Just Back: Female Leaders in Travel Conclave

(Elizabeth Moran)

Elizabeth Moran, a destination wedding and honeymoon specialist with VIP Vacations Inc, attended the Female Leaders in Travel Conclave October 13-18 at Le Blanc Spa Resort Los Cabos. Prior to traveling, each attendee took a COVID-19 PCR test. Here's her report.

It was a familiar scene—yoga mats unfurling, the sun rising and Jennifer Doncsecz (president of VIP Vacations) greeting the ladies and laughing at their graphic t-shirts. Once settled, Doncsecz kicked off the 2nd Annual Female Leaders in Travel Conclave with a sunrise stretch and guided meditation overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Hosted at Le Blanc Spa Resort Los Cabos by Frank Corzo, vice president of U.S. field sales for Palace Resorts and Le Blanc Spa Resorts, and Rene Virgilio, general manager, Le Blanc Spa Resort Los Cabos, the Female Leaders in Travel Conclave took place from October 13-18, 2020. This year’s Conclave was almost double in size from the 2019 Conclave, with 40 women in attendance. But do not let the still small number fool you: These women combined are a powerhouse, with over $1 billion in sales annually.

On the Schedule

Mary Ellen Burke being presented
with the 2020 Luminary Award.

The Conclave, which was originally scheduled for July and was postponed due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, gathered women from across the U.S. and all walks of life with the intent of peer-to-peer learning on techniques to better lead. The days were spent delving into open-discussion topics such as the "9 Traits that Keep Women from Rising," as well as panels about work/life balance, negotiations and leadership and management practices, while each evening concluded with a visit to a nearby resort for a hosted dinner.

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The Female Leaders in Travel Conclave were treated to a unique beachside dining experience at Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos by Kevin Froemming, executive vice president and chief commercial officer, Playa Hotels & ResortsMatias Klein, general manager, Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos, and Randolph TenEyck, business development manager, Playa Hotels & Resorts. At Secrets Puerto Los Cabos Golf & Spa Resort, the ladies enjoying a curated dinner with a tequila pairing with Mary Ellen Burke, national director of sales, AMResorts, and David Ocete, general manager, Secrets Puerto Los Cabos Golf & Spa Resort. Nobu Hotel Los Cabos hosted the Conclave for a sunset cocktail hour, followed by a relaxing fireside dinner on the beach at Hard Rock Los Cabos with Carilis Felipe, director of field sales, AIC Hotel Group, Lawrence Norman Tuck, general manager, Nobu Hotel Los Cabos, Georgina Godoy Rivera, director of sales, Nobu Hotel Los Cabos, Leonardo Mena, director of sales, Hard Rock Los Cabos, and Maribel Aguiree Ramirez, sales manager, Hard Rock Los Cabos. The ladies of the Female Leaders in Travel Conclave were blown away by each resort’s overwhelming hospitality and encouragement.

“We were honored to host an event for the 2nd Annual Conclave at our Nobu Hotel Los Cabos and Hard Rock Hotel Los Cabos properties," said Felipe. “It was a privilege to spend the evening among some of the travel industry’s most influential women having the opportunity to collaborate in person once again.”

On the last day of the Conclave, the Female Leaders in Travel were proud to present the 2020 Luminary Award to Mary Ellen Burke of AMResorts. When asked about Burke’s role in the travel industry, Megan Velez, vice president of product, Destination Weddings Travel Group, said, “Mary Ellen Burke is a key member of a world-class hotel group, with over 30 years’ experience in sales, and someone who is greatly revered by the entire industry for her knowledge and experience. As importantly, she is also one of the kindest, most giving and inclusive people that I know—and one who lives, walks and breathes the power of ‘kindness first.’”

Turbulence Reminds Us We're in Flight

The Female Leaders in Travel Conclave hosted keynote speaker Amelia Rose Earhart, who wrapped up the event with an inspirational and hopeful presentation. Earhart is most well-known for recreating and completing the 1937 flight of her namesake, Amelia Mary Earhart, in 2011, flying 28,000 miles in a single engine aircraft. Amelia Rose’s motivational story is one that countless people can relate to but is especially poignant in a post-COVID-19 world. Amelia pointed out that our new commodity is freedom and travel, and while the travel industry might be struggling now, “turbulence reminds us that we are in flight” and we will come out on the other side stronger.

Samarah Meil, owner, Amarillo Travel Network, was already familiar with Earhart before the conclave, but was still moved by her speech. Meil said, “I was thrilled when I heard the news of our speaker being Amelia Rose Earhart. I had heard her on a podcast and was slightly familiar with her story. During her keynote, I was very overcome with emotion and couldn't stop crying happy tears. She was very down to earth and relatable. In the moments she was speaking, I felt deep gratitude to be at the event at that moment with all the women in the room. What a treat to hear such an inspirational story of this woman's journey. Her story of perseverance was amazing and, after all the hardships 2020 has brought, I felt incredibly inspired.”

The event culminated in a dinner at Le Blanc Los Cabos, where each of the women wore red—a color known as a symbol of power and has more recently been taken up as one of the colors of the women’s empowerment movement.

New to the 2020 conclave, Andrea Williams, president, Exquisite Vacations, Inc., admits that she did not know what the Conclave would entail. “When I was accepted to attend the Female Leaders Conclave, I did not know what to expect, but I love the excitement of the unexpected. I knew it would not be like any other event, but I walked away inspired, motivated, ready to lead and, most importantly, knowing that a sisterhood was created where I can call on any of the female leaders at any time when I need them.”

When asked about the future of the Female Leaders in Travel Conclave, Doncsecz stated, “This Conclave is bigger than us: It is a much-needed movement in the travel industry. When 84 percent of travel advisors are female but only 14 percent of those occupying C-suites overall are women, that really makes me stop and wonder why more women aren’t in those C-suites. Women need to guide each other and lift each other up. Hopefully by providing more conclaves and symposiums similar to the Female Leaders in Travel Conclave, we can change those statistics.”

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