Women in Travel: Three Successful CEOs on How They Do It

Working in travel can be a dream job, but the challenges never stop, especially when you’re leading a company. I talked to three trailblazing women CEOs about how they get it done.

Women in Travel: Three Successful CEOs on How They Do It

The striking Elbphilharmonie has made Hamburg a hot destination.

Photo by Shutterstock

The Woman Who Makes Independent Hotels Matter

Lindsey Ueberroth: CEO, Preferred Hotels & Resorts

Lindsey Ueberroth, CEO of Preferred Hotels & Resorts

Lindsey Ueberroth, CEO of Preferred Hotels & Resorts

Courtesy of Preferred Hotels & Resorts

Why she rocks: As the head of Preferred Hotels & Resorts, a global portfolio of more than 750 independent properties, Ueberroth has seen major growth through three key drivers: I Prefer Hotel Rewards, experience-focused programs (like Preferred Pride, Preferred Residences, and Preferred Golf), and a focus on adding hotels in strategic markets. Since she became CEO in 2014, Preferred has added more than 100 hotels to the portfolio (from 650 to 750+), expanded I Prefer membership from 1.3 to 3.5 million, and increased reservations revenue on behalf of member hotels from $882 million to $1.66 billion. Under Ueberroth’s leadership, the brand has also launched its presence and seen great growth on social media.

“Our hotels are one of a kind and experiential,” she says. “They provide guests with an authentic flavor of the local community.”

How she does it: “I travel 50 to 60 percent of the time to meet partners like hotels and travel agents. When I’m not traveling, I answer the seemingly never-ending stream of emails, spend time with my leadership team, read up on trends, and plan future travels. The world economy is always fluctuating, and as a global company, there is always one region that isn’t doing as well as another. We help our partners manage those difficult times and come out on top. Today’s traveler has brand fatigue, but our rebranding in 2015 was a huge success for brand awareness and consumer loyalty.”

What’s next? “I’m excited about the industry’s growth in places like Myanmar, Cambodia, parts of Africa, and Cuba,” she says, “and the increased interest in independent hotels, something we’ve been doing for more than 51 years.”

So, what are your three favorite hotels? “Tricky question! The Upper House in Hong Kong, the Mark in New York City, and Finca Cortesin in Spain.”

The Woman Who Wants You to Visit Germany

Petra Hedorfer: CEO, German National Tourist Board (GNTB)

Petra Hedorfer, CEO of the German National Tourist Board

Petra Hedorfer, CEO of the German National Tourist Board

Courtesy of the GNTB

Courtesy of the GNTB
Petra Hedorfer, CEO of the German National Tourist Board

Why she rocks: In 2018, Destination Germany registered almost 88 million overnights from international visitors, a record result for the ninth year in a row.

How she does it: “I travel often in Germany and abroad to meet with local partners and offices,” Hedorfer says. “We share experiences, develop ideas, and drive projects forward. Travel patterns are changing, with more visitors than ever expected from the Americas and Asia. Our newest agencies are in Singapore and Buenos Aires. But the hottest topic is the digital revolution, which is changing how we attract visitors. It’s at the heart of our communications. Our website, www.germany.travel is in 30 languages, and we have accounts on Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, SnapChat, Sina Weibo, and WeChat.”

What’s next? “In 2020, Germany will have the 250th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven’s birth, and the Passion Play in Oberammergau, held once every 10 years, will attract visitors from around the world. And don’t forget about the country’s 46 UNESCO World Heritage sites and excellent infrastructure.”

So, where should we go in Germany? “The Elbphilharmonie concert hall in Hamburg has become a signature landmark in the city. The Zeche Zollverein in the Ruhr region is a former coal mine turned dynamic cultural venue with museums and exciting events. Visit the Upper Middle Rhine Valley and its countless castles, like Castle Schönburg. Germany is famous for its car industry, reflected at the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart. I also love my hometown of Augsburg in the south for spectacular Renaissance buildings and the renowned Puppenkiste theater.”

The Woman Who Upgraded Travel Memories

Nicole Smith: Founder & CEO, Flytographer

Flytographer founder and CEO Nicole Smith

Flytographer founder and CEO Nicole Smith

Photo by Kimon for Flytographer in Lisbon

Why she rocks: Smith founded a company that connects travelers with professional photographers who document trips in more than 300 destinations. Finally, everyone in the family can be in all the photos, and they all can enjoy being in the moment without worrying about capturing it. “Every single day, I get to see photos of people experiencing joy, love, and the wonder of travel. It transcends race, age, and location. In this complicated world, it really shows how we are all more alike than different,” she says.

How she does it: “Our photographers are all local artists who walk the streets daily and love hosting travelers and sharing insider tips on what to eat, see, and do,” she says. “We obsessively focus on an excellent customer experience every single time, and as a result, a large part of our business is word-of-mouth referrals and repeat customers. We actually capture a memory every minute all around the world! The best part of having a global photography startup is having friends in over 300 cities. I feel like I have a secret door to the world through my Flytographer family. I spend 15 minutes at the end of every day reading customer testimonials so I can have a pulse on how we are doing. It’s also a fun way to transition before going home, by seeing incredible photos from all across the globe. And every year, we host a Global Flytographer Meetup. This year, it was in Santorini for five days of workshops, photo walks, community building, big family dinners, and of course, wine and dancing!”

What’s next? “Right now, we are working on building technology that will enable our platform to be more scalable, remove manual processes, and allow our customers to purchase faster by testing new features such as ‘instant book.’”

So, how should I start my startup? “For travel startups, make sure it solves a real customer problem and that you truly love what you do. Build genuine relationships and give back as much as you can. You will discover that everyone knows each other in this industry.”

Favorite places:Lisbon for the people, food, music, and architecture; Tokyo for the contrast of history and modernity; Maui as a magical place to recharge the batteries with the kids–I love the Fairmont Kea Lani and Four Seasons Maui; and I can never get enough of New York City!”

>>Next: Talking With Travel Agency Owners Valerie, Jennifer, and Kimberly Wilson

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