While I’ve always wanted a unicorn bathed in fairy dust, I’d give it up for a ticket to PhocusWright.

The three years I have spent in the corporate world following the completion of my MBA program have been full of learning, to say the least.

Most notable has been learning to adapt to change on the fly, in any and every scenario.

I’m actually quite grateful for this now expected state of “anything can happen at any moment” mindset. It keeps me on my toes and challenges me to continue seeking out opportunities to learn & grow in my career.

Knowledge has always been my rock. And as an employee, I have to be given a chance to grow in that area to feel as though I’m reaching my full potential. And that growth occurs for me in leaps and bounds whenever I’m given the chance to attend industry events.

In the closet of travel industry events, The PhocusWright Conference is your best pair of Christian Louboutin pumps.

In my industry, there is one event that stands as the mecca of all each year… where the biggest players in our industry come to pow-wow, schmooze, and revel in each other’s near-celebrity status – The PhocusWright Conference.

Last year, I struck gold. By being in the right place at the right time when a colleague had to back out last-minute, I was the only one around able pick up and go at a moment’s notice.

Of course, it just happened to be two weeks before my wedding. Didn’t matter. No friggin’ way I would turn down that once-in-a-late-twenties career opportunity.

It was a smart move.

The keys… or at least a 3-day pass… to the travel kingdom.

I met some incredible leaders and executives, as well hundreds of startups with some of the most talented minds in travel. I listened in awe to keynote speakers whose voices reverberated throughout the room in tones intending to put the fear of God in you… to shake you into action, into innovation, into GO DO SOMETHING.

I came back with over twenty pages of notes and ideas, many of which I’m still pulling from today. To me, actionable ideas are priceless.

And even more valuable are the new industry friends I first met at that event, many of whom I am today actively doing business with in ways never before explored by either party.

This was real, measurable value… more so than many weeks of work produce.

But I knew the inevitable truth that it might be ten years before I ever had the opportunity to experience it again.

Are unicorns bathed in fairy dust included with my registration?

The problem is price. PhocusWright likely wants to keep it as the elite of the elite for a reason… to maintain the level of demand that posts exactly like this one represent, and price is the simplest way to do that. And the quality of the event reflects the price to be sure – it’s big time as far as travel conferences go.

How much? Try $3,000.

No, that’s not a typo. And that’s about as cheap as it gets. 

I believe it’s worth it, but does the company funding it agree is the question.

After airfare, hotel, etc, we’re talking $5,000. If I wanted to be laughed at, I would ask for approval for that purchase without so much as blinking… but a history of conservative budgeting would incline me to not waste my breath.

It’s not like I haven’t already been sent to other conferences and training events this year – I have. They are just much, much less expensive.

To me, this is when an industry with decades of history and tradition can be somewhat depressing instead of inspirational like I’ve seen it be.

It’s one of those roadblocks you encounter that prevents progress for young leaders personally and professionally, and is many times why so many leave our industry for good.

As an industry, we’re perpetuating the prohibition of fresh thoughts and innovative ideas penetrating the top ranks of industry executives or circulating with trade press… all because of price.

I’m not saying that by adding a few youngsters, this will completely change. The rules are the same. What I am saying is that it will help.

Gen Y is different from the wise leaders who have come before us in many ways, in some good ways and some bad. 

All we’ve ever known is collaboration and teamwork. It’s one of the things we do best and we look to proactively create opportunities for innovation through partnerships with our networks, both personal and professional. For us, the two blend as nearly one.

Yet, ironically these events to which our companies aren’t able to afford to send us are exactly where that kind of collaboration can most easily take place – face to face.

Wouldn’t ya know it… I forgot my mock turtleneck & sport coat.

RL Pictures, Images and Photos

Last year, as I stood in a room full of 50+ men, seeing rarely a female pass by and definitely never a female within five years of my age, I realized I better relish my three rare days in the “travel industry elite” sun. Out of over 20 innovators who presented at the annual “Travel Innovators Summit” on the main stage, only one was a female… and she was running some dude’s Power Point presentation.

It was like watching an episode of Mad Men, except the women weren’t disrespected… they simply weren’t present to begin with. I was shocked, but later told that’s “just how the travel industry is.”

I can accept that I’ve got two things working against me – my age and my sex. My hard work has gotten me where I am today, but I’ve got a long way to go.

And I’m fighting a losing battle as our industry tolerates under-developing young leaders, which many times forces women to explore opportunities in industries where, for the most part, women are in much greater number in top leadership positions.

At 28, in a mid-level management position just like mine, I need to see living proof that what I strive to become is possible… that it has been done successfully by a woman before me.

There was no greater recent loss to our industry in this regard than Michelle Peluso, former CEO to the home of the beloved Roaming Gnome.

And if top young performers don’t have role models to look up to in their own organization like Michelle, events like PhocusWright are when they can meet the living and breathing examples in our industry of what is possible… the future meets the soon-to-be history.

It all comes down to the $crilla.

The price tag of an event like this prevents companies from ever consider it a feasible expense for young leaders, male or female, which is quite understandable and, in fact, financially responsible. Making it worse is if everyone in higher-ranking positions must be given budget priority.

This type of obstacle hurts young high-potential employees in their development as well as their companies.

It’s a cycle supported by prices that treat everyone equally, but ironically that equality ends up excluding most young leaders because of the budget constraints that naturally exist for younger, less tenured employees regardless of their future potential.

Young leaders worth their salt make the experience better for all.

I’m not saying let’s send anyone and everyone. Not every member of Gen Y in the travel industry is worthy of or ready for face time with an executive just because of their birthdate.

But some are, most likely including your future VPs & CEOs.

This industry is too complex for emerging leaders to not to be ready at lower level in his or her career, and we should be thrilled if we’re lucky enough to have already recruited and hired that talent. The bigger question is do we know it and are we capable of retaining them until they reach their full potential?

One idea for a solution.

30 slots should be reserved each year to be awarded to the Top 30 Under 30 (or 35) young leaders in the travel industry. The media revenue opportunity for the sponsoring organization or publication around the application process, selection of winners and final announcement leading up to the event, as well as post-event coverage, could be built to more than cover costs.The result of this initiative could spark the ideas and connections that will drive the breakthrough solutions for the next generation of travel.

Additionally, this initiative could create a long-term opportunity to promote the development of young leaders in our industry, while establishing an annual recurring media revenue opportunity for the sponsoring publication.

Not only is it valuable for the chosen attendees, but more so for the top executives who, if I was a betting woman, might gladly welcome some fresh insight and challenging rhetoric with the young up and comers and get as far away as possible from the status quo.

What’s the worst that could happen?

Until something like this is put into place, the industry suffers, its bench of talent rots, and its future success is limited to only as much growth as what will be desperately fought for and scrappily obtained by those young leaders, many of whom will be jaded at the end of the process.

If you gave them that extra boost of support they need today, how much more could they do for you and your company tomorrow?

One of the few travel companies that I have seen to-date recognizing the next generation of leaders in our industry and giving them a voice is Tnooz.com. I hope Tnooz’s breakthrough in this area will inspire other companies to do the same and make our talent pool overall better as a result.

Passion + energy abounds from high-potential employees. Take it & use it before you lose it.

To oversimplify a complex topic, let’s go do this thing. πŸ™‚

The longer we hold young leaders back, the less prepared they will be to one day lead your organization, and thus the longer it will be until you can retire with the peace of mind that you are leaving the company in good hands.

Give your next generation of high-potential leaders in travel a chance to prove if their hands are, in fact, the good ones.




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