8 Female Role Models in Travel Tech Everyone Should Look Up To

🕒 16 min.

The travel tech sector is growing at the speed of light, yet it still feels like we’re light years away from bridging the gender gap completely.

We have been taking a look at the current situations and numbers. The 2019 Global Report on Women in Tourism by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) shows that 54% of the global tourism workforce are women. However, most of them hold entry-level positions.

Many things have changed since the last International Women’s Day. The travel sector has been hit heavily by a global pandemic, and this has had an effect on the labor force as well.The pandemic has especially hit women in the travel industry. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the female labor force in travel has decreased by 2.04 million jobs between January 2020 and January 2021.

That means that 53.4% of job losses in the travel industry were experienced by women.

According to McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace 2020 report, women hold 38% of manager-level positions, compared to 62% of men. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it would be better if the ratio was closer to 50/50.

What Are the Main Challenges Women Face When Applying for C-Level Positions?

According to the Phocuswright’s Gender Equity Study 2019, both men and women agreed that the biggest challenge for leadership growth is the absence of a clear plan to cultivate talent. Participants were also asked to rate the travel industry in regard to gender equality for career development opportunities. On a scale of 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent), only 21% of women gave 4 and 5 ratings, while 46% of men did the same.

However, nearly 60% of women agreed that another major obstacle is a bias among management, while less than 40% of men thought the same.

Apart from the lack of a leadership plan and bias among management, other challenges women face when applying for C-level positions include:

●        Lack of a formal mentorship program

●        Lack of management training

●        Poor work-life balance

Everyone is looking for workplace flexibility, which is especially important for working mothers. However, women in travel tech often don’t get the promotions they deserve due to the industry’s hectic shift schedule.

Things are changing little by little. There are more women leaders in C-level positions, and they will shape the future of this sector. There are women working right now to make things happen and usher a change in the travel industry.

Leading C-Level Women in Travel Tech

In honor of International Women’s Day, we’ve invited some of the most successful and inspiring C-level women leading the way in the travel industry to share their experiences. Here’s what they had to say.

Ada Xu, Regional Director (Europe & Middle East) at Fliggy, the Travel Platform of Alibaba Group

Ada Xu is an expert in business development management. Before assuming the Regional Director position at Fliggy (formerly Alitrip), she was in charge of the business development for this online travel platform, which directly connects customers with airlines.

  1. What is the biggest challenge you encountered while rising in this industry? How did you overcome it?

I would say that the pandemic has been my biggest challenge. The travel industry has suffered significantly, and we still feel the pandemic’s effects.

However, the appetite for travel amongst consumers is still as high as ever. We’ve seen this from our Fliggy Tourism series that allows Chinese consumers to explore Europe virtually via live streaming.

  1. What is one of the biggest lessons you have learned while working through the pandemic?

People are social beings who need to stay in touch with their loved ones. They also love traveling and exploring new cultures.

Although the pandemic has put a brake on traveling, it has also pushed tourist destinations across Europe into a new digital era.

Through our Fliggy Tourism series, we’ve helped organizations such as the British Museum, The Louvre, and Museo Nacional del Prado to connect virtually with existing fans. More importantly, we’ve helped them attract future tourists through digital tools such as live-streaming and VR technology.

  1. What are some strategies that may help women achieve the success they want in their workplaces?

Work to be a better version of yourself. Don’t try to be someone else. Believe in yourself and your ideas, and work hard to make them happen.

Mar de la Fuente Vicent, Chief Organization and Digital Officer at Jumbo Tours Group

Mar de la Fuente Vicent is a business organization expert with vast business development experience. She implements business process improvements through strategic views and pragmatic tactics. She is currently working at Jumbo Tours Group, one of the largest tourism corporations in Europe that encompasses over 2,500 travel agencies.

  1. What’s the biggest challenge you encountered while rising in this industry? How did you overcome it?

My biggest challenge was embracing maternity while staying on my career path. But I had a great support network, both at work and at home, that helped me understand that I can be a mother and a professional at the same time.

Patience, self-confidence, adaptability, and better time management are the key to overcoming challenges.

  1. What is one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned while leading through the pandemic at a travel company?

For me, the biggest lesson is that you need to be able to adapt to change. You need to be more daring, unafraid of transformation, and eager to take on new challenges.

At Jumbo Tours, we’ve modified processes and workflows, adopted new tools, and reorganized our companies in record time.

  1. What are some strategies that can help women achieve the success they want in their workplace?

The key to achieving success in the workplace as a woman is to be true to yourself and persevere. Take advantage of your skills and strengths to make decisions and lead in your own way, without giving up on your essence.

I have an anecdote in this regard. In the beginning of my career, my closet was full of dark trouser suits. Fortunately, today these suits, if any, are colorful and hang beside dresses, skirts and even jeans. It might seem like an insignificant detail but for me it pictures quite well how much everything has evolved in the last 20 years.

Marine (Collignon) Ben Yeshaya – Global Marketing Director at Gett

Marine Ben Yeshaya is an expert in global marketing management with expertise in identifying new markets that can bring more sales and profitability. She is currently working at Gett, a leader in Corporate GTM (Ground Transportation Management) that offers a next-generation enterprise SaaS mobility solution for enhancing transportation infrastructure.

  1. What is the biggest challenge you encountered while rising in this industry? How did you overcome it?

I’m an empathetic, active listener who always treats others respectfully. These traits are often associated with a feminine personality, as they’re typically seen as weaknesses in male managers.

In mid-level roles, empathy is an asset, as it paints the picture of a team player. But in my senior managerial position, it made me experience imposter syndrome because key decision-makers are expected to be tough.

My way of overcoming this problem was defining and reaching strategic deliverables and proving that I could achieve them through cooperation while staying true to my values.

  1. What is one of the biggest lessons you have learned while working through the pandemic?

The obvious lesson was the importance of flexibility. The COVID-19 has forced all of us to act swiftly, make fast decisions, and solve problems on the go. And we had to do it all with toddlers running around, happier than ever to have you home while also eager to meet all your virtual colleagues.

  1. What are some strategies that may help women achieve the success they want in their workplaces?

We are more resilient than we think. Women have an instinctive sense of altruism that pushes us to embrace uncertainty and adapt quickly to reorganize our strategies for success.

Natalia Bayona, Director of Innovation, Education, and Investments at World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)

Natalia Bayona leads the innovation, education and investments strategy of the World Tourism Organization. She has a diverse background on politics, destination management and business. She has become the first
innovation director at UNWTO.

  1. What’s the biggest challenge you encountered while rising in this industry? How did you overcome it?

Working in tourism has been the most rewarding experience in my life because it is the most human sector of the whole economy and the one that employs the greater number of youth and women. Nevertheless, few women in tourism have had the possibility to develop a rising professional path. I addressed this challenge through education and entrepreneurship, which provide skills development opportunities that support women’s project ideas that impact worldwide communities.

My goal has been to empower women in tourism and provide them with growth opportunities, both professional and personal.

At the UNWTO, we offer startup competitions and other programs, with a huge number of female participants. Today, 28% of startups are led by women, which demonstrates that we can change any sector, including tech, to transform the global economy.

  1. What is one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned while leading through the pandemic?

Apart from innovation and sustainability, we need diversity. Women have demonstrated exceptional abilities in providing outstanding solutions, and their empowerment contributes to a more resilient tourism sector.

  1. What are some strategies that can help women achieve the success they want in their workplaces?

To achieve success, women should focus on innovation and education. They deserve education focused on skills, especially digital skills, to maximize their potential.

Disruptive technologies are crucial to being more inclusive and reaching gender equality. At UNWTO, we rely on AI to match female profiles with added-value jobs.

Natalia Fernandez Ortiz, Chief Contracting Officer of Southern Europe and Caribbean Hotel Division at WebBeds Europe

Natalia Fernandez Ortiz is an expert in developing strategic and business plans to optimize sales, maximize profit, and ensure proper and timely contract deliverables. She is currently working at WebBeds, the world’s second-largest accommodation supplier to the travel industry operating in over 130 markets and selling to over 170 destination countries.

  1. What’s the biggest challenge you encountered while rising in this industry? How did you overcome it?

I consider myself very lucky, as I haven’t had significant challenges to overcome. But I needed to work hard and speak up whenever an obstacle was in my way.

Of course, some challenges are common to all women, and the problem is we don’t even see them as issues but rather as part of life itself.

  1. What is one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned while leading through the pandemic at a travel company?

At the very beginning of the pandemic that pulled us out of our comfort zone, I learned that we needed to reinvent ourselves and our organizations through innovation.

We’ve learned how important it was to be connected with our teams and share information with colleagues.

  1. What are some strategies that can help women achieve the success they want in their workplace?

I believe that society has to embrace gender equality, as that’s the only way to bring full equality to the workplace.

Meanwhile, we can have a Gender Equality Plan that helps define some basic behaviors and guidelines within our organization. Some of the things that are included may seem very “logical” but they are not for everyone. Together with some colleagues (men and women) I am proud of having participated in the set-up of the Gender Equality Plan for WebBeds.

Nesya Gilad, VP of Marketing at Guesty

Nesya Gilad is a marketing expert currently working at Guesty, a property management platform for short-term and vacation rentals.

  1. What’s the biggest challenge you encountered while rising in this industry? How did you overcome it?

The vibrant and diverse travel space is always changing and evolving, which comes with many challenges, albeit exciting ones. You can spend months planning before having to pivot due to new trends and changing business priorities.

The most recent example is the COVID-19. The biggest challenge was managing parenting while also delivering results.

It’s been wonderful to have a work family at Guesty that understands that navigating a pandemic while being a parent is no easy task. We’ve definitely adjusted and are optimistically looking toward a future of recovery.

  1. What is one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned while leading through the pandemic?

I’ve learned that empathy is the new currency, especially when it comes to marketing. You need to know when to pump the brakes on selling your product to focus on your community’s needs.

At Guesty, we’ve experienced first-hand the uncertainty that the COVID-19 brought to travel and tourism. We had cancellations across the board but acted swiftly to help our customers and maintain business stability and longevity.

We launched a COVID-19 Info Center, held 30+ free virtual meetups with industry experts and thought leaders, and published many reports on the impact of the virus on businesses in the hospitality industry.

  1. What are some strategies that may help women achieve the success they want in their workplace?

The key strategy for success is choosing a role at a company that values diversity. The more diverse the culture, the more out-of-the-box, diverse thinking there will be. At Guesty, I’m proud to say we are 45% women.

Another important thing is to surround yourself with professionals you can learn from. It’s also important to care about what you do. When you’re emotionally invested in your work, you and your team can deliver top-notch results.

Paula Cristi, Commercial Director for Flights Business & Country Manager Argentina & Uruguay at Despegar.com

Paula Cristi is an experienced commercial manager in the travel and tourism industry with expertise in tour operations, negotiation, and pricing strategy. She is a regional manager for commercial flights at Despegar, the leading OTA in Latin America that has been serving the region since 1999.

  1. What’s the biggest challenge you encountered while rising in this industry? How did you overcome it?

We face cultural barriers daily due to prejudices based on gender, origins, characteristics, and preferences. It’s necessary to recognize everyone’s right to demonstrate abilities and have equal opportunities for quality jobs and career development.

Every company’s mission and objectives should be recognizing individual differences and working on what unites people. The idea is to create a work environment where different points of view enrich teams and help them provide value to customers.

  1. What is one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned while leading through the pandemic at a travel company?

At Despegar, we adapted as a team quickly and learned the importance of agility in a constantly-changing unprecedented time. We prioritized sensitivity in leading teams through uncertainty and helping our collaborators through complex situations.

  1. What are some strategies that can help women achieve the success they want in their workplace?

Women must have opportunities for education, support networks and flexibility for motherhood, and access to financial services. These aspects are necessary to encourage women’s development in all areas.

Tracy Guo, Senior Investment Manager at Trip.com

Tracy Guo is an investment professional with an MBA in Finance and experience in investment banking. She is currently working as a Senior Investment Manager at Trip.com (formerly Ctrip.com), the largest OTA in China that’s also one of the world’s leading travel agencies. It’s owned by Trip.com Group, an OTA that serves over 400 million customers worldwide.

  1. What is one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned while leading through the pandemic?

Since the pandemic started, I’ve learned the importance of adjusting to change. It’s a great time to try something new from the business perspective, such as new technologies (e.g., Zoom) and business models.

In China, some offline travel agencies have adapted by selling vacation villas, which has helped them generate more revenue.

  1. As executive women, what do you think are the areas in which new generations should focus at a global impact level (politics, environment, education)?

I think new generations should focus more on politics at the global level, especially now that the borders are closed due to the pandemic. Keeping politics in mind and embracing a diversified mindset is key.

Final Words

The travel technology sector is evolving, and diversity can help innovate and create a different atmosphere where gender balance can be a reality. It is very important for women to work on the path of helping other women with things like mentoring and professional advice.

At Hotelmize, we are doing our best to make things happen by investing in initiatives that raise awareness about new role models, just like these women who have collaborated with us in this article. We would like to take this opportunity to thank them and show appreciation for the time they invested in telling us about their experience.

We hope you enjoyed reading about the experiences of these powerful women in travel tech. We also hope their advice helps you rise in the industry and create your successful path for others to follow.

Our goal, as a startup, is to continue to help bring innovation to the travel industry. We are also here to serve as a reference of – a role model for our community. We strive, today and in the foreseeable future, to be a work place where women will love working in.  

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