Jamie Biesiada
Jamie Biesiada

Last month, 58 women converged at Secrets The Vine in Cancun for the third annual Female Leaders in Travel Conclave. During the event, they focused on something that's become very familiar to many over the past 15 months: Discomfort.

"The focus this year was about how discomfort is actually a gift because it pushes us to change course and be courageous," said event organizer Jennifer Doncsecz, also the president of VIP Vacations in Bethlehem, Pa.

"In the face of unimaginable hardships and the most unlikely situations, people are forced into action," Doncsecz added. "Comfort and complacency is not an option. 2021 has had its share of zigs and zags, but by experiencing challenges, we can realize what we truly value and what matters. Only by experiencing painful moments, like 2020, can we become mentally stronger and better equipped to handle the crisis."

The Female Leaders in Travel Conclave largely consists of travel advisors, but this year, Doncsecz opened it up to a few others: three tour operator vice presidents, seven vice presidents or directors of sales for different resort brands and a travel insurance company vice president.

The event held special meaning for many after going through the height of the Covid-19 crisis.

"After one of the toughest years, it was inspiring to be in person at an event focused on growth and support," said Jacqueline Marks, executive vice president of trade sales for Apple Leisure Group Vacations. "These women come from all different types of agencies and backgrounds. They are not unified by a consortia or other industry memberships but are unified in their desire to learn and their commitment to build each other up."

Paula Hayes, vice president of sales for the Globus Family of Brands, was this year's Luminary winner at the conclave. She, too, pointed to the camaraderie among attendees.

"The freedom women felt in expressing their struggles and successes was so inspiring," she said. "The tone nurtured a feeling of equality. We were all there to support each other as enterprising women."

But the most remarkable part of the event, Marks said, is that it isn't really over.

"Upon returning there is continuation of the learning, chat groups, the book club and more that keeps growing the connections and the support for the business growth and success all are striving towards," she said.

Making connections

Therein lies one of the biggest advantages of in-person events geared toward travel advisors and their industry colleagues. Connections are made and maintained, even among those who would be considered competitors.

That collaborative attitude is one attendee Vanessa McGovern, co-founder and chief sales officer of Gifted Travel Network in Mooresville, N.C., saw on display. The event was a good reminder of how collaborative the entire industry is, she said, with travel advisors rooting for each other and sharing business strategies that work.

"I left feeling recharged, and it was because of the conversations that I had with the other ladies and the connections that were rekindled or new connections that were made," she said. "I felt like I got that spark back of why I love the industry so much, because it's lonely by yourself."

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