By Silvia Camarota Founding Member, Women in Travel Thrive
Featuredin Hotel Business Review
Like many others, the summer of 2020 was a time for reflection and change at my company as we continued to face the challenges and uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic.
COVID-19 along with the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor laid bare the inequity of American society, and we at Expedia Group set our sights on fostering a more diverse, equitable and inclusive organization. Inspired by our internal company efforts, I turned to my colleagues and wondered aloud, “what more can we as individuals do?”
Study after study confirmed what we were seeing: that women’s jobs in the travel industry (and beyond) are significantly more at-risk than the jobs of their male counterparts. Many of us began asking women in our networks the same question I had asked of my colleagues. We heard over and over about the loss of jobs by women who were colleagues, friends and family. It was the virtual tsunami of negative news that drove us to action that we hope will change the course of women’s careers in the travel industry.
Our growing, grassroots movement has amassed more than 20 founding members with representation across the travel industry including women from companies like Duetto, Hilton, Margaritaville Resorts and Hotels, BCV – RateGain, Universal Orlando Resort and more. Plus, hundreds of followers who are ready to make a difference. Together, we have our sights set on efforts to combat COVID-related career regression and increase leadership representation among women in travel. By working collaboratively at every level our goal is to not only to mitigate the disproportionate loss of women from travel industry due to COVID and its related effects, but also to close the travel industry’s enduring gender gap.
A Critical Moment in Time
As women, what we are seeing amid the COVID-19 crisis is not a new phenomenon. The U.N. Women’s 2010 Global Report on Women in Tourism recounted that even though women make up a large amount of the tourism workforce, they earned less than their male counterparts and, in some sectors, made up less than 5% of leadership roles. Yet, a decade after this report women remain largely unseen in the travel industry’s top ranks. This IS in spite of THE FACT women makE between 80 and 85% of all travel decisions.
In 2019, a report from the World Tourism Organization again confirmed that, despite making up more than 50% of the global tourism and hospitality workforce, women earned “14.7% less than their male colleagues and hold less than a fifth of leadership roles.” More recent studies have found women are disproportionately represented in sectors that have been negatively affected by COVID-19. This is a serious threat to the role of women in travel, the livelihoods of their families and our economic prosperity as a nation.
The impact of COVID on women travel professionals has not gone unnoticed by senior women industry leaders. In an article for Forbes, Dorothy Dowling, a Women in Travel Thrive mentor and senior vice president and chief marketing officer for BWH Hotel Group, shared that “there has never been a more critical moment in time to tackle the important conversation about diversity and inclusion, especially in the hospitality industry.” She continued, “If we don’t step up now to support women through this crisis, any progress toward gender equality that was previously made will be quickly undone.”
A Massive Regressive Impact
In fact, that is what we have seen with the COVID-19 crisis. Thousands of talented women have had their roles reduced or have been forced to leave the travel industry. Even in the few sectors where we had been seeing progress, women are being shut out. For example, women serving as travel agents have seen their work decrease in both the short- and long-term. Airlines, cruise lines and hotels alike have had to make difficult decisions to cut out the middlemen and save on commissions. But the middleman in many cases is actually a woman.
Moreover, McKinsey & Company also found that women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable than men’s jobs in large part because the COVID-19 virus has significantly increased the burden of unpaid care. If this and other trends seen in recent months continue unmitigated, McKinsey estimates “global GDP growth could be $1 trillion lower in 2030 than it would be if women’s unemployment simply tracked that of men in each sector.” In a worst-case scenario, this burden as well as factors like attitudinal bias, a slower recovery, or reduced access to education and childcare services could make women leave the workforce altogether.
With the support of mentors like Dowling, Women in Travel Thrive is focused on creating change on a woman-to-woman level and to ensure not one more woman is left behind AND forced out of a successful and meaningful career in travel. Our organization is comprised of volunteers like me and my colleagues at Expedia Group who answered the call to act. Additionally, women representing more than a dozen of the nation’s most highly respected travel brands and the industry’s top women leaders have joined our mission.
Each woman brings her unique talents and network to the table for the benefit of herself and every other woman in our “Thrive Hive.” There are no membership requirements to become a part of Women in Travel Thrive and all of our programs and resources are free. Currently, we are focused on creating mentorship connections as one way we can both curb the effects of COVID-19 and achieve gender parity within the travel industry. Women from around the world have signed up to serve as mentors or to receive mentorship. In addition, we have organized a three-day virtual event, “Day of Impact,” which will be held January 26 – 28. Our aim is to connect women across the industry with supportive mentors and OTHER complementary resources to take their “seat at the table.”
We recognize it takes more than mentors to reach our goals. We are also creating new opportunities for women and men alike, individually or through their companies, to directly assist women in travel achieve their full potential. We are organizing a sponsorship program, so individuals and organizations can make an immediate impact whether by helping a young professional refine her wardrobe or LinkedIn Profile, or a woman in pursuit of a career change receive access to resources like professional organizations.
We are also building an “Open to Work” job board to directly connect women with high-level travel roles where they can thrive. We also want to bring awareness and support to the front-line hospitality heroes who carried our industry through this unprecedented time by offering recognition, and tangible opportunities they can benefit from including access to career support, education and resources that are tailored to their specific needs.
Be the Change
We need more ‘hands on deck’ to help Women in Travel Thrive. Travel industry professionals, men and women alike, are invited to sign up to be a mentor. Mentors will collaborate with their mentees by sharing connections, relationships and resources while mentees may provide their mentors with insights and relationships from their own unique experience. Just one conversation with a mentee can make a measurable impact on both the mentee and mentor.
In fact, telling your own story of success like one of the talented Abby Estevez, a senior luxury travel sales manager who reinvented her career while on furlough from her role at Conrad New York Midtown. Viewing her furlough as an opportunity to rediscover her passions, Abby now also volunteers with Women in Travel Thrive and oversees our organization’s marketing efforts. Like Abby, Dowling along with Melissa Maher, chief inclusion officer and senior vice president of marketing and industry engagement at Expedia Group, and many others have shared their career stories with Women in Travel Thrive. Posting their stories on our social media channels, we have reached and engaged with hundreds of women as they continue their own career journeys. You can submit your story on our website.
Finally, as we grow, we hope you will consider supporting our mission to empower, connect and uplift women in the travel industry with direct assistance for women in travel or by helping us fund our volunteer-led programs.
While the challenges ahead of us are immense, I have been truly grateful for and inspired by all the women who have given back and are selflessly involved and the progress we have already made together. Women in the Travel Thrive is more than the name of our organization, it’s a call-to-action that more and more women, men and their organizations are answering every day.
Ms. Camarota Silvia is a founding member of Women in Travel Thrive. She is also senior director, North America market management, lodging at Expedia Group. An accomplished and passionate hospitality executive, Ms. Camarota has more than two decades of travel industry experience in leadership, sales, marketing and business development. She is routinely called on to develop and lead high-performing teams in building strong brand equity through strategic planning, business unit development and effective relationship management. Along with more than a dozen women leaders of some of the industry’s most influential brands, Ms. Camarota founded Women in Travel Thrive to combat the women’s career regression amid the coronavirus pandemic.