Alessandra Alonso is the founder and managing director of Women in Travel, a community interest company – CIC – dedicated to empowering women through employability and entrepreneurship in travel, tourism and hospitality. Alessandra has spent 20 years in the sector, working in strategy and consulting roles for organisations including the World Travel and Tourism Council and KPMG. Women in Travel is now running a mentoring programme to support women who work in travel whose work has been hit by the pandemic.
“At some point, the ‘war for talent’ that the industry has experienced in the last few years will start again. Right now, women need to pay bills and feed their families so they have to open every door that may lead to a job. We rejoice on the outside at every woman we help find work and cry a little bit inside when we hear she is moving away from the sector.”
Women supporting women in the travel sector
Women in Travel CIC is the outcome of my 20 years of work in the industry and over 15 supporting women.
After working in corporates for over a decade, I noticed a remarkable lack of women in senior positions and went on to co-found the very first gender consulting in the sector, Shine, which also launched the very first awards for women operating in travel tourism hospitality and events, the Shine Awards.
After a number of years, I exited the company but my passion and mission were still very strong. So, in 2017, I formalised my new organisation, this time dedicated to supporting the women who are remote from work, vulnerable or underrepresented.
In 2018, BAME Women in Travel was launched, and in late 2019, Jamie Lee Abtar joined us as executive director for BAME Women in Travel to accelerate the BAME agenda.
We are a very lean organisation, so every day is somewhat different, and we all do whatever is the priority, however, because of my long-standing work in the industry and on gender (that is a polite way to say I am old!), I do spend quite a bit of time speaking to clients, developing opportunities and using my understanding of diversity and gender equality to coach and mentor others.
On a personal update, I was just recently announced as one of the #100WISE NatWest Inspirational Women for the work undertaken since the pandemic started.
COVID-19 cannot stop us!
When you work in travel and tourism and a pandemic grinds your entire sector to a halt you cannot afford to spend too much time feeling sorry for yourself, especially when you have beneficiaries who are much worse off!
Therefore, what we have done is shifting our services to digital to ensure we can still reach out to our vulnerable beneficiaries and also accessing available funding such as the European Social Development Fund. It is tough but it enables us to bridge this challenging year and continuing the work which is so crucial.
It was hard because we did not have a track record in accessing funding and we had to get up a pretty steep learning curve, but we made it and now we are running our third programme. Our volunteer mentors are key, and we want to take the opportunity to thank them for all they do to support our women beneficiaries and Women in Travel CIC.
Mentoring is at our core
Mentoring is not just about a programme here at Women in Travel, it is rather the way we work and operate. It is at the core of everything we do. Mentoring is all about empowerment, accountability and proactively and intentionally taking control through greater self-awareness.
With mentoring, women have a place to feel safe and supported; to brainstorm opportunities and possibilities; to plan what may seem impossible elsewhere.
We run mentoring in groups, one-to-one and reverse and they all work incredibly well to ignite action and foster understanding.
With the recent Black Lives Matter events, we are also increasingly talking about allyship – mentors are de-facto allies.
The recession in the travel industry for women
I have read somewhere that this is a ‘she-cession’ because of the number of women who have lost their jobs but also the number of women at risk both physically and mentally (keeping in mind that roles in key worker positions are mostly held by women too).
In travel and hospitality, 60% of the workforce is female, and more often than not in the less secure and worse paid positions. As you can imagine the loss of jobs is huge for them.
We cannot encourage women to stay in travel and tourism if there are no travel and tourism jobs. However, we know this is ‘just’ in the short to medium-term as the industry will recover, but Brexit and other pre-existing factors are not going away.
So, at some point, the ‘war for talent’ that the industry has experienced in the last few years will start again. Right now, women need to pay bills and feed their families so they have to open every door that may lead to a job. We rejoice on the outside at every woman we help find work and cry a little bit inside when we hear she is moving away from the sector.
Advice for women working in travel
These are anxious times and it can be overwhelming too.
- The first thing is to ensure you have a support network (friends, colleagues, family, you name it) around you;
- The second is to contact us so we can discuss how we can help you. If your support network is far away, it is even more important that you get in touch.
Support women not just to survive but to thrive
This pandemic has been terrible for women, not just because of unemployment but in terms of domestic abuse, domestic workload and exposure to health-related risk.
We want to be a catalyst for change through economic empowerment. We know from the previous crisis that when economic stagnation or recession hit, women suffer over and above. There is still a lot of work to be done and we will continue to be at the forefront of actions aimed at providing women with the support necessary to thrive.
Women in Travel is currently crowdfunding to support 25 highly vulnerable and unemployed women so they can be supported for six months through mentoring and training in their quest to return to work and regain their livelihood. If you can help, no donation is too small, and rest assured that it will go 100% to support our beneficiaries. Please check: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/witcic