BEVERLY HILLS, CA—It’s a time of change and, in this particular moment, the focus is on women. At the fifth annual Travel Industry Executive Women’s Conference, presented by the Boutique & Lifestyle Lodging Association (BLLA), executive women descended upon the SLS Beverly Hills, seeking to discuss career growth and concerns, build connections and discover new opportunities.
“We hoped to expand the conference with more content and add more discussions around opportunities for women in this industry. Our goal was to increase attendance while covering the latest stats and facts created by events leading up to the conference, such as ‘Times Up’ and ‘Me Too’—while striving to not necessarily focus just on these topics,” said BLLA founder/CEO Frances Kiradjian, who organized the event with her daughters, Ariela and Angela Kiradjian.
The CEO attributed the event’s successful coordination—it hosted its largest number of attendees—to the team’s abilities. “We are a close-knit team that drives innovation to everything we touch; our members and contributors are looking to us for inspiration, and we need to deliver it,” she said. “Now that Ariela [BLLA’s COO] and I are located in both Los Angeles and New York, it’s easier for us to have different perspectives, which we take into consideration for everything we do. We are part of the movement for women’s rights in the travel and hospitality workplace.”
The trio’s goal was to cultivate a “spirit of inclusivity,” and not make it an “us versus them” event. There were speakers from every sector of hospitality. Among them were Mari Balestrazzi, VP of design in the Americas, Hyatt Hotels Corp.; Lisa Israelovitch, co-founder/CEO of Umapped; Edie Rodriguez, Americas brand chairman and corporate special advisor, Ponant; and Joanne Smith, EVP/chief human resources officer, Delta Air Lines.
Rodriguez shared how to increase the star rating of a hotel. “Simple fixes often go overlooked, and that’s where a woman’s strength lies,” said Kiradjian. “She has used her expertise to organize luxury cruise line Ponant, and is passionate about educating the next generation of professional women. Her passion for the industry and fellow women is why we presented her with the first BLLA Female Empowerment Award, a very special recognition.”
Smith shared insight on the importance of inclusiveness: “A diverse cockpit is a safer cockpit, and it is the same for leadership teams.”
On the design panel, Balestrazzi noted that guests no longer want to feel anonymous. “Design and operations are coming together in order to get to know your guest and [be]a resource for them,” she said.
Following a similar point of discussion, Israelovitch said that “technology is there to help; it’s not about replacing humans, but empowering them.”
According to Kiradjian, the travel expectations of yesterday are history. “These impressive women spent the day sharing awesome nuggets of information,” she said. “We will be sharing footage of the event in the coming weeks. If you weren’t there, you’ll definitely want a recap of the wisdom shared over the course of the day.”
The tagline for the women’s conference—Connecting Ladies Who Lead—is a timely one in terms of women being in the spotlight and fighting for their rights. “The feeling of the day was one of pride, celebration and learning. We didn’t gather to focus on the things holding us back, but to confront what obstacles lie ahead, and share proactive ways to take those on,” she said.
Representation matters. Kiradjian pointed out that having someone to look up to, someone who has paved the way, can help crystalize the path ahead. “While many of us are well connected, there are always women you haven’t met and ideas you haven’t heard. There is a sort of magic that happens when you physically gather all for the same purpose. These events are a vehicle for inspiration, and each attendee leaves having learned something new,” she said. “We held the event on International Women’s Day to truly drive home the message of the network.”
Based on the day’s discussions at this year’s event, Kiradjian shared insights for women who wish to excel in business: “Mentors are instrumental for success, and selecting one is crucial. It’s a good idea to reach out to someone higher up whom you do not directly report to for guidance,” she said.
“The concept of work/life balance is passé. Being a woman requires one to wear many hats,” she continued. “Unrealistic expectations places unnecessary stresses on yourself and sets you up to fail. Instead, focus on self-care.”
And, finally, she added, “The rare occasion to add your name to the roster of consideration for corporate board member participation, for companies around the world, has arrived. Diversity is a real issue and putting yourself forward for consideration is an amazing opportunity.” HB