Let’s hear it from women in travel

This is a viewpoint from Pamela Whitby, editor of EyeforTravel. .

International Women’s Day today seems a good time to ask if the travel industry needs more senior women at the top table. A quick glance down the executive teams of some of the world’s biggest travel brands suggests the short answer is yes.

Take Expedia, booking.com and Airbnb, among travel’s ‘big innovators’ as just three examples. On Expedia’s executive leadership team the female score is three out of a team of 14, just over 20%.

At recently rebranded Booking Holdings (formerly the Priceline Group) there are three men at the very top table, and of the six leaders of its big brands, a third are women – Gillian Tans, CEO, booking.com and Christa Quarles CEO, Opentable. Meanwhile, at Airbnb, just 20% of people on its senior leadership team are women.

“Yes, we have work to do,” admits Krista Pappas, VP of business development at Lola, who will be speaking at EyeforTravel San Francisco next month. Although Pappas is disappointed that there are still not enough women in leadership roles or with board seats, luckily at Lola the situation is better.

This is an issue close to the heart of Lola CEO Paul English, the former co-founder of Kayak. Pappas is one of two women on his seven-strong leadership team, and in the wider organisation 23 of the 48 people employed to drive the AI-driven business travel app forward are women. In an interview with EyeforTravel last year, English said he strongly believed that “teams are more functional if they are diverse and gender is a huge part of that”.

And, according to McKinsey’s latest Delivering through Diversity report, this is also better for the bottom line. ‘Gender and ethnic diversity,’ McKinsey finds are ‘clearly correlated with profitability’.

Nailing the network

Travel is a complex and competitive industry and a coveted one to work in, so how have successful women made it?

The one thing that virtually all women agree on is that one should never underestimate the value of networking.

“While building a network is not specific to travel, it does absolutely apply to this industry, which is particularly tight knit and takes some work to get into,” says Christina Heggie, a San Francisco keynoter and investment principal at Jet Blue Technology Ventures.

Networking means different things to different people but for Seattle-born Heggie it is “building a collection of great people that I know to some degree of familiarity that I respect and can learn from. And perhaps more importantly within that, instead of prevaricating, I’ve learned to just ask.”

Building networks while developing and nurturing relationships will help to create a foundation for a dynamic career, agrees Pappas, who adds that the network “can provide a cushion for when the unplanned happens”.

Mentors are hugely important too. Right up there on the list of Pappas’ career highlights has been working with Paul English who “is a great mentor…I’ve never met anyone as brilliant in my life,” she insists.

Clare Gilmartin, CEO of Trainline, has also benefited hugely from mentoring at all stages of her career – and from both men and women!

“I really encourage women, who are less inclined to do so than men, to find mentors. It is always helpful to speak to someone who has been where you want to take your career,” she says.

Women are also less likely than men, argues Tess Mattisson, director of European marketing for Choice Hotels Europe, to put themselves forward, to “be the rock star,” as it were.

Born in Sweden, one of Europe’s most gender equal countries Mattisson, who spent a chunk of her career at Nordic Choice Hotels, says it’s about grabbing the opportunities.

I’d like to think I’m invited as a speaker because of my achievements and skills, but even if I have just been invited to present on a conference keynote to fill quotas, I don’t mind.

“I see this as an opportunity to blow people out the water.”

A marriage of marketing and tech

Marina Shumaieva, co-founder & CTO of CruiseBe.com, admits that being a woman in travel tech is “not an easy thing to do”. However, with patience, persistence and intuition she has managed to make a career of her two hobbies – travelling and programming.

Traditionally, IT-related roles in travel have been very male dominated, while those in marketing have been largely held by women. But as technology becomes increasingly pervasive, that is changing.

So, while there is still work to do to get more women into tech-related roles, Mattisson argues that digital advancements mean that silo-based thinking simply no longer works. “As a marketer, the reality is that you absolutely need to have a good understanding of digital technology and its commercial benefits,” she says.

Meanwhile Geraldine Calpin, chief marketing officer of Hilton, a company she has been with for 15 years, believes that people are equal and it shouldn’t be about gender, or race and ethnicity, for that matter. Her view is this: “Work hard, treat people well and if you really want it you will get it”.

Join us for EyeforTravel San Francisco (April 9-10) to hear more from some of the top women in travel, as well as the industry’s leading men! 

This is a viewpoint from Pamela Whitby, editor of EyeforTravel. It appears as part of the tnooz sponsored content initiative.

Image from the International Women’s Day gallery.

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This is the byline under which we publish articles that are part of our sponsored content initiative. Our sponsored content is produced in collaboration with industry partners. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect or represent the views of tnooz, its writers, or partners.



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  1. Anastasia K.

    I totally agree with the article and I am very glad that it is taken to the public. As a person that travels a lot and has a real passion for it and also stands vor equality , I think this is a big problem.

  2. Alessandra Alonso

    Personally I disagree with Geraldine. Having worked to support women in travel and tourism for the best part of 20 years I know that it takes more than hard work and talent. Our male colleagues know this very well! You also need mentoring and networking to get ahead. But often women shy away from it for a variety or reasons, unless it is offered to them in a non -threatening way. That is where organisations like mine come into play. Hard work and talent without a clear strategy and the right people around you to support you and open a few doors simply is not enough!

  3. Laura Mandala

    I am very glad to see TNOOZ providing this forum for observations like yours, Pamela. We founded Women in Travel and Tourism International (Witti) to also address the disproprotionately low number of women at the most senior levels of the industry.
    Witti has been furthering the discussion in venues such as NTA, ONE Travel Conference, and Tourism Industry Association of Canada where we contributed data and perspective on how the Travel Industry can close the gender gap and making the economic argument for increasing women in the C-Suite. According to a Harvard Business Review study,

    “…Going from having no women in corporate leadership (the CEO, the board, and other C-suite positions) to a 30% female share is associated with a one-percentage-point increase in net margin — which translates to a 15% increase in profitability for a typical firm.”

    One way to expand awareness of the disparity and share our experiences is to hold panels and discussions at our trade shows and association venues. I encourage women and men to consider recommmending a panel on women in the travel industry at a conference you attend, one that showcases senior executive women who can share their experiences, or, a panel of organizations that are working to increase pay equity and ensure workplaces are ones where women thrive.


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