Celebrating women in travel

TRAVTALK celebrated International Women’s Day in Dubai with 11 insightful speakers from the travel, tourism and hospitality sectors. The event was first in a series of ‘Women leaders forums’.

Dr. Shehara Rizly

The event kicked off with Devika Jeet, Director, DDP Group, welcoming the audience with an inspiring note “inspire future generations to dream big and reach for the stars”. “When we as women stand together shoulder to shoulder each day, we gain strength together. This event marks the beginning of many more to come. We hope for your continuous support, as we strive to see the industry unite and stand together,” she said.

Maitha Gobash, Senior Manager, Dubai Economy and Tourism & CEO, Dar Alhai Tourism, delivered her message of striving to achieve what you set your sights on. “As an avid traveller I started my own business, as I loved to travel around the world, although it was COVID time. I managed to take many groups and travel to explore different destinations and experiences. There are different experiences by various ladies and families who have been travelling with me and it’s always a pleasure to create new and unique experiences according to the clientele,” Gobash said.

Mariam Farag, Vice President – Corporate Communications, DAMAC, started off her inspiring note with the quote of Maya Angelou, “Each time a woman stands up for herself without knowing it possibly without claiming it she stands up for all women.” She further reiterated the importance of building confidence and achieving your goals. “When I look at all the amazing names of speakers and guests attending the event, I wanted to share something for these empowered women. My mother taught me strength, drive and resilience, and that everyday is a new day and everyday you have a chance to renew yourself, you have a chance to start over even if you fall a thousand times a day, you can still regain your strength overnight because the sun will always shine. So, I have learnt a lot from her but mostly I have learnt to stand up for myself and I always like to say if they don’t give you a seat at the table, then bring your own chair. As a woman in corporate and I’m sure that everyone in this room will agree with me that we have to fight not thrice but quadruple times as hard as men because sometimes we don’t know our worth, we don’t know our value. So, if I’m going to leave you here today with something it’s that you must really know your value, add to your worth and don’t be afraid to have a voice, you should always have a voice, no matter what, give your opinion even if they don’t ask for it, be assertive. If you don’t know something its okay to say that you don’t know,” Farang said.

Eight panellists from travel, tourism and hospitality sectors shared their views on the current outlook of the Middle East, attracting youth to the industry, AI and its contribution to the sectors, as well as generating revenue in the sectors now that travel is back and how it impacts the balance sheets.

Elmira Heshmati, CEO & Founder of Elaxiom Tourism, shared that post COVID has taught the world that tourism is the way forward and the most resilient. “Today we see the results as travel bounces back and it is the largest contributor, which not just helps boost the economy of every country but also provide job opportunities, benefit communities, as the infrastructure is also well planned out.,” Heshmati said.

It was shared that the new travellers of today require a different type of experiences. Sapna Aidasani, Director, Pluto Travel, shared, “There are three kinds of tourism trends for younger generation. They prefer experiential holidays, as what really excites them is something out of the box or the regular itinerary, like a bread baking experience in France. The next trend we see is purpose tourism where the client will take a trip to receive an award of achievement, and this could be a three or four-day break where they can network with likeminded individuals, as well as experience the localities. Lastly, the main trend is “detox holidays” where travellers just want to kick back and relax and stay away from all things digital or technological, including their mobiles which has become part and parcel of life,” Aidasani said.

Aga Khatib, General Manager, Panworld Travel, spoke on the importance of attracting next generation to join the travel, tourism and hospitality industry. “I can see shifting values. I think it’s also important to recognise that the values are changing and how we can close the gap between the generations and how we can attract the young generation to join our industry by increasing the net revenue which industries generate. Next, we need to create for them the surroundings or conditions that speak to their values by offering flexible timings, attracting them by pointing how the tourism and hospitality industry has a great positive impact in terms of the income, revenue, connections, learning about different culture and travelling the world and also focus on personal benefits like building confidence, there are many points that we need to link the benefits by source of inspiration like social media or internet,” Khatib said.

Nina Kubik-Cheng, Vice President, Media Solutions & Partner Marketing, Wego, said, “Female entrepreneurs do not get the same investment as male entrepreneurs in the travel and tourism sector, and I feel that is one area where change is required.”

Mariyam Kapasi, Founder of Amore Travel and Tourism, shared about her journey as a female entrepreneur.

Artificial Intelligence and technology is making waves in the industry. Mona Faraj, Managing Director, HSMAI ME, CEO, ExploreTECH and Founder of Insight Out Consultancy, underlined the importance of technology and how it makes our work more efficient. A question she asked the audience was “how many of you came without using the google maps to the venue”, to which she answered that a few years ago there may have been only a few hands but today in order to make our journey smoother we use the maps. “AI is there to make us better people, that is what it’s all about, and that’s my opinion. I think, in hospitality and travel industry, we are typically slow adapters of technology. Airline does it way before us and so does other industries but when it comes to hospitality and travel, we are slow adapters. Yes, we are all about the human interaction and we are all about being hospitable as a human, but AI or technology in general is there to make us spend our time on serving the guest versus doing all the transactional, time consuming activities that we do day in day out. Did anyone come here without using google maps? If we would have asked this question 15 or 20 years ago, a few hands would have gone up,” she said. She further reiterated that a recent article shared that even the watch industry is transforming. So, AI is moving in the same way but faster than we adapted to Internet of Things. She opined that in hospitality and travel, there are so many technology providers that can help in different verticals to take it to the next level.

Namratha Rose, Marketing and Partnership Manager, Spain Tourism GCC, shared that the travellers today are more open to discover and explore new destinations than before. “There has been a significant development in GCC and from 2022 there has been a massive increase of travellers seeking different experiences, people are not restricting themselves and this opens us more opportunities,” Rose said.

Meerah Ketait, Head of Retail and Leisure at dnata Travel, shared that the visionary leadership enables the growth of the tourism sector. “GDP contribution from tourism to be 12.4 per cent just proves what kind of visionary leadership we have in place to really drive the growth of this industry and the importance of this industry with regards to generating news jobs, attracting new businesses and opening doors for international collaborations as well. It’s on a growth spurt, I would say and I think that the UAE has bounced back first post pandemic with regards to this industry and it reflects the immense planning and strategic approach the country has in place to really lead the pack and take the industry to the next level,” Ketait said.

Around a dozen leading woman from the travel, tourism and hospitality industry shared their insightful views with likeminded personalities at the event.

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