The winners of the 2018 IBM iX everywoman in Travel Awards were revealed on November 14. Five of them tell Abigail Healy what the accolade means to them
Award: Tomorrow’s Leader – given to a woman under 30 making a significant contribution to the sector.
Alice Hye began working in the travel sector aged 18 and joined AC Group in June 2017 as services contracts manager, heading up contracting for non-accommodation services for the company.
“The role was brand new, giving me the opportunity to build the portfolio from scratch, which was exciting and challenging,” she says.
A few months into the role, Hye volunteered to mentor a female reservations executive who showed interest in developing her career in the contracting department. As the company grew, there was a need for the contracting and product team to expand, meaning her colleague could be promoted into a role in the team.
Hye notes the importance of supporting and mentoring other women.
“One of the greatest barriers to woman achieving is perception. When an ambitious woman sees a more experienced female role model in a position of power, it makes success seem more attainable,” she says.
Winning the award was a real “honour and privilege” for Hye.
“My goal is to continue mentoring other young woman in the industry to strive for career success. It’s fabulous recognition, but more importantly, it’s great motivation to keep working to improve not only myself but other women and men in the industry.”
Award: Team Leader – bestowed on a woman whose team leadership has greatly contributed to the organisation’s success.
“If you want to make an impact in your business, you need to understand it from more perspectives than your own. Interact with people outside your department to learn what their challenges are,” says Roisin O’Sullivan, chief operating officer at Walks, a travel company that offers walking tours, day trips and food tours in Europe and the US.
It’s an outlook that has served O’Sullivan well. She joined the company in 2014 and redesigned its consumer site, leading to a 73% transaction growth in just one year.
Now responsible for recruiting new staff, she says curiosity is an important characteristic that she looks out for.
“I have been surprised by how new team members have solved problems that we had previously struggled with, but you have to be curious about the things happening around you to make those connections and find solutions.”
While Walks has many women among its ranks and O’Sullivan notes that no one in the company questions the value of new female talent, she does find there are areas in which women feel uncomfortable interacting, such as the “traditionally male” areas of finance and technology.
“To be successful as a woman, you need to be not just as good as the man next to you, but better. Having a broad knowledge base to draw from is one of the most important parts of that,” says O’Sullivan.
Award: Entrepreneur – presented to a travel business owner/operator (operating for three years or more) whose vision will inspire other women to start their own enterprise.
Caroline Strachan started her career in travel in 1995 at Lunn Poly. In 2016 she joined Festive Road, a travel and meetings engagement consultancy.
Since then she has multiplied the company’s revenue by more than seven times. She has also co-founded two women’s networks: Level Women focused on women in business travel in the UK, and Women at Work, a network of 2,000-plus women working across various industries.
She says: “My business partner, Paul Tilstone, and I created Festive Road to fill a gap in the consulting market. We have attracted some of business travel’s finest talent, equipped them with robust resources, then allowed them to work in whatever way they want.”
Strachan says she was surprised to scoop the Entrepreneur award.
“That image of the Silicon Valley startup in a garage isn’t me. But, ultimately, an entrepreneur is someone who does things differently and I’ve been doing that for most of my career, just in large companies. I hope this award helps other women see you can set up your own business, even as a mum with small children.”
For other women looking to try something new, Strachan advises: “Surround yourself with brilliant people, both in your business, the wider industry and your own personal network. I’ve been surrounded by brilliant people who have been an amazing support.”
Award: One to Watch – given to a young game-changer under 21 in education or an apprenticeship who demonstrates a passion for the travel industry.
Fairley was drawn to a role in the travel industry after booking her first holiday abroad aged 16.
“I wanted to give the customer the same magical experience that I had when I booked my first holiday. I have always dreamt about travelling the world and experiencing new cultures,” she says.
One area Fairley has focused on in her role is digital marketing.
“I keep active on the store’s page by answering customers’ comments with short, snappy and witty replies. I make sure that I post on social media to connect with the local area at relevant times,” she explains.
Overall, her digital marketing initiatives have resulted in a 30% increase in bookings.
With her apprenticeship now coming to an end, Fairley says winning the award is “a great start to my future career in travel”.
She has ambitions to try different roles in the industry too.
“I am enjoying the role that I am presently in, but I have aspirations to work as cabin crew, abroad and helping future apprentices.”
And finally, Fairley’s advice for other young women starting out in travel: “Be patient, excited, passionate, up for learning new things, and believe in yourself.”
Award: Above and Beyond – awarded to a woman who has truly gone above and beyond her role to help drive the organisation’s success.
Swati Agarwal’s role at Celebrity Cruises is her first job in travel. Since joining, she has embraced the opportunity to lead the company’s first Women’s, Multi-Cultural & Part-time Workers Employee Resource Group in the UK office, investing her personal time in planning for it.
Such initiatives include a twice-yearly collection of unused toiletries and make-up for a women’s refuge charity, a company-wide International Women’s Day celebration and a women’s health and fitness day.
Agarwal asserts the importance of championing women and diversity in business and specifically in the travel industry.
“Unconscious bias has, to some extent, led to many women dropping out to start a family when they reach middle management and not having the confidence to pursue their upward career trajectory,” she says.
“Programmes that support women returning from career breaks, flexible working schemes, promoting shared parental leave and creating women’s networks help give them the confidence to seek rewarding careers.”
She believes the next big challenge to tackle is women lacking the confidence to network.
“I come across many women who are passionate about what they do or want to do, but shy away from networking. No matter your career or life priorities, networking is very important, so for next year we are exploring some initiatives that will focus on networking, career development, mentorship, inspirational talks and motivational speakers.”