Carolyn Pearson is CEO and founder of Maiden Voyage. Prior to setting up her own company her career experience includes roles as Head of Commercial Systems at easyJet, Interim Head of Business Systems at the BBC and Head of Production Systems at ITV. Carolyn studied Business and IT at the University of Central Lancashire, as well as holding an MBA from the University of Liverpool and an Advanced Development Programme qualification from Cranfield School of Management.
“…This isn’t about women being needy or weak… Through providing the right advice we want to empower women to have the most successful business trips and deliver on their objectives that the travel has afforded them…”
Carolyn, please can you give us a brief overview of your career to date and what made you set up Maiden Voyage?
I was blessed to have a brilliant career in IT. I started right at the very bottom in data entry, then learned to programme, did technical support and networks then became a business analyst, project manager and eventually landed the top job, leading the tech teams in various organisations.
Whist a typically male dominated industry, I thrived in it and loved the fact that you can choose any industry and any geography, everybody needs IT. I specialised in industries that interested me, particularly media and travel. The peak of my career was leading technology at the Dutch Airline, KLM. I even learned to speak Dutch.
As a person who loves to travel, I came up with the idea to launch Maiden Voyage when I was on a business trip in LA, whilst working for ITV. I was beside myself with boredom in the evenings and knew that I wasn’t the only woman in the world, sat in hotel, desperate to get out and see what the city had to offer. I didn’t think too much about it, I just created an online platform for women to connect.
The press leapt on the story. After being featured in the New York Times, CNN and the BBC World Service the business took on a life of its own.
After running the business alongside my busy career, I had to make a choice as there weren’t enough hours in a day to do both. So I had to leave a perfectly good career to see if I could make this work. There are still days when I longingly look back at the simplicity of ‘just having a job!’
How does your business model work?
We have a corporate membership solution for organisations that have a significant number of women travellers, we provide female traveller safety training and eLearning. We have strategic partnerships with and promote the best travel providers in the industry i.e. those who are committed to making the female business travel experience exceptional (and safe of course).
There’s an altruistic element too. All staff are given a volunteer day to spend with a charity of their choice, we work to join the homeless sector with the hospitality sector, encouraging hotels to donate unwanted bedding, furniture and consumables and we run travel safety webinars in aid of women’s empowerment charities.
How long have you been trading and in how many countries do you operate?
We’ve been going since 2008 and have clients and relationships in over 80 countries.
Why is the support you provide to female travellers, often travelling alone, so important?
- There are legal restrictions in certain countries;
- There are cultural restrictions in certain territories;
- Women are statistically more likely be subject to sexual assault;
- People perceive us to be less strong so even an offer to help with our heavy bags can lead to unanticipated interactions (hangers-on!);
- We carry our travel documents around in our handbags and handbag theft is common-place, in particular at transport hubs and hotels;
- Pregnancy combined with travel has its own unique set of perils.
Through providing the right advice we want to empower women to have the most successful business trips and deliver on their objectives that the travel has afforded them. As more women reach those senior positions and travel more, there’s never been a better time.
How important is awareness around cultural difference in different countries?
It’s essential. At best it can invalidate a business trip if undue offence is caused due to lack of cultural awareness. Public displays of affection such as innocuously hugging a male colleague, carrying what could be perceived as a pornographic material (such as a common place women’s magazine in the West) or inappropriate attire could put women at serious risk.
How was the uncertainty around Brexit affected the business, if at all?
The uncertainty I could live with, I don’t worry about things until they’ve happened, but I’m not ready to come to terms with the result. I was in America as the results came in and I watched them through the night – I’m not embarrassed to say I actually burst into tears the day after.
I have lived and worked in Europe for six years, studied on French and Dutch immersion courses, I have a Dutch pension and a house in France. I consider myself European and I’m sad that the future generations will miss out on the amazing cultural immersion experience that I was privileged to enjoy.
The impact on the business will be minimal. I see our biggest growth potential in the USA and I will be happy to see the back of VAT MOSS [mini one stop shop] which means even SMEs having to register and pay tax in each European country that they sell digital assets to (such as our eLearning).
You’ve recently secured funding from an angel investor – what difference will this make to the business?
The investment will make a massive difference to the business. We are in the process of bolstering the team with some of the best industry professionals so that we can scale up and meet demand. The technology will be refreshed to enable better connectivity for our members and we will be working more closely with large hotel groups.