ForbesLife Executive Woman
25 Most Influential Women In Travel
Melissa Biggs Bradley 06.30.08
Women are the prime movers in American travel, driving 70 percent of all leisure travel spending and 80 percent of corporate travel bookings, profoundly impacting where the entire country goes for both business and pleasure. (And don’t forget, women count for some 40 percent of the nation’s business travelers.) Who among these millions of “deciders” have the most clout? To find out, ForbesLife Executive Woman polled top industry executives. The result is our first list of the 25 Most Influential Women in Travel, all of whom have significantly shaped–and will continue to define–the $740 billion U.S. industry that fuels more than 5 percent of America’s GDP. Their predictions for the hottest new destinations and travel trends follow our list.
Produced by Susan Delson
THE NEW SPECIALISTS
Carolyn Spencer Brown
Editor in Chief, CruiseCritic .com
After years of covering cruises for the Washington Post (nyse: WPO – news – people ), Brown was a natural to take over CruiseCritic.com. Thanks to the site’s wealth of information, active community, and frank reviews (from both staff and members), it has 5 million annual visitors and more than 110,000 registered members. That may explain why it is listed as the number one cruise-information web-site on Hitwise.
Vice President, Travel Industry Sales, Ritz-Carlton
If travel agents could have just one wish, it would be that hotels give their clients the star treatment. Kirsner knows that a happy customer is a return customer, which is why she introduced the Ritz-Carlton’s STARS program, reserved exclusively for top trav- el agencies working with the company. Selected agents have access to a password-protected website for booking. In addition to the attentive service accorded Ritz-Carlton guests, STARS clients are monitored by a designated “guardian angel” at each property for even more personalized attention.
Founder, Lisa Lindblad Travel Design
Lindblad creates personalized journeys for a following of highly exclusive clients–those who don’t blink at her initial con-sulting fee of $2,500 to design an itinerary. Areas of expertise include East Africa and India. Customers can expect a once- in-a-lifetime trip. Says Lindblad: “I make sure to insert magical moments–like being on top of a hill in East Africa when the sun sets.”
CEO and global president, Travelocity; executive vice president, Sabre (also see “The Climb”)
Travelocity, the mother of online travel agencies, took a blow when competitors Expedia (nasdaq: EXPE – news – people ) and Orbitz (nyse: OWW – news – people ) ramped up their oper-ations in 2002. Wharton grad Peluso, Travelocity’s CEO since 2003, helped the company reach profitability by launching an innovative hotel partnership program and spearheading the acquisition of lastmin ute.com and ZUJI.com (another travel-planning website). In 2008 the World Economic Forum named her a Young Global Leader. Despite the size and scope of Travelocity’s business, Peluso maintains a small-business-like approach in her dealings with people: She answers all customer emails that land in her inbox and tries to get back to employee emails within 24 hours.
Divisional Dean and HVS International chair, NYU Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management; founder, Rach Enterprises
In any game there is a need for exceptional coaches. Rach has advised many people in the industry and is one of its most sought-after speakers. As an academic and the founder of a business consulting company, she tracks trends in business management as well as in affluent and baby-boomer markets. In part through her embrace of the increasingly digitized way of doing business, she is known for helping to shape the next wave of travel professionals.
Author, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die
Schultz developed a passion for exploration as a child, but it has been as a travel journalist (for such publications as Condé Nast Traveler and Frommer’s) that she began honing the “life list” that blossomed into a number one bestseller in 2004. With 2.8 million copies in print, the compulsively readable tome has introduced millions of people to such gems as Canyon de Chelly and the Hagia Sophia, and has spawned a sequel (on U.S.- and Canadian-specific sites), a Travel Channel show, and even a jet trip around the world with TCS Expeditions.
Senior Vice President and General Manager, American Express (nyse: AXP – news – people ) Consumer Travel Network USA
One of the chief reasons many people get American Express Platinum cards is help in making trip arrangements. The person at AmEx most responsible for keeping them happy is Biggar, who leads the division that provides premium travel services. She oversees more than 3,000 staff members and has grown travel sales by over 20 percent a year since assuming the position in 2005.
Pamela C. Conover
President and CEO, Seabourn Cruise Line
Born in Thailand, educated in England, and now a resident of Key Biscayne, Conover brings international flair to her role as head of Seabourn, Carnival Corporation (nyse: CCL – news – people )’s luxury cruise line, which she took over in 2006. Seabourn’s all-suites ships set the standard for travel at sea, and the line is known for the intimacy of its fleet (ships accommodate 208 to 450 guests). An optional program sends passengers out with personal shoppers and chauffeur service while in port. The line’s bold new flagship, the $250 million, 32,000-ton Odyssey, is set to debut in 2009, and two other ships are in the works.
Senior Vice President, Sales and Marketing, Silversea Cruises
Conroy was one of the first women to hold a senior-level position in the cruise industry. Now, with 30 years of major cruise-line business (including Crystal and Cunard) under her belt, she oversees sales and marketing for Silversea, whose honors have included the number one Small Ship Cruise Line rating in a recent Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice poll.
Senior Vice President, Customer Relationship Marketing and Reservations, American Airlines (nyse: AMR – news – people )
In her more than 20-year career with American Airlines, Goren, a former chemical engineer, has tackled the complex coordination of aviation-related services and business planning. She oversees the company’s customer service operations and its website, aa.com, telephone reservations, and the airline loyalty program AAdvantage. Earlier this year, customer loyalty was put to the test–as were Goren and her team–when the airline weathered the storm caused by thousands of safety-inspection-related cancellations.
Senior Vice President, Global Sales, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide (nyse: HOT – news – people )
In her current position, Hicks directs more than 250 global senior sales associates and is responsible for $3.2 billion in annual revenue. The hospitality industry has recognized her business acuity: Acknowledgments by her peers have included the Vision Award from NYSAE and the PCMA Professional Achievement Award.
Kathleen “Katie” Taylor
President and COO, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts
In her nearly two decades with Four Seasons, Taylor has helped grow the 48-year-old Toronto-based company into one of the finest hotel brands in the world. She oversees all of its global operations, making sure the company’s 76 properties in 32 countries maintain a consistent standard of excellence. Any Four Seasons loyalist can attest that it’s working; despite the wild expansion in the number of luxury properties in the past decade, the brand more than holds its own.
TRENDSETTERS & INNOVATORS
Host, Travel Channel
Don’t be fooled by her self-deprecating humor and girl-next-door charm. Brown has skillfully and steadily bolstered the Travel Channel brand. Last year alone, the Emmy winner’s pages on the channel’s website received more than ten million views. Travelers treasure her tips, whether it’s her favorite place to stay at Walt Disney (nyse: DIS – news – people ) World (the Animal Kingdom Lodge) or a terrific spot for sunbathing in Hawaii (Lanikai Beach in Oahu). Next up: Passport to Great Weekends, premiering June 26, and Passport to China, a three-part tie-in to the Beijing Olympics, starting on July 28.
Vice President/General Manager, Airplane Programs, Boeing (nyse: BA – news – people )
Corvi likes speed, both in her leisure time (auto racing) and on the job. One of Corvi’s chief accomplishments as general manager of Boeing’s 737/757 Programs was streamlining the manufacture of 737s, cutting the final assembly time in half. In recognition of her industry innovations, she received the Women in Aerospace Leadership Award. Today she oversees Boeing’s Airplane Programs division, with more than 30,000 employees.
Founder, Coalition for Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights
Before Hanni became the hero of frustrated travelers across the U.S., she was a real-estate broker with $40 million in sales and an occasional singer in a rock band. But after spending more than nine hours stuck on the tarmac in Austin, Texas, in 2005, she used her business savvy to create a coalition that advocates for passenger rights. The group has grown to 23,000 members and has lobbied Congress to implement a bill of rights for stranded passengers. Not all of the coalition’s demands have been met–yet–but Hanni’s influence keeps growing.
Founder and CEO, ESPA
It’s hard to remember that in the 1980s, resorts were more likely to have a state-of-the-art exercise room than a high-end spa. The spa boom is thanks in part to Harmsworth, a visionary who founded the British company ESPA in 1993. With its holistic approach to wellness, the multimillion-dollar firm was a pioneer in incorporating such treatments as aromatherapy, and it maintains perhaps the industry’s most rigorous therapist-training programs. Today there are more than 50 ESPA facilities around the world, including spas at top hotels like the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow, Gleneagles in Scotland, and the Peninsula Hong Kong.
Chief marketing officer, TripAdvisor.com
With more than 15 million traveler reviews of 300,000-plus hotels and attractions and more than 25 million visitors monthly, TripAdvisor is an online leviathan. In her marketing post, Petersen makes sure that the reader flow doesn’t slow down. She heads up all consumer marketing, community support, and product and content development, including a collection of destination guides consisting solely of user reviews.
Director of Environmental Affairs, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts
As the children’s song goes, it’s not easy being green–especially if you’re a huge international chain like Fairmont Hotels & Resorts. That hasn’t stopped White from helping the brand take a leadership role in addressing such industrywide challenges as improving water conservation and waste management, as well as increasing the use of alternative energy. The hospitality field will be closely watching the innovative Fairmont Green Partnership program.
Founder and President, Protravel International
Alexander founded Protravel in 1984 and quickly built it into a travel-agency juggernaut. She knew that by focusing on the company’s growth, she could leverage its size and attendant power–about 550 employees, 22 locations, $600 million in annual sales–to nail down discounts for clients without sacrificing such niceties as a 24-hour U.S. toll-free hotline. Today it is the largest independent seller of luxury vacations in the Virtuoso network.
Corporate Vice President for Public Relations, Ritz-Carlton
Deuschl’s roots are journalistic: She was a reporter in Texas and a newspaper editor in Taipei. As one of the highest-ranking female executives at Ritz-Carlton, where she has worked for the past two decades, Deuschl steers public relations strategy and has helped cement the venerable brand’s reputation as a purveyor of modern luxury. Known for schooling reporters new to the travel beat, Deuschl has been honored three times with the Society of American Travel Writers’ highest award. She served as spokesperson for the Travel Industry Association of America’s 9/11 task force.
Director of Travel Management, Concur
In her role as president of the National Business Travel Association, Fletcher oversaw an organization that represented more than 2,700 corporate travel managers and travel-service providers and $170 billion of travel expenditures. Under her leadership, the NBTA testified on Capitol Hill in favor of programs to ease frequent travelers through TSA airport checkpoints. Subsequently, she was named director of travel management at Concur, known as an innovator in streamlining corporate-travel accounting.
President, Linden Travel Bureau
As owner and president of New York–based Linden Travel, Gallay has grown the business from a small, family-owned agency to a multimillion-dollar organization with offices in three cities and an A-list clientele. She is the only travel professional on the 2007 Crain’s New York Business 100 Most Influential Women list, and sits on the advisory board for such companies as Virtuoso, Starwood’s Luxury Collection, and Orient-Express.
When Jones recently addressed the Luxury Marketing Council, the crowd packed New York’s Carlyle Hotel. Jones’s popularity is due in no small part to her 20-year role in the creation, development, and marketing of Virtuoso, a name now synonymous with luxury travel agencies. Today the upscale travel network has agencies in 22 countries and controls more than $4.8 billion in annual buying power.
President, Signature Travel Network
Located in Marina del Rey, Cali-fornia, Signature is a 52-year-old co-op of travel agencies. Since taking the reins 15 years ago, Morgan has helped expand the company’s geographic reach, as well as its member marketing programs. Signature now has 325 agency offices, partnerships with over 500 hotels, and upward of $3.8 billion in sales clout.
Valerie Ann Wilson
Founder, Chair, and CEO, Valerie Wilson Travel
After a career in fashion, Wilson took off more than a decade to raise her children before founding her eponymous travel agency in 1981. Today she runs Valerie Wilson Travel with her daughters, Jennifer and Kimberly. It has become one of the top luxury travel agencies in the U.S., with a reputation for superb service. The über-agent’s taste level hasn’t been lost on her peers: Wilson sits on the boards of Ritz-Carlton, the Oberoi Group, and Abercrombie & Kent, among others.