March 8th is a day not only worthy of global attention but also celebration and unification. For over 100 years, our global community has come together to honour women and recognise their multitude achievements with International Women’s Day. And for me, personally, it is a day very close to my heart.

Importantly and uniquely, International Women’s Day is not affiliated with any one group, but rather brings together governments, women’s organisations, corporations, charities and individuals all to reaffirm the original aim of the movement; to achieve full gender equality for women.

This past year has been one that has put an even greater emphasis on the quest for true equality for women. We all know the now numerous reasons why this sentiment has recently and rapidly escalated, and no one can dispute the rightness of the value of woman being unequivocally recognised, respected and protected. Whilst this global truth has not yet been fully realised, this year International Women’s Day highlights more than ever how far we still have to go, must go and will go, especially with an ongoing global reckoning on allegations of sexual misconduct rippling through all industries. The abundant and awful #MeToo accounts continue to be exposed, those guilty now exposed too, with those violated commended for their courage in standing up and helping others to speak up also.

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #PressforProgress. The website highlights: “We can’t be complacent. Now, more than ever there is a strong call-to-action to press forward and progress gender parity, respecting all equally. A call to motivate and unite friends, colleagues and whole communities to think, act and be gender inclusive.”.

I am fortunate in that the greatest inspiration in my life was my mother – a single mother who raised four children in South Africa at a time, in the late 1960’s, when being a single, divorced woman was controversial and divisive. First and foremost, she taught me to respect others. She embedded in me the importance of kindness and being responsible for the decisions I would make throughout my life. I grew up with an understanding of what could be called ‘chivalry’. To me such behavior is simply just good manners. Common courtesy and respect for others costs nothing.

Today, I am blessed in that the example of the value of remarkable women is one I experience every single day thanks to my extraordinary wife Toni and her mother, Bea. Through two generations, they both equally define and engender the spirit of female care and compassion, perfectly in harmony with their inner strength, vision and passion that has no barriers.

As the head of Trafalgar, a truly great company comprised of exceptional leaders both female and male, I think it’s vital that we acknowledge that globally, inequality does exist and as leaders, we simply must commit to advancing and empowering women throughout business, knowing how imperative it is that every day, their value is recognised and honoured in precisely the same way as their male counterparts.

I celebrate all the women in my life and all the females in this world. However, as a leader, I take this timely opportunity within to shine the spotlight on the women within Trafalgar, who have proven themselves to be an imperative ingredient when defining our culture, our vision and our success. As a company, we have always been and always will be firmly committed to female empowerment and advancement. Equality is an action we all live by within our tribe. Regardless of our own gender, every single one of us within Trafalgar are each champions for changing our world for the better, particularly ensuring that we actively identify and develop the true potential of our female colleagues. I feel strongly that I and my entire team are aligned and devoted to this line of thinking.

Regular evaluation and progress check-ins are, of course, a requisite when making such commitments for support. I have never been and will never be one to pay lip service. With International Women’s Day upon us, it felt even more appropriate to evaluate how we are doing and to highlight some of the female forces that are weaving a wonderful legacy for future talent, of both sexes, within our tribe.

It is clear to me that through words that have firmly translated into actions over the years, Trafalgar has and continues to facilitate an environment of nurturing female talent and fostering a culture of empowerment and entrepreneurialism throughout the brand – this spans our internal Tribe as well as our extended Tribe i.e. those inspirational colleagues we work with on the ground – our suppliers. It fills me with immense pride to see how strongly we are enabling connectivity and community amongst women both internally and externally. We mentor and coach women. We build strong and impactful teams of women who support one another and build each other up. It’s so powerful and uplifting to also see the embodiment of a culture of “community not competition”, which shines from all angles.

As I personally look at female forces working directly within the brand, it is impossible not to think of, and immediately salute, Theresa. She is a true example of all that is to be recognised and celebrated in female leadership. Starting as a sales manager more years ago than I’d put in writing, today she runs our entire South African business. I enjoyed recently receiving a copy of a 1990’s group contract from a multi-repeat guest who had worked with Theresa some years ago and today considers her a friend. Theresa is an enduring, shining example of grace, greatness and true tenacity.

In the USA, one of my trusted, go-to people is Monica, who today directs our award-winning Call Centre. Joining the business over 26 years ago, Monica’s story always brings a broad smile as it reflects her character perfectly. As she says;

“I started with Contiki as a reservations agent in 1998 as a seasonal temp.  I remember looking my Manager in the eye and telling her I’d accept a seasonal job but I wouldn’t be leaving any time soon. “

Following a series of positions and promotions, Monica joined us in Trafalgar in 2005 and, as she says, “the rest is history”.  A single mother, she has also been a real champion in making her family part of our greater TTC Family, referring her sister as well as daughters to become part of TTC. We are truly one family.

Closer to home for me, my executive team is made up of numerous remarkable ladies including our CMO Dee, Head of yield management, Nawal, Head of European Product, Liesa (although after eight years has decided to return to being a bohemian traveller), Joy who leads our European Operations, Janice who directs all Asia product and Karen who is vital to everything brochures. I then look to our selling offices, where three of our seven selling offices are run by Melissa, Ruth and Theresa and shortly it will be four of seven…

I can proudly share with you that, looking across Team Trafalgar, I see that the majority of our leadership teams are female: 100% in South Africa, 78.5% in the USA, 66% Canada and 65% in Australia. In Marketing our teams are 100% female in USA, Singapore, Australia, Canada & South Africa.

As we look to our female forces working in the field, delivering exceptional experiences to our guests, I am delighted to confirm that within our exclusive ‘Be My Guest’ experiences, 48% of these in Europe and Britain are hosted by women. As I look around the world, we are privileged to work with a selected network of inspirational and truly individual women, each with their own tale to tell, such as:

  • Marta Cucchia in Perugia – with a true talent for the generations-old skill of jacquard weaving, she is the only person in the world still doing using such methods to create Umbrian, Medieval and Renaissance designs, every day making a difference with her passion to preserve this tradition. Marta is only one example of us working to further empower these successful women to form deeper connections locally, regionally and globally and allowing them to show case their artisanal creations and opening up broader networks for them to share their talents and tips with counterparts across the globe. And she is now mentoring her niece to ensure this gift is sustained.
  • The 60-strong selfless Sisters of the Precious Blood in southern Austria, leading a self-sustained lifestyle and focused on helping those in need from their Monastery in Kloster Wernberg.
  • Diana Lenzi – a trained chef who relocated from Rome to run an estate in Tuscany that’s been in her family since the 19th Century, following in the footsteps of her mother’s philosophy of “learn as you go”. From sourcing local produce to hand harvesting the organic wine and olives to cooking for guests to daily estate maintenance are just a snapshot of a day’s work for Diana.
  • The female-dominated community in the village of Demircidere in Turkey. Undeterred by the devastation of the decimation of their crops by a beetle, these determined women captured our attention and for chose to work with them to support their entrepreneurial spirit and create a Be My Guest to host Trafalgar guests, where they also teach us how to bake traditional bread and taste their home-made wine. Behind Kiranli, Demircidere village has the highest rate of women working in Turkey and is testament to a great example of women working as a community and not competition. We are proud to support their endeavours and also open up the eyes of our guests to such a culture (in all senses).
  • Doyenne of French fragrances, Agnes Costa of Fragonard is fourth generation family of perfumers, taking the mantle from her father and maintaining tradition with help of her sister, Francoise and sharing insights into this wonderful world with our guests with palpable passion and pride.

All these women are taking the lead, aspiring to be greater, determined to deliver nothing but the best, often putting others before themselves and striving to share their passion and spread their infectious determination with anyone they encounter.

When I consider what it is that directly fuels our success at being the best, there is clear evidence that our innovation and success is dominated by female leadership. The women in Tribe Trafalgar are both the roots and wings, providing our brand with a diversity of perspectives, of innovative concepts, unique insights and impactful experiences.

I am honored to live with and work with such an extraordinary group of women. And men. I know that every single aspect of Trafalgar’s envied industry leadership position is possible thanks to the collaboration of our wonderfully eclectic team.

And so, not just on this International Women’s Day, but every single day, my heartfelt thanks goes out to all women I know and their relentless displays of strength and character. It is thanks to their commitment, courage, character and class that we can be confident that Trafalgar will continue on its journey of creating an inclusive and diverse culture for the benefit of all – Tribe Trafalgar: our guests, our partners and our team.

It is my commitment always, that the door is wide open at Trafalgar and for women, the ceiling is limitless.

Ladies, I salute you.