Alessandra Alonso is founder of Women in Travel CIC, a social enterprise dedicated to empowering women through employability and entrepreneurship in the travel and tourism industry. She also works as freelance business consultant, coach and lecturer, and over the last twenty years has enjoyed collaborating with many prestigious organisations in the private and public sector. Alessandra was senior industry manager at KPMG UK where she sat up their Travel & Tourism division and prior to this she was assistant director of strategy at the World Travel & Tourism Council.
“…Travel and tourism is an industry that continues to experience unprecedented growth and which is inherently female friendly, so why not leverage its economic and social strength to empower, upskill and uplift women?..”
Spreading my wings
I never knew I was going to be in the travel and tourism industry but, in a way, it is no surprise that I eventually did as I was always told by mother that as a woman I needed to spread my wings and fly. “Work hard, be independent, see the world, go for it!” That is what I can remember her telling me from the age of eleven or twelve. So, I did or at least, I tried!
Equally, I think it is hardly surprising that with a feminist mother I would eventually become myself passionate about gender equality. But while I fell into the travel and tourism industry when I first applied for a traineeship at the European Commission in Brussels, it was at KPMG that I started to appreciate concepts such as authentic leadership and gender parity (or the lack of it).
Tapping into the entire talent pool (not just the male half)
Through the work I did in industry I developed a passion for supporting women in the workplace and in 2004 launched my first business helping companies to tap into the entire talent pool (not just the male half). Mentoring, coaching, management development, networking through the first ever female awards in tourism sat at the heart of the business.
This very same passion holds my second business – Everyday Mentor, which I founded in 2011 – together today. Everyday Mentor helps companies realise their people potential for better performance and greater profit. It also helps individuals – women especially but also men and across every industry – shine at whatever they wish to do personally and professionally.
A unique industry with a ‘fatal attraction’
If you have every worked in travel and tourism you will be aware that this is a unique industry with a ‘fatal attraction’. I could not stay away for long and in 2014 re-launched with a series of female-focused events at leading business to business fair, World Travel Market.
In 2016 we launched in Dubai, at Arabian Travel Market and in 2018 we will for the first time be present at Africa Travel Market. Most importantly, in 2018 Women in Travel CIC was born as a CIC (Community Interest Company), a type of social enterprise. This means we are a commercial company but reinvest all profits in our mission. This also means that I now juggle two businesses, as well as a full on personal life as the mother of two highly energetic boys!
Empower, upskill and uplift
Women in Travel is rooted in the belief that women are key to the health and wealth of communities and that there is no sustainable development without empowered women at its heart. Travel and tourism is an industry that continues to experience unprecedented growth and which is inherently female friendly, so why not leverage its economic and social strength to empower, upskill and uplift women?
We aim to support women in several ways – working with individuals, we create community based events that aims to inspire, engage and network women, so they can connect, mentor each other, learn and share.
I provide internal support through a female-focused development programme (leadership, mentoring, upskilling and the like) together with my advisory board (which I rushed to set up knowing I could not do it all on my own…).
In recent months, as well as working on the Travel Markets event we’ve had a female entrepreneurs’ mentoring event that was a huge success and have announced a Women in Travel event to honour Black History Month, which will discuss the lack of diversity and in particular the lack of BAME representation in industry and amongst entrepreneurs.
More diversity needed in a global industry
Whilst women are easily attracted to the travel and tourism industry, it is still pyramid shaped when it comes to the corporate hierarchy. Women in senior roles continue to be the minority. Women of diverse race, background or LGTB are only beginning to emerge from obscurity, with the first Travel Industry Pride taking place in 2016.
Female entrepreneurs: Huge untapped potential across the board
When it comes to entrepreneurship, while there is no specific account of female travel and tourism entrepreneurs. We know that overall in the UK women owned businesses account for only around 20% of the total. There is still huge untapped potential therefore across the board.
I truly believe that entrepreneurship is the way forward for women around the world. Travel and tourism is increasingly tech driven and it is not unfeasible to launch a business from your kitchen table provided you have a good laptop, a smart phone and Wi-Fi.
This enables women to flex between work and family, and even in those countries where culturally working outside the home is a challenge, women are welcome to earn money for their families through their own business. I have witnessed myself the empowerment this brings to women in the likes of Iran, Africa and the Gulf.
The power of women as informed consumers
Furthermore, as women exercise greater influence as informed consumers and holiday-purchasers we need to ensure they are aware who and what they are buying from. Conscious travel operators are springing up everywhere and particularly on line. Some websites (such as http://g-r-t.org/en) offer women-owned and led tour and experiences, which mean we support women and fighting discrimination when we select them for our leisure time.
Coming up next for Women in Travel
We are now looking at a ‘women returners’ concept that we aim to unveil before the end of the year … so watch this space!
We need more women to experience the opportunities offered by this great industry, either by setting up their own operation or choosing this sector as employer to fully deploy their talent.
I know that women worldwide are an amazingly powerful, untapped positive force. Combine them with travel and tourism and that’s when magic happens!