The Travel Allies Society, an industry group where agency leaders can network and provide support to one another, launched last month with 38 members and strong demand from nearly 200 others who hope to join.

Allies stands for "aligned loyal leaders inspire, educate, support."

The idea for the society was born from another networking group: Jennifer Doncsecz's Female Leaders in Travel Conclave. Doncsecz, the president of VIP Vacations in Bethlehem, Pa., said she noticed that none of the attendees of Female Leaders' two events went out of business during the pandemic. She attributed that to the supportive nature of their group and members' willingness to share successful business strategies.

Last summer, she said, she had spoken with an agency owner in Maryland who had been forced to close his storefront. "It hit me like, oh gosh, you didn't have anybody to turn to," she said. "You didn't have anybody to say, well, here are some options, have you thought of that?"

Allies is focused exclusively on enhancing travel agency heads' leadership skills through networking and educational events and does not compete with consortia, hosts, certification channels or political lobbying groups.

"As travel advisors we are trained on selling destinations and learning about resorts, tour operators and cruises," she said. "We can take courses on sales technique and maybe social media. But there are no training programs in the travel industry on developing leadership skills."

Membership in the society is by invitation only, but more than 175 requests for invitations have come in since the society launched April 1, Doncsecz said.

Members are extensively vetted, she added. They must have been in a agency management or a leadership role for at least five years; manage or lead a team with at least three employee or independent contractor and must be in good standing with suppliers. If the society's membership committee believes they are a good candidate, they are sent a lengthy application and asked for references.

The society also completes a criminal background check.

If a candidate checks all the boxes, their application will be forwarded to the society's executive board for a vote. Before joining, they must sign a membership agreement, pledge to adhere to a code of ethics and pay a membership fee of $379. At that point, they'll have access to a member portal with resources and an industry calendar, priority access to events, be able to participate in monthly calls and private groups on Facebook and WhatsApp.

"Our goal," Doncsecz said, "is to create a network of travel agency leaders who lead with integrity, support each other, inspire others and strive to transform those they lead."

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