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Comment: Travel industry cannot afford to lose female leaders – 28 Jun 2007

The travel industry is so full of personalities that when something unexpected happens to one of them, it bursts into a flurry of conjecture.

Sue Biggs’ sudden departure as Kuoni UK managing director is one such occasion.

Last week, Biggs was welcoming the Kuoni acquisition of villa and ski chalet specialist CV Travel. This week, we were told the company is restructuring and Biggs has been replaced with immediate effect.

What is interesting about this news is it highlights the lack of senior female executives in the industry. Biggs was one of a rare breed; not only was she an MD, but on the board of a leading pan-European group.

There are plenty of women working in the travel industry – but the majority hold junior roles. It is difficult to see what incentive they have to move up the ranks of an industry so dominated by men.

The situation shows no signs of change, not least because there is a woeful lack of new blood entering the sector. There has been a steady decline in students accepting places on travel courses, dropping a frightening 50% since 2001.

Students appear unmotivated to work in travel. Could this be because they associate it with long hours and little reward?

Adding the low basic salaries across much of the industry to the small number of women in executive positions who could act as role models helps to explain the difficulty in attracting high-quality entrants.

Whatever the reasons for Biggs’ departure, her leaving is a blow to the industry’s image as a place where women can rise to the top. We have to hope the dearth of women in Biggs’position does not become a famine.

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