Leaders, Entrepreneurs, Real-Life Adventurers…The Inspirational Stories of Women in Travel!

Leaders, Entrepreneurs, Real-Life Adventurers…The Inspirational Stories of Women in Travel!

‘Women in Travel Meetup is a brilliant initiative – it was heartwarming to see women from travel trade from different parts of the world converge in one place to exchange notes. [I made] Extremely useful connections. I made the best use of the networking session and got to know about a lot of inspiring work women are doing.’

Malini Gowrishankar, Entrepreneur, F5 Escapes

The curtain has shut onto World Travel Market 2016 and the Women in Travel Meetup that takes place within it. In the months prior to the event I have found myself questioning whether my passion for building an international, supportive community of women entrepreneurs and otherwise is well founded. But to dispel any doubts all I need is to read some of the feedback I received after the event or remind myself of the energy, positive mindset, collaboration and friendship that filled the room on 8th November or indeed the buzz on social media that followed. Female and male attendees alike from places as diverse as India, Kenya, Switzerland, US and many other shared their stories over an afternoon that included two panel debates, one on leadership and one on entrepreneurship, group mentoring sessions heaving with women looking for advice from insightful and experienced industry mentors, and a networking opportunity.

As I reflect on some of the stories and the wisdom that was shared I cannot help but being amazed at the quality of work that is being done across the world, as well the sheer determination, the enthusiasm and desire to make a difference that I have heard on and off stage! So here are some of the key points that I brought home from this year’s event and that I believe are worth sharing.


Everyone agreed that we must take ownership of our careers in travel. Ultimately no corporate will now a day present you with a plan as to how you may get to be the Chief Executive! This is true for men and women alike according to Giles Hawke, MD of CosmosTours who spoke on the leadership panel, but if you are a woman, and especially one in her fifties, it is possibly even more important to ensure that you keep your skills up to date, relevant and refreshed. Another speaker, Rachel O’Reilly of Kuoni UK, mentioned how her mother had retrained and specialised in her 50’s continuing to add valuable knowledge to her experience. Ageism appears to be an issues particularly affecting women, with a member of the audience stating that at 45 she had been deemed too old by her employer to become Cruise Director. The travel industry has historically enjoyed and perhaps supported a ‘young’ image, yet ‘silver travellers’ – as we were reminded by members of the audience – are a growing opportunity and besides, we all expect to live longer and are healthier and are active for much longer. So what exactly does ‘old’ mean?



So what stops women from rising to the top in the travel industry? Well, more and more women are on their way up, but there is still a lot to do! Self-confidence was highlighted on and off stage as a key issue for women, hand in hand with what is known as ‘imposter syndrome’, the feeling of being a fraud, of not being deserving of the role one has achieved. It makes perfect sense that women appear to grow in confidence with age and experience but at the same time that is when they begin to encounter ageism… There is no doubt that women have a lot to offer to the industry at all ages. It is a question of talent as mentioned before and we only needed to look around the room to find talent-a-plenty!

When talking about leadership, ‘authenticity’ was a concept women kept referring into in conversation and in the debates. Knowing yourself and being yourself are key to success, key to deciding what success is for you and how you wish to live your life. ‘Do I have to grow and seek funding as entrepreneur?’ asked Natalia Komis on stage. Yes, that is kind of expected of you as entrepreneur but can I instead give myself permission to stay who I am and measure success by doing things I love. These words resonated with many in the audience…


What does it take to be a successful entrepreneurship? A lot of qualities and attributes, it would seem, above all utter determination. Then a good idea, a supportive network, and – often the sticky point – access to funding. Women and finance do not often go hand in hand as women shy away from engaging in ‘number focussed’ conversations. According to Carolyn Pearson of Maiden Voyage however, who spoke about recently accessing a substantial sum of money through a private investor, that was the best thing that could have happened to the business and she wishes she had done it before. Her business is now developing at a rate of speed she could have not otherwise achieved!

What else do women need to become successful entrepreneurs? Vanessa, Director of international trade initiative SheTrades said that access to market is another crucial aspect in growing female entrepreneurship. How do we put small and medium sized women owned businesses on multimillion dollar corporates’ radar? Trying to break through those procurements hurdles can feel like a David-against-Goliah type of situation. Making sure that entrepreneurs are ready to present, pitch and make an impact is an essential component to the programme’s aim. Fear of failure, judgement and guilt towards families and friends is a factor that can stop women from launching their own business too. That is why having a supportive network around you such as Women in Travel can be a life –saver….many asked to remain in touch and have access to each other through a virtual group…watch this space for more information on that!


We heard throughout the afternoon that learning is critical to improve ourselves as professionals, as leaders, as human being. One member of the audience made the point during the discussion that ultimately if one is passionate about her work or about an idea or product, one has just to go for it, and either win or learn. Failure as such was not even contemplated!

When it comes to talent it was said that it needs to be continuously nurtured and developed. Perhaps more could be done in this industry to ensure talent is retained and maximised. The point was also made that talent should be as diverse as possible because this is what organisations need to succeed in today’s fast pacing and ever changing world…and talent rises above every other distinction, it is not dependent on race, cultural background, religion, sexual orientation and the likes!


It was interesting that all speakers in the first panel mentioned that at the start of their career they had been inspired by some leading women who acted as their mentors and supporters. This is a critical point because we all need to be able to look up to somebody and we all need to see ‘people like us’ in positions we aspire to achieve, in order to believe that we too can get there one day. Role models can be found anywhere and honestly speaking throughout the afternoon I engaged with many women that in one aspect or another could be deemed as role models.


Many women shared stories about the obstacles and hurdles they had encountered along the way to leadership, entrepreneurship and success. It takes incredible resilience and courage to sell your house to start a business; to denounce sexual harassment in the workplace, to attempt to cross the ocean on a canoe, or put yourself forward for a senior position when you are possibly the only female candidate. But that is also the only way to go and women recognise this and do not sit still, they do what’s needed. ‘You just get on with it’ said somebody from the audience…and that perfectly summed it all up!

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Alessandra is founder of social enterprise Women in Travel CIC which she launched in January 2017 to provide communities in key regions (for example UK, Middle East, Africa and Latin America) with a sustainable livelihood by enabling women to become economically independent through entrepreneurship and a thriving career in the travel and tourism industry. Alessandra is also Chief Mentor & Consultant at Everyday Mentor, where she provides mentoring, coaching and consulting services to a range of clients in the commercial and public sector. Alessandra also collaborates with a number of Universities, including Hertfordshire, Normandy and Surrey. Alessandra is passionate about gender in tourism and has written and spoken extensively on the subject over the last 12 years, including at the United Nations World Tourism Day. She is well known as co-founder of Shine People and Places – a boutique outfit dedicate to supporting women in the workplace - and The Shine Awards for Women Achievements in Travel Tourism Hospitality and Events, which she ran between 2004 and 2010 before Sector Skills Council People 1st took them over. Prior to Shine Alessandra worked at KPMG, where she built the Travel & Tourism division, and the World Travel and Tourism Council. Alessandra has an executive MBA from the University of Ediburgh/Grande Ecole Pons combined; she is a qualified coach/mentor for performance in the workplace and she is a member of several industry bodies including AWTE and the UK Tourism Society.

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