In travel, just as in other tech-focused industries, we have plenty of work to do when it comes to empowering those with diverse perspectives to lead.
In the tech industry and entrepreneurial circles, it’s well known that women are underrepresented. Travel tech is no exception, even though other areas in the industry are notably dominated by women (for example, 78% of travel agents are women). It’s also no secret that the presence of women decreases dramatically in upper management positions .
Luckily, certain technology industry organizations are popping up specifically to address this issue: Girls Who Code, NYTA Women in Tech, WINiT, Women in Travel Summit, BuiltbyGirls and Women in Travel Tech are all involved in helping to encourage women to take an active role in the technology ecosystem, some specifically for the travel industry.
Having diversity is a fundamental advantage for startups. Despite evidence showing that diverse leadership teams boost innovation, many corporations lag behind in representation of both women and minorities in leadership positions. This creates blind spots for founders to solve real problems others may have missed.
For female founders, the data also shows another distinct advantage: female-led startups translate investment into revenue more effectively than their male counterparts:
Startups founded and co-founded by women are significantly better financial investments. For every dollar of funding, these startups generated 78 cents, while male-founded startups generated less than half that — just 31 cents. -Survey by BCG
Of course, startups aren’t easy for anyone. But a startup environment certainly can be less than friendly to women. With this in mind, we decided to highlight a few of the many admirable female founders that are shaping the future of travel. Below are five women to watch in travel technology, pulled directly from the Voyager HQ community.
Note: These types of lists are inherently subjective, and ours is by no means exhaustive. We hope that this list helps you discover new startups to follow -- and new startup founders to cheer for!
Susan Ho, Journy
A former consultant and operations strategist, Susan is now putting her operational strengths to work in the high-touch travel planning business. She created Journy to make it easy for people to travel the world with confidence. For a flat fee of either $25 or $50 per day of travel, Journy plans custom itineraries for travelers. The pricing model allows its plans to be objective and unbiased by incentives or commissions. Its planners come from a broad network of travel experts and influencers with intimate knowledge of the destinations. Journy also taps this network to curate unique, one-of-a-kind experiences.
Susan co-founded Journy in 2015 with Leiti Hsu, making this a too-uncommon example of a travel start-up with an all-female founding team.
“I thought, if Susan is this badass scaler of companies, and I have this access to a world of travel experts and this love of storytelling, we can combine forces,” her co-founder Leiti Hsu says. “It was a no brainer.”
Alongside her co-founder, Susan also tackled old Silicon Valley's culture of sexual harassment by going public with her personal experience. By stepping up and speaking out, the Journy team has also made a difference for other female founders.
Geetika Agrawal, Vacation with an Artist (VAWAA)
Geetika has a bold vision for Vacation with an Artist (VAWAA): to revive the lost art of apprenticeships by connecting travelers to artists and help them pursue their creative passions while traveling. VAWAA is a curated platform to book immersive, one-on-one, mini-apprenticeships with master artists and craftspeople in 23 countries around the world. From street artist in Buenos Aires, to ikebana master in Kyoto, to a bamboo bicycle-maker in Bangalore, artists represent a vast array of art forms. Through these connections, VAWAA fosters the types of relationships that nurture talent and artistry across cultures.
Everything we do at VAWAA is driven by one goal: How can we best engage with the world to connect the dots of our modern world? We passionately believe in the power of creativity and travel to change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world.
VAWAA emerged from Geetika’s insight that today's generation is looking for deep experiences that help transform. She has a background in storytelling, design and technology. Geetika is also the co-founder at Food For Thought and former Creative Director at R/GA, a global multi-disciplinary consulting practice.
Jennifer Wong, Stay Wanderful
Hotels are increasingly focused on direct bookings as a means to reduce third-party commissions and build stronger guest relationships. With Stay Wanderful, hotels can leverage personalized guest rewards to earn more direct bookings. The solution optimizes for conversions by using proprietary behavioral data that incentivizes booking behavior while also building brand affinity.
The Stay Wanderful incentive engine uses machine learning to offer the perfect mix of rewards on a hotel's website, which has increased organic business by over 40% for hotels such as Highgate Hotels, Menin Hospitality and Aqua-Aston Hotels & Resorts. Most recently, Stay Wanderful was awarded the #1 Direct Booking Platform for 2019 by HotelTechAwards and previously won the Most Innovative - Judge's Choice Award at HITEC 2017.
Wong won the Best Business Model Award at Jason Calacanis' LAUNCH Festival 2016. Prior to founding Stay Wanderful, Wong was a private equity associate after attending both MIT and Harvard Business School.
Kelsey Recht, VenueBook
It’s never been easy to source venues for private events. Kelsey struggled with this firsthand, trying to plan events with a mix of online search, maps, and individual websites to identify potential venues. The strategy not only took a lot of time, but also yielded incomplete results -- for example, outdated or unavailable photos made it hard to envision an event in the space.
Venuebook eliminates sourcing frustrations by pulling venues into a searchable index, with filters, photos, and up-to-date descriptions. Then, the platform lets venues and bookers plan together, creating a smarter, simpler experience.
“One of the smart things that she did in the early days wasn't to start building a software product right away, but going and talking to prospective customers and talking about their pains. In fact, that's how she found her first few customers and her first developer.”
Kelsey has a knack for getting the VenueBook brand out there, sharing her story of pitching 100 investors before closing her seed round, her tips from the trenches, and discussing her founder’s journey with Voyager HQ’s John Matson on the podcast Travel is Your Business.
Barbara Parshall, Baarb
Baarb uses artificial intelligence to improve travel search with instant, personalized results. With the tagline “A smarter way to find places you'll love,” the platform helps global travel & hospitality brands capture customer intent and delivers hyper-relevant search results using natural language processing. The personalized results improve engagement, retention, and conversion, and can be implemented across existing infrastructure, including voice activated digital assistants.
“The days of generic results are obsolete. By capturing what travelers care about most for the trip they’re taking, and surfacing the most relevant choices at the top of their search results, you delight your customers and increase the likelihood of a conversion.”
Know an impressive tech founder who’s shaking up the travel industry? Email us or comment on this post to nominate her for the next feature!