Leading from the heart, in travel, and beyond

Leading from the heart, in travel, and beyond

By Gemma Greenwood, Director, Content Inc.

In my last ATM blog I promoted the virtues of ‘giving back with positive impact in the travel industry’ and how I hoped it would be the sector’s 2023 mantra to deliver change.

I touched on travel’s power to have a positive impact, not only on the planet, but its people – guests and customers, stakeholders and partners, local communities, and crucially, employees.

We are all painfully aware of the labour shortages that emerged from the pandemic, from pilots to airport staff, travel agents to hotel workers. Terms such as ‘The Great Resignation’ and ‘Quiet Quitting’ continue to haunt us, and as we know, it’s not just about the money, but rather, how workforces are treated as a collective, and as individuals.

Many will blame COVID-19 for this shift, but the pandemic only served to amplify the dissatisfaction many were already experiencing in the lead up to 2020.

It’s time for a change in mindset – and this requires a new style of leadership, one that not only comes from the head, but the heart.

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Today, industry leaders with successful company cultures and positive results, have a ‘Heart First’ approach. They not only consider what’s best for their customers, but their team members, taking into consideration their emotional, wellness and lifestyle needs in tandem with the ongoing training and career progression opportunities they provide. They ‘give back with positive impact’ to all who surround them, and it goes without saying that this plays a major role in talent acquisition and retention success.

It’s also a given that they create a company culture where diversity, gender parity and inclusion is embraced – a topic that will be discussed in detail at ATM 2023, with day three (Wednesday 3 May) welcoming speakers from Dubai College of Tourism, Evolvin’ Women, IHG Hotels & Resorts and Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA) to the Global Stage to discuss how ‘successful workplaces are diverse and loyal’.

RAKTDA, the only body in Ras Al Khaimah to be certified as a Great Place to Work, an international body that recognises workplace engagement, will discuss its trailblazing lifestyle credits programme, an employee benefits scheme that shifts from ‘one-size-fits-all’ to a tailormade approach, suiting individuals, based on how they want to live their life.

Industry leaders with successful company cultures and positive results, have a ‘Heart First’ approach.

ATM’s session will also look at opportunities for the sector to recruit from underprivileged communities around the world, with Assia Riccio, founder of Dubai-based Evolvin’ Women and Nia Trading, leading the discussion, revealing how both entities support the development of unemployed women from underprivileged backgrounds and women farmers in developing countries. A social enterprise at heart, Evolvin’ Women enables organisations to offer skill development placements to unemployed women from rural areas, where political, economic or social circumstances have prohibited or limited their access to professional development and full-time job opportunities. The grander plan is that these women can take their knowledge and experience back to their communities for positive impact.

Among the brands partnering with Evolvin’ Women in the Middle East and Africa are hospitality companies Accor, Hilton, Jumeirah, IHG, Wyndham and Marriott.

On a wider scale, the Tent Partnership for Refugees, a network of 260 major businesses committed to supporting the economic integration of more than 36 million refugees forcibly displaced from their home countries, involves hospitality companies including Hilton and Marriott, alongside global consumer brands ranging from Amazon to Pepsico.

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In September last year, in an incredible show of collective ‘Heart First’ leadership, Tent announced new commitments to hire 22,725 refugees in full-time positions in the US. Of those, 1,500 will be hired by Hilton and another 1,500 by Marriott. It’s a feel-good win-win for all, says Hamdi Ulukaya, CEO of Chobani and founder of Tent. “These companies will benefit from welcoming these hard-working, loyal, and resilient individuals – but my hope is that this is only the beginning. As refugee crises start to fade from the headlines, companies must recognise that hiring refugees is not only the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do.”

Heart-first leadership is not a new approach but resonates more strongly than ever before in an era where employees have drastically shifted their workplace expectations based on values, ethics, being seen and heard as an individual, and much more.

They value a leadership culture that champions empathy, humanity and authenticity, rather than free gym membership thrown into their package to tick the token ‘wellness’ box.

Skift’s recent Megatrends Report highlights how the industry is currently adapting to new workforce dynamics, one where demand and supply are mismatched. Noting ‘The Changing Face of Human Capital in Travel’, it provides many examples of “creative” HR strategies, yet none demonstrate a truly holistic Heart-first approach that ultimately, drives employee engagement and satisfaction.

It’s clear that travel and tourism leaders are in general, creating diverse and values-driven workplaces, but there is more work to do when it comes to retention.

The next step is to lead with heart, building rewarding relationships based on trust, empathy, equality and respect, which ultimately, creates a more purpose-driven organisation.

When leaders are empathetic, 86% of employees can better handle work demands, according to a study by Catalyst.

So, it’s time to listen, and to tell stories that resonate and inspire; communicate, and to make genuine connections; be human, and to show vulnerability; and lastly, create a culture of safety and empowerment.

Leading with the heart as much as the head is good for business!

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