Careers in Travel and Hospitality: Highlights from the WSA Conference

On Saturday, January 28, seven business leaders in the travel and hospitality industry traveled to campus by planes, trains, and automobiles to offer career advice to HBS students as part of the WSA Dynamic Women in Business conference.

Reflecting a growing interest in the travel industry on the HBS campus, there was great enthusiasm among conference attendees for the panel discussion and accompanying speaker-networking events. ÿCurrent HBS students, members of Harvard University, University of Massachusetts – Amherst’s Hospitality and Tourism department, and the general Boston community, attended the Travel and Hospitality panel.

Corinne Ng, director of marketing at American Express Travel, moderated the panel which included: Glyn Aeppel, development executive at Fairmont Hotels/Aeppel and Associates (HBS 1985, Section B); Tabula Bost, executive associate to the SVP of Human Resources at Harrah’s Entertainment (HBS ’96, Section F); Danielle DeVoe, VP of communications with The Americas at Mandarin Oriental; Susan Helstab, SVP of corporate marketing at Four Seasons; Belinda Stubblefield, director of customer care at Delta Airlines (HBS ’89, Section G); and Laurie Smith Wooden, VP of operations strategy at Ritz-Carlton (HBS ’95, Section B).

The discussion kicked off with panelists outlining the career paths.ÿ Many panelists described getting their start in other industries, with previous experiences ranging from advertising at McCann-Erickson, consulting at Accenture, marketing at Nestl‚ and American Express, manufacturing at Proctor & Gamble, and entrepreneurship in gift-ware items.ÿ From these industries, panelists seized opportunities to enter travel and hospitality at times of growth and expansion, motivated by their own love of travel and the belief that travel promotes cultural understanding.
Panelists shared their insights on the key trends affecting the travel agency, airline, lodging, and gaming segments today.
Looking forward, international expansion was cited as a major area of growth for the industry.ÿ With the current industry boom, panelists highlighted the increasing need to meet and exceed customer expectations in order to retain loyalty.ÿ In booking travel, the traditional relationship between customers and travel agents continues to evolve given the prevalence of travel websites. ÿFor the airline industry, fuel prices were cited as a key factor affecting profitability going forward.

Next, panelists discussed opportunities for women and MBAs in the industry.ÿ Panelists outlined two main career paths in hospitality companies: rising through the ranks from hotel property-level to general management, or contributing at the corporate level in headquarter functions such as strategy, marketing, and finance.ÿ Given the strategic and quantitative training provided by the MBA education, panelists encouraged students to explore opportunities at the corporate level, and cited specific opportunities available within many of their companies.
In the closing Q&A session, audience members engaged panelists in discussions on topics ranging from the impact of terrorism on the industry, to the hospitality companies’ responsibility to preserve the natural environments surrounding resort developments. ÿTo complement this panel discussion, speakers also met with students in small-group lunches and a networking cocktail reception at the end of the conference.

After this great panel discussion, audience members departed with even greater enthusiasm for the travel and hospitality industry. ÿIf you are interested in learning more, please contact the Hospitality and Travel Club, which sponsors many industry events such as the upcoming career trek to New York City February 25 through 28.