 30%

However, companies that proactively embrace gender equality rather than just talk about are more likely to thrive!


It was interesting to hear the perspective of Eliza Reid, afterall Iceland is the most progressive country in the world in terms of gender equality. Last month, the country held its first "Full-Day Women’s Strike" in 48 years. Eliza and Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, gathered in Reykjavík along with 100,000 citizens (more than a quarter of the total population) calling for the country’s wage gap to be closed and an end to gender-based and sexual violence. The strike caused widespread disruption across the country, with schools and kindergartens closed across Iceland and just one bank staying open.


Eliza stressed the importance of continued pressure and awareness, "After Covid-19, the path to gender parity increased by a generation. This is unacceptable, we need to be vigilant, measure and improve gender equality. Greater equality will benefit people of all genders." Tourism is one of the most important industries in Iceland.


From her perch of running operations in EMEA for Intrepid Travel, Zina added, "When you push for change. Change can happen and quite fast, and it will have a trickle down effect." She has seen this herself at Intrepid, under her leadership she has pushed to increase the number of female tour guides and leadership in various countries where Intrepid operates. She noted there is opportunity in the industry overall, "We employ 1 in 10 globally in travel, and more women than men pursue careers in the industry. Looking ahead, one in three new jobs are in travel. Yes, 131 years is catastrophic but we can make change fast."


Fixing the Broken Rung: Balancing Caregiving and Work Travel


Ironically, one of the biggest challenges to achieving gender equality in travel, is actually helping parents cope with work travel. Being on the road is one of the hardest parts for women who have children, as they are normally the primary caregivers. A successful change Intrepid is making to encourage more women in leadership, is allowing employees to travel with partners and kids. The company is also supporting childcare costs.


Alessandra wrapped by noting the importance of allyship on the route to equality, "For the time being, men are in charge and we need their support," and she concluded with "80% of travel buyers are women, it only makes sense that we make the industry more equitable."


Collaboration: the Key to Moving Forward in with Gender Equality

The second panel was moderated by Lindsay Garvey-Jones, Chairperson, AWTE (Association of Women Travel Executives), Barbara Buczek, Chief Asset Management and Operations Officer, Cruise Saudi, Fiona Jeffery OBE, Founder & Chairman, Just A Drop, Viviana Rizzuto, CEO, Museo Diffuso dei 5 Sensi, and Natalie Besate, Head of International Growth Development, Museo Diffuso dei 5 Sensi.

Lindsay Garvey-Jones, Chairperson, AWTE (Association of Women Travel Executives), Barbara Buczek, Chief Asset Management and Operations Officer, Cruise Saudi, Fiona Jeffery OBE, Founder & Chairman, Just A Drop, Viviana Rizzuto, CEO, Museo Diffuso dei 5 Sensi, and Natalie Besate, Head of International Growth Development, Museo Diffuso dei 5 Sensi.
Lindsay Garvey-Jones, Chairperson, AWTE (Association of Women Travel Executives) standing on the right with panel from (right to left) Barbara Buczek, Chief Asset Management and Operations Officer, Cruise Saudi, Fiona Jeffery OBE, Founder & Chairman, Just A Drop, Viviana Rizzuto, CEO, Museo Diffuso dei 5 Sensi, and Natalie Besate, Head of International Growth Development, Museo Diffuso dei 5 Sensi.

Lindsay opened the discussion by setting the stage, "collaboration has a multiplier effect, working with others has a power to create change." She also noted that travel is a great industry for, "Placing people at the centre and sharing a common dream."


Each of the women on the panel shared personal experiences of how collaboration has been an effective method for growing their businesses. Particularly impressive was Fiona Jeffery, founder and chair of Just a Drop, who actually used to run World Travel Market. When, during her travels for work organizing WTM, she learned that access to clean drinking water was such a pressing issue, she decided to do something about it. She asked every attendee of WTM to donate a pound, when this didn't work, she realized she needed to create partnerships to increase participation and passion for the mission.

"We needed to take away the 'I' and move towards a 'WE'" –– Fiona Jeffrey, founder, Just a Drop

Today, Just a Drop works at the grassroots level to support communities around the world with access to sustainable safe water solutions, sanitation facilities and knowledge of safe hygiene practices. The charity has reached over 1.9 million people in 32 countries since inception in 1998, Fiona credits this success to collaboration.


Similarly, Barbara Buczek, Chief Asset Management and Operations Officer, Cruise Saudi spoke about the journey Saudi Arabia is on with "Vision 2030," to bring hospitality, Hafawah, to the country. "We are starting from scratch, which offers opportunity." She was realistic about the challenges the industry faces too, "We need to continually have a dialog, about not just what keeps people from entering hospitality, but also why do they leave. It is important to promote the diversity of careers, and figure out ways to overcome what is stopping women." The panel was in agreement on the benefits of flexible working during childbearing years and programs to support women who have taken a career break.

Emily Goldfischer with Simona Listvanaite, Alessandra Alonso both from Women in travel CIC and  Jamie Albert from WeTravel
Emily Goldfischer with Simona Listvanaite, Alessandra Alonso both from Women in Travel CIC and Jamie Albert from WeTravel

Ultimately, similar to the first panel, the sentiment is that people need to be at the center of the change, and collaboration is key.


Networking for Women at WTM


After the panels there was a busy networking session for women, where I met Daniella Boeken, Group VP, Commercial at Ruby Hotels, who felt "there was substance in the women-centered sessions. Having these platforms to have the conversations and build awareness of the issues facing women is an important first step."

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