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Celebrating female leaders in travel on International Women’s Day

From smashing gender barriers to spearheading innovative initiatives, women are driving positive change in the tourism industry. When women support women, there’s no stopping us.

In celebration of International Women’s Day, we recognise women around the world who have inspired change and gender equality. These changemakers are a driving force behind diversity and inclusion in the travel industry. This day serves as a powerful reminder of the progress made towards gender equality – highlights the work that still needs to be done.

This year’s theme is ‘Inspire Inclusion’ to celebrate diversity and empowerment. When we inspire others to understand and value women’s inclusion, we forge a better world. And when women are included it creates a sense of belonging, relevance, and empowerment. We must collectively challenge gender bias and inequality, create inclusive workplaces, and celebrate women’s contributions and achievements. When women support women, there’s no stopping us.

From innovative entrepreneurs to visionary leaders, these women are rewriting the script and paving the way for others to follow. With their passion, determination, and relentless pursuit of excellence, they’re not just breaking glass ceilings—they’re shattering them. So let’s raise a toast to these remarkable women who are leaving an indelible mark on the world of tourism.

Cathy Wagstaff

MANAGING DIRECTOR/GROUP EDITOR

Alice Ager
MANAGING DIRECTOR, UNIWORLD BOUTIQUE RIVER CRUISE COLLECTION
After more than a decade working for some of the world’s best-known luxury hotel brands and cruise lines, such as Mandarin Oriental Bangkok and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Alice Ager now leads the Australia and New Zealand Uniworld Boutique River Cruise team. Following her appointment in 2022, Alice oversaw the critical rebuild period of the Australian cruise market following the pandemic, guiding her team according to principles of transparency, honesty and respect.

Rachel Kingswell
GENERAL MANAGER AT TRAVEL ASSOCIATES, FCTG
It was the lure of discounted travel that attracted Rachel Kingswell to the industry in 1999. She originally wanted to be a school teacher. Kingswell has since become an absolute trailblazer in the travel industry as a global leader with the Flight Centre Travel Group. After joining FCTG more than 22 years ago, she has steadily risen through the ranks and paved the way for countless women behind her. As general manager of Travel Associates Australia and New Zealand, she now has 300 staff under her expert direction.

Helene Taylor
FOUNDER AND MANAGING DIRECTOR, FORCE FOR GOOD HUB
Holding a master’s in applied psychology and certification as an NLP practitioner with an established history as a speaker, coach and headhunter, Helene Taylor is a powerhouse talent. Passionate about empowering women and changemakers to strive for success and be the change they want to see in the world, Taylor has more than eight years of experience hosting events that bring thought leaders together and instigate social and environmental change. Taylor’s Force For Good events provide a platform for travel, tourism and hospitality companies to promote their brand through storytelling.

Vanessa Hudson Qantas Group Chief Executive Officer, Managing Director, Qantas

Vanessa Hudson
QANTAS GROUP CEO
Vanessa’s journey with Qantas began in 1994 and has evolved into senior roles across American, New Zealand, and Australian markets. After seeing the airline through the pandemic and subsequent recovery as Group Chief Financial Officer, Vanessa became Group Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director in September 2023. This year, Qantas has delivered a $1.25 billion half-year profit under Vanessa’s reins, reporting a renewed commitment to improving the customer experience.

Jessica Nabongo
ENTREPRENEUR
It’s impossible to describe Jessica Nabongo in one word accurately. She’s taught English in Japan, worked for the United Nations, and is an accomplished photographer and best-selling author. Nabongo is also the first Black woman to travel to every country and territory in the world and was a keynote speaker at G Adventures’ inaugural GX World Community Tourism Summit held in Peru. Nabongo’s achievements are guided by her desire to inspire others like her, women and people of colour, to see the world, and she uses her platform to reduce bias, whether that be gender or race.

Ellen Bettridge

Ellen Bettridge
PRESIDENT AND CEO, UNIWORLD BOUTIQUE RIVER COLLECTION
President and CEO of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection since 2016, Ellen Bettridge operates the luxury cruise line with a focus on innovation. Six years prior, Bettridge also helped launch U by Uniworld, a brand for millennial-minded travellers interested in river cruising. She was also Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Azamara Club Cruises, President of the Americas for Silversea Cruises and Vice President of Retail Travel at American Express.

Hedda Felin
CEO AT HURTIGRUTEN NORWAY
Hedda Felin studied politics and leadership at the auspicious Institut d’Etudes Politques de Paris in France before taking the helm at Hurtigruten Norway. As such, she is a fluent French speaker, among other languages. But it’s the language of ocean travel that she loves most, having taken the CEO’s chair at Hurtigruten in 2021. Before that Felin held numerous executive positions, including Head of CEO Office, Senior Vice President of UK Continental Shelf. As a female leader, she is a vocal advocate for diversity and inclusion. “From my position as CEO of Hurtigruten Norway, I will do my part – and make sure diversity is a top leadership priority,” Felin said last year.

Aunty Margaret Campbell
FOUNDER-OWNER, DREAMTIME SOUTHERN X
Hailing from the Dunghutti and Jerrinjha nations of New South Wales, Aunty Margret Campbell is the founder, owner and managing director of Aboriginal tour company, Dreamtime Southern X. Margaret is not only a leader in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tourism space, but she’s also a qualified teacher and founding member of the Aboriginal Educational Consultative Group. She has shaped Aboriginal cultural curriculum in Australian educational facilities. And her inspiring work has paved the way for other Indigenous women to become industry leaders, as well as empowering others to be proud of – and share – their Indigenous heritage.

Tina Edmundson
PRESIDENT, LUXURY, MARRIOTT INTERNATIONAL
With a career spanning more than 25 years in the travel industry, Edmundson has achieved some incredible feats. Credited with spearheading the brand integration of the largest merger in hospitality history – Marriott’s acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts – Edmundson is now responsible for some of the world’s most iconic luxury brands, such as The Ritz-Carlton, Ritz-Carlton Reserve, BVLGARI Hotels & Resorts, St. Regis Hotels & Resorts, EDITION, The Luxury Collection, JW Marriott and W Hotels Worldwide. Edmundson’s role at the world’s largest hospitality company allows her to shape and influence the future of luxury travel.

Serena Melani
MASTER, EXPLORA I, EXPLORA JOURNEYS
During her 30-year career working on cargo ships, oil tankers, container vessels and cruise ships, Serena Melani has made serious waves. She was Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ first female Master Captain, the first Italian-born female cruise ship captain, and the first female captain to launch a new ocean ship. In 2022, Melani joined Explora Journeys as Master of Explora I, a move that strengthened support for more women in leadership positions within the industry. Most recently, Captain Melani received the Capperuccio 2023 Award by Lions Club Livorno Porto Mediceo for her impressive achievements.

Jessica Hall Upchurch
VICE-CHAIR AND SUSTAINABILITY STRATEGIST AT VIRTUOSO
As vice-chair at Virtuoso, Jessica Hall Upchurch isn’t just a leading executive, she has made it her mission to champion efforts to save the environment. In fact, her deep passion for sustainable travel has earned her the affectionate nickname of “Mother Earth with a lasso”. Hall Upchurch runs Virtuoso’s $15.5 billion sustainability efforts. And it’s having a snowball effect within the industry. The Virtuoso Sustainability Community is now working with more than 250 preferred partners and 1,200 travel advisors who share in its commitment to sustainable travel practices. As someone busy running a global luxury travel network while also trying to save the planet, she unequivocally has our vote on International Women’s Day.

Laura Hodges Bethge
PRESIDENT, CELEBRITY CRUISES
Few people have an employment history as interesting as Laura Hodges Bethge’s. Her career at sea started with sweeping corridors in the crew’s quarters, but hard work and dedication have seen her rise to the top. Hodges Bethge has been with Royal Caribbean Group since 2000, holding leadership positions across hotel and marine operations, sales, marketing, product innovation and more. Notably, Hodges Bethge led the modernisation of 10 ships in just four years under the Royal Amplified program, and the construction of six new ships, including Spectrum of the Seas and Odyssey of the Seas, as well as the launch of Celebrity Ascent.

Amanda Fraiser
PRESIDENT OF RATINGS, FORBES TRAVEL GUIDE
An avid traveller since her teens, Amanda Frasier always knew she would work in the industry. She found her purpose at Forbes Travel Guide and has been with the company for nearly 20 years. Frasier is known for her personal integrity and thoughtful leadership that personifies the ethos of Forbes Travel Guide’s award system. She is responsible for spearheading the continuous evolution of FTG’s high standards.

Jane Jie Sun
CEO, TRIP.COM GROUP
Jane Jie Sun is a trailblazer. During her 20 years at Trip.com, Jie Sun has been named one of Fortune’s Top 50 Most Powerful Women in Business four times and is a member of the Asia Society Board of Trustees. As CEO of the largest travel company in China and Asia, Jie Sun is leading the company towards a greener future, integrating ESG standards into operations to make the business carbon-neutral by 2050.

Amanda Elder
CCO, KEMPINSKI HOTELS
In 2014, Amanda Elder brought her 25 years of leadership experience to the Kempinski brand. Starting as vice-president sales and marketing in China, Elder was responsible for driving the commercial strategy of Kempinski globally. In 2018, she was recognised as one of Europe’s Top 20 Extraordinary Minds of Commercial & Revenue Optimisation Leaders in the HSMAI Region Europe Awards. Elder is an inspiring leader with a goal-orientated leadership strategy that thrives within a diverse cultural framework.

Andrea DeMarco, RSSC

Andrea DeMarco
PRESIDENT, REGENT SEVEN SEAS CRUISES
Regent Seven Seas Cruises President, Andrea DeMarco has quickly risen in the ranks, after being appointed Regent’s Chief Sales and Marketing Officer in 2021 when operations resumed post-pandemic. Prior to this, DeMarco held various positions including Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings as Senior Vice President of Investor Relations, Corporate Communications & Environmental, Social and Governance, and she worked in revenue management, corporate financial planning and charter sales with Royal Caribbean Group.

Passalacqua - Valentina

Valentina de Santis
OWNER OF PASSALACQUA, LAKE COMO
Running luxury hotels is in the blood for Valentina de Santis, whose family has owned five-star Grand Hotel Tremezzo on Lake Como for more than five decades. Now at the helm of Passalacqua, an opulent 18th-century aristocrat’s-home-turned-boutique-hotel, on the banks of Lake Como, she is continuing that legacy. In 2019, De Santis was ranked one of the 100 most successful Italian women by Forbes. In 2021, she won the Patrizio Cipollini Award as ‘Italian Hotelier of the Year’ and in 2022, she was named ‘Hotelier of the Year’ in the sought-after Virtuoso Awards.

Lisa Pile, RSSC Vice President Australia and NZ (1).jpg

Lisa Pile
VICE PRESIDENT, SALES & GENERAL MANAGER, ASIA PACIFIC REGENT SEVEN SEAS CRUISES
After years leading global luxury brands in Asia Pacific, China, USA, UK, Europe, and Africa, Lisa Pile was handpicked to help launch Regent Seven Seas Cruises and sister brand, Oceania Cruises in Australia and New Zealand. With a particular affinity with the Asia Pacific and Chinese markets, she’s now focused on expansion and continued growth across the region for both leading cruise brands.

Christina Ong

Christina Ong
OWNER OF COMO
Owner of an impressive portfolio of luxury resorts, wellness brands, a foundation and fashion retailers, it’s hardly surprising Christina Ong was named one of the 100 most powerful people in global hospitality in 2022. Ong owns and runs COMO Group, operating COMO Hotels & Resorts, fashion retailer Club 21, holistic wellness brand COMO Shambhala and philanthropic organisation COMO Foundation – which strives for gender equality, partnering with organisations that offer vital goods and services and education to women, children and communities.

Singita Mishi Mtili

Mishi Mtili
THE ONLY FEMALE FIELD GUIDE OF SINGITA GRUMETI
The only female field guide at luxury safari Singita Grumeti, Mishi Mtili is a born-and-bred Tanzanian who has hosted famous actors and celebrities across the 141-hectare property for the past 13 years. Mishi’s humility shines through in her dedicated focus on the task at hand: to provide guests with unforgettable experiences in the African bush, introduce them to the wonders of the wilderness, and highlight the value of conservation.

Silva- first Tongan woman pilot

Silva McLeod
First Tongan woman to become an airline pilot
As a child living in a small Tongan village, Silva McLeod would watch the planes flying overhead and dream of becoming a pilot. With courage and determination, what started as a fantasy became a reality as she overcame all odds to go to flying school. Silva has since had a distinguished career flying for Royal Tongan Airlines, the Royal Flying Doctor Service and Virgin Australia. Her memoir, Island Girl To Airline Pilot, is out now.

Carolyn Turnbull

Carolyn Turnbull
MANAGING DIRECTOR, TOURISM WA
Taking on the role of MD at Tourism Western Australia during a pandemic, Carolyn Turnbull was tasked with promoting tourism to a region when most of the country’s borders were closed. With more than 20 years of international leadership experience, Turnbull has a wealth of knowledge across the tourism, hospitality and aviation industries. As well as promoting Western Australia as a tourism destination, she works with industry and government to improve access, accommodation and tourism experiences while delivering a world-class events calendar.

Penny Rafferty

Penny Rafferty
EXECUTIVE CHAIR, LUXURY LODGES OF AUSTRALIA & SUSTAINABILITY ADVISOR AT TOURISM AUSTRALIA
Redefining high-end, experiential travel in Australia, Penny Rafferty manages a collection of independently owned and operated lodges and camps across Australia. Raffery also leads Tourism Australia’s sustainability strategy, advocating, educating and encouraging industry capabilities. She was also responsible for turning The Louise, Barossa Valley into one of Australia’s leading culinary tourism destinations, and led marketing and development of the performing arts festival and centre at Spier Wine Estate in Stellenbosch South Africa.

Fiona Dalton

Fiona Dalton
GENERAL MANAGER, AUSTRALIA-NEW ZEALAND, VIRTUOSO
Fiona Dalton is an integral leader at Virtuoso, a global network of agencies specialising in luxury and experiential travel with more than 20,000 advisors. She has held roles as CEO of The Travel Corporation Australia, Managing Director at Uniworld Boutique River Cruises in Australia and General Manager of sales for Qantas Holidays. Last year, she obtained an MBA, dedicating it to single mothers.

Jane Goodall
© Tony Burrows

Dr Jane Goodall
CONSERVATIONIST, SCIENTIST & ACTIVIST
For more than six decades, Dr Jane Goodall has been a leading conservationist, paving the way for responsible wildlife travel. Honorary member of the World Future Council, a UN Messenger of Peace, English primatologist and anthropologist, Goodall is considered the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees. Her conservation work and contribution to science have been recognised with a slew of honorary degrees and awards, notably the French Legion of Honor and the UNESCO Gold Medal Award and in 2003 she was made a Dame of the British Empire. Founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and Roots & Shoots programme, her foundations help empower young people, improve the health and education of women and restore critical chimpanzee habitats.

Sylvia Earle
© Todd Brown

Dr Sylvia Earle
PIONEER AND ACTIVIST IN MARINE BIOLOGY
Dr Sylvia Earle is a pioneer in research, conservation and life under the sea. As the first female chief scientist of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and named Time Magazine’s first Hero for the Planet in 1998, Earle is dedicated to protecting the ocean and its wildlife. Earle has been a National Geographic explorer-in-residence since 1998 and a pioneer in the use of modern, self-contained underwater breathing gear and the development of deep-sea submersibles. She also led the first all-female aquanaut research team. Aurora Expeditions named a vessel for her in collaboration with the Antarctic Climate Expedition in 2023 led by the leading lady herself.

Kimberley Cunningham

Kimberly Cunningham
ART CURATOR AT SINGITA’S BOUTIQUE & GALLERY
Dedicated to promoting the art of African women, Kimberley Cunningham uses both curatorial and advisory roles to showcase art from Africa and beyond. She’s also the founder of WIA Africa (Women in Art Africa), a platform dedicated to mentoring, supporting, and encouraging female art professionals across the continent. A percentage of the boutique and gallery’s sales are distributed to the Singita Lowveld Trust, which seeks to protect and preserve wilderness for future generations.

Michelle Black

Michelle Black
MANAGING DIRECTOR, VIKING
Viking’s Managing Director Michelle Black has been leading the Australian and New Zealand regional team since 2017. Prior to this role, Black was the General Manager of Sales and Marketing at Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours for five and a half years. She’s also worked in marketing and communications for leading brands in hospitality, aviation, transportation and cruise.

Bianca Sharma
© Monastero

Bianca Sharma
OWNER MONASTERO SANTA ROSA HOTEL & SPA
Bianca Sharma spent a decade restoring an abandoned monastery into what is now regarded as one of the finest luxury boutique hotels on the Amalfi coast, Monastero Santa Rosa Hotel & Spa. With no prior experience as a hotelier (she was a former Montessori nursery teacher), Sharma turned the forgotten shrine into a luxe 20-room and suite boutique hotel and spa working with local architects, engineers and historical authorities to retain the beauty of the monastery.

Danielle Galloway

Danielle Galloway
GLOBAL MANAGING DIRECTOR – INDEPENDENT AND PREMIUM TRAVEL BRANDS AT FCTG
Founding leader of Womenwise, created to ensure gender balance in Flight Centre’s leadership teams, Danielle Gallagher has been a driving force in equality for women in the workplace. Gallagher had more than two decades of industry experience with Flight Centre before stepping into the newly created role of Global Managing Director. She was also the first female board member of AVMIN (Air Charter specialists) and awarded Executive of the Year at the Women in Travel Awards, 2019, and continues to drive gender equality.

Tess Atie

Tess Atie
MANAGING DIRECTOR, NORTHERN TERRITORY INDIGENOUS TOURS
Marrathiyel woman Tess Atie has been educating travellers about her ancient culture for more than a decade. Atie runs the only 100 per cent Indigeous-owned tourism company, Northern Territory Indigenous Tours from Litchefield National Park. Prior to this, she worked as a park ranger and wildlife guide. Atie offers intimate, small-group day tours specialising in natural and cultural interpretations from an Aboriginal viewpoint, and has plans to start a training business to improve the Aboriginal tourism industry.

Debra Fox - A&K Australia

Debra Fox
MANAGING DIRECTOR (OUTBOUND), ABERCROMBIE & KENT AUSTRALIA
With more than three decades of experience across the travel industry, Debra Fox is a mentor and true leader in her role as Managing Director at A&K. Fox is also the founder of her own business consultancy, The Inspire Collective, which offers businesses tailored solutions. Previously, she spent 17 years at the APT Travel Group and worked in senior roles throughout the business including the positions of Chief Commercial Officer and Global Head Sales & Marketing. Her career also included roles with American Express, Traveland and Thomas Cook.

Sarina Bratton

Sarina Bratton
CHAIRMAN ASIA PACIFIC AND SPECIAL ADVISOR TO EXECUTIVE, PONANT
Sarina Bratton is considered Australia’s ‘First Lady’ of cruising after becoming the first female founder of shipping line Orion – Australasia’s only world-class, five-star expedition cruise line in 2005. Bratton was also Vice President and General Manager Asia Pacific for Cunard Line. Here, she grew the operation of a $300,000 revenue start-up, to an operation with 33 staff and revenue of more than $30 million. Bratton’s currently spearheading PONANT’s international development with a focus on the Asia Pacific region.

Louise Terry

Louise Terry
PRESIDENT, GAY AND LESBIAN TOURISM OF AUSTRALIA
At a time of increasing awareness of the importance of an inclusive society, Louise Terry is driving a national network dedicated to improving the experiences of LGBTQ+ travellers and increase industry awareness about welcoming practices. Founder of tourism consultancy Kindred Tourism and President of GALTA, Australia’s LGBTQ+ Travel Association, Terry is determined to make change in the LGBTQ+ community through tourism. During her time working with Tourism Noosa and Tourism Victoria, Terry also led marketing initiatives focused on LGBTQ+ travel and Aboriginal tourism.

Lynne Clarke

Lynne Clarke
CHAIRMAN, MSC CRUISES
Chairman of MSC Cruises, Lynne Clarke brought MSC Cruises to Australia more than three decades ago, when it was just a small Italian cruise line targeted at Italian passengers. Fast forward to today, MSC Cruises has 22 cruise ships and has become one of the world’s biggest privately-owned cruise lines. Prior to stepping into her current role as Chairman, Clarke led MSC’s local operations for nine years.

Leanne Harwood

Leanne Harwood
SENIOR VP MANAGING DIRECTOR OF JAPAN, AUSTRALASIA AND THE PACIFIC, IHG HOTELS AND RESORTS
In 2021, Leanne Harwood was elected President of the Accommodation Association, becoming the first woman to hold the position in IHG’s 54-year history. She has more than 25 years’ experience in the hospitality industry, including 16 years working globally with IHG. Harwood was also a board member of Tourism Accommodation Australia (TAA), providing leadership in in education, networking and legal support.

Penny Spencer

Penny Spencer
MANAGING DIRECTOR – THE SPENCER GROUP OF COMPANIES
Twenty five years ago Penny Spencer built her travel company from scratch and is now one of the industry’s leading entrepreneurs. She has a string of accolades such as SmartCompany’s list of Australia’s Top 30 female entrepreneurs; Travel Weekly’s Women in Travel Power List 2016; finalist in the Telstra NSW Australian Business Awards and she was inducted into the NTIA Hall of Fame. She is also the founder of not-for-profit Travel Industry Mentoring Experience (TIME) which strives to advance the careers of the next generation of travel industry leaders.

Jacqui Walshe

Jacqui Walshe
CHAIRMAN, THE WALSHE GROUP
Chairman of The Walshe Group and parent company Southern Travel Holdings, Jacqui Walshe has had to pave her way in a male dominated industry, working with some of the world’s leading aviation and destination brands. In 2022, she was awarded the Captain Trevor Haworth award for outstanding contribution by an Individual to the Australian Tourism Export Industry, and is one of a select group of Australian women invited by Dell Technology to be part of their global entrepreneurial network. Recently appointed to the board of Tourism New Zealand, Walshe is former Deputy Chair of Australian Tourism Export Council and Audit and Finance Chair.

Sonia Davies

Sonia Davis
CEO, SCOTT DUNN
Named Women to Watch in Hospitality, Travel and Leisure Index 2019, Sonia Davis has worn many hats in her career; Chief Commercial Officer at private aviation company, NetJets; European Change Director at Sysco, and eight years in strategy consulting. Since being promoted to CEO in 2018, Davies has overseen Scott Dunn’s global operations with a focus on developing a world-class leadership team. She’s also an Advisory Board Member for WiHTL, a group focused on increasing diversity and inclusion across hospitality, travel and leisure.

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