Alessandra Alonso is an accomplished professional with 20 years of experience in the travel and tourism industry. She is the founder and MD of Women in Travel CIC, a social enterprise that empowers marginalized and underrepresented women to fulfill their economic and individual potential. Alessandra’s passion for supporting women and diversity led her to co-found the Shine Awards for Women’s Achievement in Travel, Tourism, and Hospitality in 2004. She is a renowned keynote speaker and has been recognized for her lifetime dedication to gender empowerment by receiving the JourneyWoman Award in 2021. Alessandra has also been named one of 9 women transforming travel by the Matador Network, one of 50 ‘most important women in travel’ by Wonderlust Travel, and the First Recipient of the ‘JourneyWoman Award.’
Alessandra Alonso’s passion for travel and tourism began unexpectedly when she joined the European Commission in Brussels as a trainee. She says, “I was fascinated by the sector’s ability to break down barriers, educate on inequalities, and foster connections through shared understanding of different cultures against the backdrop of the beauty and diversity of our natural world.”
While at the European Commission in Brussels, she worked for a small unit that was understaffed and under-resourced. Despite being a trainee, she was required to take on real responsibilities and contribute to the team’s work. This turned out to be an excellent opportunity for Alessandra to learn and develop new skills. She says, “So I really enjoyed it. And when I went back to London, I worked at the World Travel and Tourism Council, and then to KPMG, where I practically set up the tourist division in the UK and then did a lot of work in Europe as well.”
During her time at KPMG, Alessandra developed an appreciation for essential concepts such as authentic leadership and gender parity. She says, “And it is around that time that I really started to realize the sparsity of women. So, I was working with many companies across cities in a fairly male-dominated environment.”
Driven by her passion for promoting gender equality in the workplace, Alessandra launched her first business in 2004 to help companies tap into the entire talent pool rather than just the male half. The business focused on mentoring, coaching, management development, and networking through the first-ever female awards in tourism. She says, “Through my business, I wanted to ensure women had equal opportunities to develop their careers and access leadership positions. When we empower women, I believe we create a ripple effect that positively impacts their families, communities, and society.”
Building on this experience, Alessandra founded Women in Travel CIC, a social enterprise. The organization is dedicated to empowering women, particularly marginalized, vulnerable, and underrepresented, to achieve their full economic and individual potential. Women in Travel CIC helps to connect diverse and underserved talent with employment and entrepreneurial opportunities. Alessandra sees empowered women as a critical component of building thriving communities, and Women in Travel CIC is committed to positively impacting this area.
She says, “Women in Travel is rooted in the belief that women are key to the health and wealth of communities and that there is no sustainable development without empowered women at its heart. Travel and tourism is an industry that continues to experience unprecedented growth and which is inherently female-friendly, so why not leverage its economic and social strength to empower, upskill and uplift women?”
The organization has done incredible work and also went above and beyond to help women during the pandemic in 2020. Women in Travel CIC provided valuable support to women, offering 1,200 hours of assistance to 250 women. One of the group’s successful partnerships has been with Intrepid Travel, which provided training to three tour guides in London. Thanks to their newfound confidence, two of the guides secured full-time jobs.
Sefanit, one of the guides who benefited from the training and mentoring, now runs Shepherd’s Bush market tours, showcasing the culture of her home country, Ethiopia. She says, “The training and mentoring have transformed my life. I am also studying and can see a bright future for myself and my daughter.”
According to Alessandra, the travel industry has an opportunity to think creatively and expand its horizons to overcome recruitment issues. While the sector is often viewed as inconvenient for those who prefer traditional working hours, embracing flexible working arrangements could yield significant benefits. Alessandra emphasizes that this is not a unique issue to the travel industry and that firms should consider a broader range of candidates to tackle the ‘brain drain.’ She encourages travel agencies and operators to work with her company to develop solutions to these challenges.
Alessandra’s commitment to empowering individuals extends beyond gender equality to promoting tourism as a force for good. Recounting an incident that has stayed with her, she says, “I remember attending a conference in Africa, probably in Uganda, about 15 or 20 years ago. The focus was on tourism as a vehicle for peace and how it could be a force for good beyond just creating experiences and providing relaxation. As I sat among a group of people sharing our insights and wisdom, I quickly realized that I wasn’t the leader in the room, nor did I have any of the answers to their issues.” She continued, “It was humbling but empowering to recognize that these people needed to be at the table for these conversations. The power, passion, and sense of community in that room stayed with me throughout my career. It made me realize that assumptions about people’s ability to contribute based on economic status, education, or assumed authority can be dismissive and harmful. Instead, we need authentic, connective conversations and explore what tourism can do to make a positive impact.”
In addition to providing a platform for women to connect and learn from each other, Women in Travel CIC has also organized various events, workshops, and initiatives to promote career progression. Notably, successful events have already occurred in London and Dubai during the World Travel Market, the premier B2B travel fair globally. Alessandra and her team hope to expand their efforts to include WTM Africa in Cape Town and Latin America in Sao Paulo.
According to Alessandra, to succeed as a female entrepreneur, it’s crucial to do more than just being good or even excellent at your work. She says, “It’s essential to have strong mentors or sponsors, build a network of contacts, and understand your industry’s financial and political landscape. These channels can make a significant difference in achieving your goals and making a positive impact for the benefit of others, especially women.”
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