Like many professionals at the start of the COVID-19 lockdowns, Silvia Camarota found herself with too much spare time on her hands. In her case, she used some of the downtime to bake bread, finding it both a useful distraction and a therapeutic exercise.

However, the Expedia Group Senior Director North American Market Management and Lodging quickly realised she could do more with her hours.

Considering her anguish in having to lay off staff as the pandemic’s impact ripped through the hospitality industry, Camarota turned her thoughts to supporting women in travel-related sectors. Those thoughts quickly turned into action.

Aided by a network of like-minded friends and associates, Camarota set up Women in Travel Thrive, a movement more than an organisation, one with a mission to help reduce the impact that the pandemic has had on women’s career progression.

Camarota shared that mission and Thrive’s plans with The Moodie Davitt Report Chairman Martin Moodie and Associate Editor Colleen Morgan. Written by Colleen Morgan.

Women in Travel Thrive encourages newcomers to join its expanding network [Click on image to enlarge]

The summer of 2020, as Camarota is quick to point out, was unlike any other in the travel world. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic had set in and with travel on hold the immediate future for many was bleak.

“People, and disproportionally women, were losing their jobs”

“Last August I saw myself in something of a spectrum; it seemed that everything, including travel, had stopped,” she recalls. “My position at Expedia is obviously hospitality-related but the pain across the bigger eco ystem, which the company is a part of, was the same. People, and disproportionally women, were losing their jobs.”

Not willing to sit back, Camarota started thinking about a support network – women supporting women – which quickly progressed beyond just one company to encompass women in businesses from all fields of travel-related industries.

The Thrive network, and its industry networking, began.

Silvia Camarota is adamant that networking is key to women’s career progression post COVID-19

“Thrive started as a grassroots movement, born out of the COVID-19 pandemic, to combat career regression and increase women’s representation as leaders in the travel and travel-related industries.”

Thrive was quick to gather support at a time when women in travel, and related industries including, of course, travel retail, were not thriving at all.

In fact, the group’s statistics show that women have left the workforce at a rate four times that of men and account for over half of COVID-related job losses.

Camarota believes that Thrive, through its networking and allyship programmes, can positively influence those figures.

As she points out, “juggling multiple demands at home, occupying more frontline jobs, and the impact to the tourism industry has led to women in travel being a heavily impacted demographic in COVID job losses”.

Camarota cites a recent Bloomberg article which predicts that decades of women’s progress will be wiped out by the recession, disproportionately impacting women of colour and those with children. A McKinsey report indicates the pandemic’s regressive impact on gender equality.

“As a charity we wanted to remove some of the traditional concepts. We wanted to remove barriers and differentiate ourselves from other women groups. So there is no membership fee and Thrive is completely powered by volunteers,” Camarota continues.

“Our primary goal is to make connections and open doors for women across the industry through unique and engaging network events.”

As reported, Thrive organised a 3km virtual run earlier this year. The group’s first Day of Impact, took place in January and attracted the support of over 500 women.

It was followed by a second three-day event last month, with a focus on learning, allyship and development and how advocacy, networking and transformation can “open doors and establish a seat at the table for women”.

A Signature Match mentor/mentee programme was launched in May.

“Thrive encourages women to ‘network intentionally’ to grow their careers in travel-related industries. Why the focus on mentorship and networking? I will let my associate and Thrive Board Member Melissa Maher explain,” Camarota adds, citing the video below. [Click on the image to view]

“Networking is not about just making connections with people who will recommend you for a job; it is about creating long-term relationships with mutual benefits,” Camarota adds.

Women in Travel Thrive offers its members the opportunity to participate in a wide range of the group’s activities, including social media, marketing, recruitment, association partnership and webinars.

Further details of Thrive Hives are available here.

The group has attracted strong corporate partners and sponsorship of its Empowerment Bundles which support women who are seeking career growth or entry into the travel industry.

Thrive also collaborates with in a give-back-as-you-shop Amazon Smile.

“Thrive’s role is to continue making connections. We realise we are competing in the online space and, with things opening up, again our task may be a little more difficult. We need to pivot and adjust as we know that the issues we are highlighting are not going away.

“We will continue educating people on the situation facing so many women in travel. I believe statistics are not really showing the real picture at the moment. There are a lot of women out there who are pressured by family and child-care matters, others who are feeling insecure and not raising their hands at the right time, the right opportunity.

“I am something of a naïve optimist as I believe mindsets are changing. I think it is groups like ours that are accelerating that thinking”

“We all need to consider the domino effect of what has happened in all the travel-related industries and how we can recover from it. Ultimately, it is going to take several years.”

As Camarota says, there is no “magic button but conversations are taking place”.

“Support, allyship and encouragement for women in the industries is increasing and that is giving me hope. I think we are on the right path.

“I am something of a naïve optimist as I believe mindsets are changing. I think it is groups like ours that are accelerating that thinking.

“Women in travel, and travel retail, can and will thrive.”

Women in Travel Thrive has opted to let its members tell their personal stories.

Some, as Camarota points out, are very positive.

Others speak of pain and reinvention but “there are definitely some bright spots as problems caused by the pandemic have forced people out of their comfort zones and into rethinking”.

“Each of us has had differing experiences in the industry and together we can grow and empower each other.”

[Full details on Women in Travel Thrive membership are available here].

Lead. Inspire. Transform.

Silvia Camarota and fellow Thrive member, Aer Rianta International Retail Analytics Manager Mary Wyse, will be star speakers within the Knowledge Hub programme at this year’s Virtual Travel Retail Expo (11-15 October).

The programme is themed Lead. Inspire. Transform.

A high-calibre Knowledge Hub (conference) programme with a difference – and many new faces – is promised by organisers The Moodie Davitt Report and support partner FILTR.Qingwa.