It has been almost a year since a group of veteran travel advisors got together to start the Travel A.L.L.I.E.S. Society (ALLIES), an organization devoted to filling a gap in the travel industry’s education ecosystem.
Started by a trio of advisors, the goal was to provide a safe environment where those in travel management could get together and talk about the issues that affect their careers and businesses and get the answers to the questions that keep them up at night.
Jennifer Doncsecz, the president of Pennsylvania’s VIP Vacations and one of the founders of Travel A.L.L.I.E.S., told TMR last week that the group was born out of the success of another group, the Female Leaders Meeting, along with “hearing about the heartache of other agency owners during COVID, whether it was male or female, small or large.”
“We thought, how do we incorporate real professional development with leadership?” Doncsecz said.
Since its start, ALLIES has blossomed, creating, out of a passion project, a group of invitation-only leaders, all giving up their time and money, along with adherence to a strict code of ethics, to help and learn from each other. Most of its members have large voices inside the industry, including most of ASTA’s elected board of members.
Earlier this month the group celebrated its first ALLIES Elevate Leaders in Travel Symposium in Cancun, Mexico, gathering its members and some non-members for its first-ever in-person conference at Secrets Riviera Cancun.
Emceed by TPI’s Jenn Lee, and attended by a number of the industry’s top female leaders including Jackie Friedman, Betsy Geiser, Nicole Mazza, Vicki Freed, and more, the event focused on what is at the heart of ALLIES—leadership.
“This is a lonely thing to be a leader,” Doncsecz said. “During COVID, leaders were expected to have the answers. But they don’t always have the answers; instead, leaders show up and hope you are doing the right thing.”
Doncsecz (second from left) with other Symposium attendees. Photo: Travel ALLIES
Doncsecz said that she wanted people who attended to come away better than they went into it, partly because they’ve been able to build much-needed skills but also because they realize that their struggles aren’t uncommon in the industry. There are people around them, all in similar positions with similar experiences, who can help them.
For instance, during one exercise at the Symposium, attendees were queried on what were the biggest dilemmas they’ve face in their career, including being passed over for a promotion or being a victim or witness to sexual harassment.
The most common issue and one that Doncsecz told TMR isn’t typically spoken about, was having an independent contractor (IC) steal from you.
“Ninety percent of the room had that happen to them. We need to talk about ways to stop this and have an open conversation about these issues,” she said. “The dialogue was you are not alone. There are many things we don’t talk about as leaders. That needs to stop.”
After the event, those that did attend, both members and non-members, spoke about the
“The opportunity to focus on your own leadership growth alongside such incredible industry leaders and connect on such a real level is invaluable,” DeAnne Petritz, national sales manager at Travel Insured said.
“The event was unlike any other that I have attended. There are many venues that offer professional development sessions, but none that focus on elevating leadership,” Jennifer Cochrane, the CEO of Gifted Travel Network said.
By the end of 2021, Doncsecz says that she could see the group up to 100 members, a slow rate of growth but one that she believes is so important to keep the group’s mission intact. “It has to grow slowly,” she said. There are already plans in the works for next year’s Symposium, too, one that Doncsecz said would grow to 150-200 attendees.
The future could involve offshoots of ALLIES, as well, including a possible smaller host agency branch.
“There’s a huge contingency of owners who have fewer than 50 ICs who really need leadership training, too,” she said.