Six Female Travel Executives to Watch

Women at the Forefront of Change in the Tourism & Hospitality Industry

Petra Hedorfer, CEO, German National Travel Board. Photo credit: TravelWeek.Ca

As a female travel entrepreneur, I’m constantly inspired by the many women leaders in our industry who are shaping the future of tourism and hospitality. Here’s my shortlist of travel women to watch: a collection of leaders who are pushing boundaries and defining new standards of excellence in a competitive, complex environment.

  1. Petra Hedorfer – CEO, German National Travel Board (Destination Germany) – Petra is leading Destination Germany’s work to transform the country from a business-oriented destination to a thriving cultural hub for Europeans and international visitors. Petra’s emphasis on innovation has enabled Destination Germany to “accompany visitors during their whole customer journey,” including resources to help travellers plan better and find more inspiration for things to do while in-destination. Her vision is paying off: Destination Germany celebrated its sixth consecutive year of record breaking inbound visitors in 2015, coming close to 80 millioninternational overnights last year.
  2. Caroline Beteta – CEO, Visit California and former Chair and former Interim CEO, Brand USA – Caroline’s commitment to innovation is remarkable. With more than 20 years in destination marketing and tourism development under her belt, Caroline continues to champion fresh strategies to strengthen Visit California and destination marketing more broadly. For example, this year Visit California launched its Industry Editorial Committee, intended to help industry leaders tap into the destination marketing benefits of the viral nature of pop culture and media coverage. Blending in-location information with pop culture memes? #winning.
  3. Diana L. Nelson – Chairman, Carlson – The third Chairman of her family’s company, Diana is boldly meeting consumer demands in every division of the Carlson enterprise. There’s much to learn from Diana’s outstanding brand stewardship and her efforts to cater to different market segments, in particular, millennials. The Radisson Red hotel brand, which launched globally last year, reflects Carlson’s commitment to that goal. Radisson Red provides upscale facilities with simple architecture, bold colors and innovative communal spaces; the company plans to have 60 Radisson Red properties in operation by 2020. In the meantime, Diana’s consumer focus is also evident in the recent re-alignment of the Carlson Wagonlit Travel Executive Team to focus on delivering a “new level of customer experience.”
  4. Julie Coker-Graham – Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau President & CEO – Julie knows hospitality inside and out. She worked her way up from a management trainee at with Hyatt in 1989 and stayed with the company for 21 years before transitioning to her leadership role at the Philadelphia CVB. Her long trail of accolades from her time in the hospitality indusry speaks to her competent leadership and to her ability to mobilize travel teams to do extraordinary work, including hosting this year’s Democratic National Convention and turning around bookings for the Pennsylvania Convention Center. In addition, Julie’s consistent investment of time in industry and community organizations throughout her career also stands as a shining example to me of the responsibility and privilege travel leaders enjoy in adding value to our communities.
  5. Debbie Marriott Harrison – Global Officer, Marriott Culture and Business Councils – According to Marriott President & CEO, Arne Sorensen, “the most powerful advantage we have over our competition is our culture,” and Debbie stewards that culture across Marriotts’ global footprint. As hospitality companies consolidate, maintaining staff and corporate culture across various brands and locations can be especially difficult. Despite the challenge, Debbie leads the strategy for Marriott’s 82 Business Councils to support staff development, invest in local communities through service, and to advocate for the company’s business interests. I am particularly inspired by Debbie’s commitment throughout her career to a variety of service and advocacy initiatives, especially her work on adult and pediatric mental health.
  6. Sally Balcombe – CEO, Visit Britain – a trailblazer in digital content marketing, Sally takes a forward-looking approach to visitor engagement and isn’t afraid to adopt and test new technologies. In 2015, under Sally’s leadership, Visit Britain became the first tourism board to be involved in Pinterest’s then-new place pin feature. Today the Love Great Britain Pinterest pin has over 60 boards to help travelers scope out things to do and just under 30,000 followers. Visit Britain’s more recently launched Tumblr blog is a great example of Sally’s strategic emphasis on building partnerships and interacting with visitors on the platforms that they use, rather than expecting visitors to seek out their site alone.

Do you know a female travel executive we should be following? Send me a note at