Women helping women

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At the Female Leaders in Travel Conclave, attendees signaled their personal comfort level around other people by wearing color wristbands.
At the Female Leaders in Travel Conclave, attendees signaled their personal comfort level around other people by wearing color wristbands.
Jamie Biesiada
Jamie Biesiada

Jennifer Doncsecz, president of VIP Vacations in Bethlehem, Pa., is on a mission to elevate women in the travel industry and get them in more leadership roles.

She just held her second annual Female Leaders in Travel Conclave at Le Blanc Spa Resort in Los Cabos, Mexico, an event she hopes will further her mission.

"It's to elevate the leadership for women so that they can rise in their companies that they work for, or create stronger companies if they're running their own business," Doncsecz said of the event's goal. "Because if you want the business to grow, you have to grow the leader."

The event was held in mid-October and featured several days' worth of programming for its 40 travel advisor attendees, including panels, sessions and more. These focused on everything from leadership strategies, to work-life balance, to negotiations, to habits that hold women back (for instance, Doncsecz said, using words like "just," "but" and "so").

"I don't think there are enough women that can be used as examples or role models for women to look up to," Doncsecz said, she hopes to change that within the travel industry.

This year's event was starkly different than last year's, in that this year the world is in the grips of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Planning an in-person event in Mexico during a pandemic was a challenge, Doncsecz said.

Mexico does not require incoming U.S. travelers to provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test, as some other countries open to Americans do, but Doncsecz still felt it was necessary.

"We felt that if we were going to have indoor meetings, we needed to do something a little bit different, so everybody was required to get a Covid test before and send it to me before their arrival," she said.

Tables were spaced out during the event, temperatures were taken often (including before entering any sessions) and hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes were readily available. Multiple microphones on stands -- not handed back and forth -- were used. Participants wore masks when they went to off-site dinners.

Additionally, the conclave adopted what is becoming a trend for in-person meetings: Color wristbands indicating the wearer's personal comfort level. Wearing a green band meant they were comfortable with hugs. Yellow indicated comfort with talking, but no contact. Red meant they were keeping their distance.

For the most part, Doncsecz said, attendees wore green wristbands when with the conclave group in education sessions and yellow wristbands when venturing to other properties.

"There is a sense of feeling completely liberated when you're in a room where everybody has taken a Covid test and you can feel comfortable," she said.

Doncsecz plans to bring the event back next year, perhaps in the form of a leadership symposium open to all, not just women, sometime in June or July.

And while this year's conclave was rather different than the first, attendees praised the event highly, Doncsecz said.

"It was like a sisterhood I've never felt before because we've had a very tough year," she said. "I think it was very much needed."

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