ADVERTORIAL: Travelport, Celebrating women in travel

Travel technology leader, Travelport’s, Robyn Christie shares insights on what it’s like to be female business leader in South Africa and how women are shaping the travel industry. National Women’s Day on 9 August, is an important point in time in our calendar; for me personally, I take stock of what I have achieved in the last year and as a South African female business leader of the travel industry, I take the time to reflect on how my decisions as a business leader are supporting the growth, and redefining the position, of women in our industry. A few years ago, there was a surge of ‘girl power’ in the South African travel industry and we saw an influx of female entrepreneurs trailblazing opportunities and growing the business of travel in the region. When the economic downturn came – and the economic uncertainty that came with it – this movement was muted and we saw a downtown of female entrepreneurs entering the industry. This was bad news for travel and even in corporate terms, there is ample research that proves companies with a balance at the table of decision making in terms of gender tend to be more successful. The good news is that recently there have been signs that the balance is being restored. There are many travel management companies (TMCs) owned and managed by dynamic women who continue to develop and change the travel industry landscape. The opportunities are endless and I believe success is absolutely there for women to take! The examples of women succeeding in travel are abundant. It takes a bit of luck and a lot confidence to try something new, but you can see so many examples globally and, indeed, here in South Africa where opportunities in travel lie for women. It’s crucial for women to have confidence in their own abilities. In the travel industry, corporate travel and the corporate customer is an area to highlight where there are many opportunities for women. Personally, in my career, I was fortunate to find what I loved doing early on, along with the support I needed within the industry to enable me to progress and develop professionally. The industry, my experiences and my colleagues and peers moulded me to become the robust and versatile industry professional and leader I am today. Of course, I learnt some tough lessons along the way, but it’s a very good feeling to reflect on a career spanning 35 years and know that after all those years of navigating my way through the 80s and then the 90s, not to mention Y2K, 9/11 and a subsequent decade of political, terrorist and economic turmoil, I am in a position to tap into my experience and safely say “I’ve been through something similar and we survived once before”. This is the knowledge and wisdom I want to impart to my team and of course, my female colleagues in the industry. Overcoming challenges On the theme of National Women’s Day, it’s important to acknowledge that women face unique challenges in their career development and progression. We know from the highest profile global female leaders, such as fellow technology company facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, that ‘small, everyday things’ can hold women back and make a big difference in supporting the empowerment of women in the work place. The ‘Together Women Can’ initiative Sandberg has rolled out has been impactful in addressing the small things that do hold women back. There are great recommendations in this initiative for how we can promote and empower women in the workplace. For example, Sandberg has stated that we know that women get interrupted more than men in the workplace and has acknowledged that it’s difficult sometimes to confront a colleague who has interrupted you. She recommends for women to say they’d like to hear what their colleague has to say but not at this moment. Likewise, we know men are more often given credit for their ideas. So coming to the table and saying, “This was a great project and this was based on Mary’s idea”, is another way we can empower women. This is something I push in my team. The contribution of the female members of my team have made to Travelport’s mission of redefining travel commerce in Africa is exceptional, especially in promoting how our Travel Commerce Platform creates synergies and network effects that facilitate revenue growth across the travel value chain. As communicators, I find women excel at communication and we certainly leverage this skill in our team. To empower people, a business must trust the ability of those they empower. This trust can only be earned by people who believe, and are well-versed, in the intentions of the business they represent. In the work place, women often lack – or have to fight a lot harder for – the same opportunities as their male counterparts, despite their abilities being equal or superior. This is why it is so important for companies to continue investing in women and offering them the same opportunities as their male colleagues to progress and succeed; whether it is soft skills, technical or product-related, training is critical. Leadership in Africa I am very proud to work for a company that places high priority in female leadership. During the last year alone, Travelport has appointed two new female leaders in Africa. We have female country managers in Egypt and South Africa, as well as a female regional leader in East Africa. The female appointments in Egypt and East Africa have added a dynamism and robustness to our leadership in the region as we continue to redefine travel commerce across Africa. CEO of start-up Locomote, Sandra McLeod is placing diversity front and centre of the TMC with a mission to make Locomote the world’s go-to platform for corporate travel. Through Travelport’s strategic investment in Locomote, we have significantly strengthened our offering to both corporates and TMCs from an end-to-end customer experience perspective. Locomote has developed a platform to empower corporations in the seamless management of their travel, authorisation and procurement processes, including corporate traveller profile management, pre-trip approvals and duty of care capabilities. I have much admiration for McLeod as she has said diversity in leadership is critical for achieving better business outcomes and I know this to be true. Every day I meet young and ambitious travel agents who excite and inspire me, and as a female leader of the industry I do all in my power to continue encouraging and promoting women breaking into the industry, so that like McLeod and myself, they can keep progressing and succeeding in the industry.