An estimated 80 to 85% of all travel-related purchases and decisions are made by women, and women make up a majority of the workforce across the industry. But did you know that less than 10% of those in higher management positions in the travel industry identify as female?
Iris Serbanescu is on a mission to change the status quo and help women and non-binary folks, especially those of color or who are part of the LGBTQ community, launch and scale their own travel businesses. In January of 2022, she founded wmnsWORK, an accelerator program aimed at empowering folks with the knowledge and support to attain their goals of entrepreneurship while also furthering ownership and increasing gender equality in this sector.
There are quite a few people I’ve met in this industry who are educators and interested in course creation or leading trainings or workshops for newcomers in their niche. I think this is a great episode if you’ve ever considered transitioning out of what you’re doing into a teaching role. Whether that be working as a travel agent or running your own tour company, and instead transitioning into teaching others how to essentially follow in your footsteps.
On the other hand, if you are in the early stages of your business and interested in being taught by some of the brightest minds in the industry, and you’d like to connect with people who are equally passionate about gender equality and supporting a great cause, then I definitely recommend checking out wmnsWORK. The next cohort is starting September 19, 2022, so you’ve still got until August 1st to apply if you’re interested. Not all applicants will necessarily get a place, you do have to apply to be considered, but definitely check it out if it’s something that interests you.
As I listened back to our conversation it definitely sounds like I’m an affiliate for her program because I endorse it so much. But I’m not an affiliate, I just love what Iris is doing and I’m so excited to see women helping one another achieve big goals in this industry. I genuinely believe that the more we support one another, the further we go and the more we can achieve.
I’m excited to share what Iris is doing and really believe in the mission she supports. Iris comes with a wealth of knowledge and shares some pretty jarring statistics on gender inequality in the travel industry. It was fascinating to hear how she started this accelerator program and what she’s learned since it first launched earlier this year. Iris is also super charismatic, so I’m sure you’ll enjoy this episode!
Getting started in the tourism industry
Iris started her career working at a corporate insurance brokerage, which really wasn’t the right job for her because it didn’t fit her personality at all. As a kid, she’d always loved travel, so she decided to quit her job and get a new diploma to start working in the tourism industry. Her new career took off with an internship at the Four Seasons in Prague.
But Iris realized that she prefers working more with businesses rather than in hospitality, so she moved back to Toronto and took a job working in partnerships at a luxury travel agency. Her next move after that was her dream job at the time, a B2B marketing role at a small tourism consulting firm, where she stayed for 5 years.
Changing the tourism industry
One year before the pandemic, Iris decided that she wanted to get some tech experience, so she became director of partnerships at a travel tech company. She was fortunate enough not to lose her job in the pandemic, but seeing many people losing their jobs did get her thinking about how the industry could build back better, and what that even meant.
“I started reflecting on my time in travel and how actually the majority of the workforce is made up of women, about 55 to 60%. But the amount of women in leadership is less than 8%. So less than 8% of women hold executive positions in the travel industry, which means 92% of the money and power lie with men.”
She reflected on how all the entrepreneurs she’d worked with were also white men, and it all didn’t sit well with her. The majority of the workforce are women, and the majority of purchasing decisions for travel are also made by women, so you can’t have a sustainable tourism industry without gender equity in leadership.
Iris started to think about how she wanted her next steps to change this and create a safe space for women and non-binary folks to start their own businesses in the travel industry. So at the beginning of 2022, she started wmnsWORK, an accelerator program for tourism entrepreneurs.
A mission to empower women in travel
An accelerator is a common term in the tech world, and Iris explains that it’s basically “a container of support and education and mentorship and it can be in person or online, to help small businesses get from one stage of their business to the next, or to reach specific goals.”
Accelerators are often funded by investors who take a percentage of equity in the business, but Iris decided to charge participants for the program upfront, with a few sponsored spots available, so that the accelerator is equity free.
The program is focused on early-stage entrepreneurship when often fear and self-doubt tend to creep in, you don’t know anyone else who’s starting a business, and you have this dream but maybe you lack the tools to take it to the next level.
Iris has tapped into her network to make this a really supportive and valuable experience for new entrepreneurs in the travel industry. “You often feel like the problems you’re experiencing are you alone. Like nobody else could possibly know what this feels like as an early entrepreneur, you feel isolated and you don’t know what you’re doing. And then you come to a wmnsWORK mastermind and you realize. Wow. Okay. Number one, I’m not alone. Everyone else feels this way too sometimes. And number two, they’re giving me amazing solutions for how I can move forward in my business.”
More from this episode
- Iris shares more about the accelerator. How long does it take, what’s included, what is the support like, how is it structured, what types of participants have joined so far, and what results have they already seen since their cohort ended earlier this year?
- Find out what platforms and tools Iris uses to host the program.
- Learn about the post-program support on offer, and how Iris is building a community of previous program participants, plus experts and mentors.
- Iris shares what she has learned from running the program for the first time, and what changes she’s making for the upcoming cohort.
- How does she find people to lead masterclasses and mentors that support her accelerator participants?
- What advice does she have for you, if you’re considering starting your own business, but you’re a bit nervous or hesitant to move forward?
- Iris shares her vision for the future of
Learn more about Iris
Iris Serbanescu is an adventure travel enthusiast and champion for gender equity in the tourism industry, as the proud founder of wmnsWORK, the tourism industry’s first 12-week business accelerator for early-stage women/non-binary entrepreneurs. She is also the founder of B2B sales agency By Iris, established to help experiential tour operators and hotels develop meaningful industry partnerships.
Early in her career, Iris led the Trade Development department at a Toronto-based boutique marketing agency, then established and headed up tech company TourRadar’s Partnerships department. Most recently, Iris has leveraged her decade of experience working in the luxury, tech, and adventure sectors to launch wmnsWORK with a beta cohort in January 2022.
Close to Iris’s heart is a desire to support local entrepreneurs curating incredible experiences that open travelers’ hearts and minds to the way of life in small communities around the world. In her spare time, you’ll find her road cycling, doing yoga, and of course – traveling!
Contact Iris at firstname.lastname@example.org