Destination Directory

The 14 Most Influential Women in Group Travel

Groups Today is pleased to present The 14 Most Influential Women in Group Travel. Group travel comprises myriad businesses, and these women represent many facets of the industry.

DebraAsberryDebra Asberry | Women Traveling Together | President and Founder
Debra ensures clients choose the right trip through detailed itineraries and in-depth communication, and helps them prepare for their experience, even suggesting physical regimens to prepare for the particular level of activity of the trip. Success lies in the details: thorough site visits, helpful travel partners and professional organizations, and relationships with people who offer eyewitness destination information.

carylann-assanteCarylann Assante | Student & Youth Travel Association and SYTA Youth Foundation | Executive Director
SYTA supports industry professionals who provide socially, culturally and educationally enriching travel experiences for students and youth worldwide. By providing professional opportunities to SYTA members, Carylann helps facilitate the networking that is so important to success in the industry. With experience in member relations, development, and fundraising, Carylann is able to address many facets of SYTA’s “big picture.”

Brewer Lynn 10146Lynn Brewer | American Bus Association | Senior Vice President of Meetings, Education and Member Services
Lynn says that group travel is on the rise, and the ability to innovate is responsible for that success. What used to be thought of as travel for a more mature demographic has become an on-demand travel method for younger groups, providing transportation into major cities, with activities like Broadway shows, and “behind the scenes” special additions like cast parties and acting workshops. Customer service is still key, but technology is providing access to new demographic groups.

LisaCurtin1Lisa Curtin | Brightspark Travel | Vice President of Operations
A parent and former teacher, Lisa understands what clients seek when it comes to student travel: experience, communication, and safety—a major “value added” provided by her company. In spite of a sluggish economy, student travel is popular, and has almost become an expectation. Lisa sees student travel as an opportunity to make students more globally aware, contributing to a more peaceful world.

SaraHamlinSara Hamlin | Birmingham (Alabama) Convention & Visitors Bureau | Vice President of Tourism
Through online resources and a mobile app, Birmingham provides tour operators with convenient options, while still offering personalized customer service. Sara notes that technology is helpful, yet relationships with customers and colleagues in the industry are the key to success. In addition to cultivating those personal relationships, Sara says that involvement in professional organizations on the local, state and national level helps provide networking opportunities.

StephanieLee2Stephanie Lee | Group Sales Box Office | Co-owner and President
Her father began this business, and Stephanie grew up learning every aspect of the business, from stuffing envelopes, to roller skating around town, dropping off order forms and picking up tickets. She says that carrying on her father’s legacy, and continuing relationships he established has been extremely rewarding. Stephanie says that, “listening, learning, and engaging at every opportunity” is her approach to identifying new audiences, anticipating the needs of clients, and making sure that audiences are matched with the best performances for their interests and sensibilities. “For any business and certainly all career paths, quality relationships can be the foundation for great achievements and success.”

LauraMandalaLaura Mandala | Mandala Research, LLC | Managing Director
Laura’s company conducts studies for Fortune 500 companies, and her evaluations of emerging markets help destinations and travel companies make the right decisions to attract the right travelers. She’s also the founder of Women in Travel & Tourism International, which provides networking, mentoring, lead-sharing, and philanthropic opportunities for women in the industry.

CamillaMorrisCamilla Morris | Oneonta Bus Lines Eastern Travel | Director of Sales and Office Manager
Being strong, assertive, and independent has played into Cam’s success, as has the opportunity to be mentored by the motorcoach company’s owner. Clients recognize the value of using Cam’s packaged tours. “We have people telling us, ‘It’s simpler. I get on, and there’s not another worry.’”

StephanieParr-BrooksStephanie Parr-Brooks | Globus Family of Brands | Director of Contracting
Challenges vary by market and region, with changing demographics, expectations, and external factors constants. In an age of an overwhelming number of choices, standing out on top is a major challenge. Attention to detail is important, whether in research, recognizing niche markets, or understanding the industry’s scope. “It helps to have a Type A personality,” Stephanie jokes. Terrific mentors and colleagues are also contributors to her success.

AmyPerezAmy Perez | Global Tracks | Senior Program Manager
Knowing clients’ needs and matching them with the destination that best fits them in the face of emerging markets is one of Amy’s biggest challenges. Working with an expert staff makes it easier, but developing client relationships is crucial. Seeing students’ excitement is among her job’s greatest rewards, and she loves sharing these experiences. “The way that travelling can open people’s eyes to a whole new outlook on life will never get old,” she says.

AmySpainAmy Spain | Snohomish County Tourism Bureau | Executive Director  
Effective communication and building relationships are cornerstones of Amy’s success. Many in the industry embody hospitality, and many on the path ahead have helped her along. “I have found people gravitate to this industry because they embody the true essence of ‘hospitality,’” she says. “Many have gone the path before me and reached out to help me along.” Among her advice to newcomers: “Get engaged! Don’t be afraid to step up into leadership and strengthen your skills. Be brave. Always be true to yourself and honest with others.”

MaryStachnick2Mary Stachnik | Mayflower Tours | Co-founder
While finding highly effective staff is a challenge for the escorted tour market, Mary and her husband made it part of their business model to provide extensive training and mentoring that lead to a quality product. Mary says that one of the most rewarding aspects of her job is the mentoring aspect, seeing her staff achieve from the efforts she and John have invested in them. She attributes her success to tenacity—identifying a problem, envisioning the solution, and tracing the steps that lead to that solution.

AnbrittAnbritt Stengele | Sports Traveler | President
Anbritt initially intended to establish an online portal for clients to purchase sports-oriented tours, yet discovered a need for someone to plan those tours, too. By providing value-added elements clients couldn’t easily arrange on their own, Sports Traveler is able provide a richer experience for sports enthusiasts. For those who are just starting out in the travel industry, Anbritt says, “You can’t be afraid of working hard. You may have to have two or three jobs,” she said. “Be willing to put in the time, and let things play out.” Working toward goals, noticing opportunities along the way, and willingness to make a big commitment are all factors that contributed to her success.

PhyllisStoller2Phyllis Stoller | Women’s Travel Group | Founder
Phyllis began planning tours in 1992, catering to women with money, education, and time to appreciate travel, but without companions sharing the interest. She takes pride in planning trips to exotic destinations, and accommodating discriminating tastes. She provides clients with reading lists, including iconic books of the region, particularly by female authors, and arranges for speakers to address her groups about cultural topics. Phyllis often reaches out to local experts, in order to provide a richer cultural experience for her clients.

Article written by Jennifer Reynolds, staff writer of Groups Today




0 #5 Phyllis Stoller 2014-05-12 10:49
Thank you for including me and my company. Women Travelers are more than tourists; we are micro Secretaries of State interested in world issues.
0 #4 Phyllis Stoller 2014-05-12 10:47
Thank you Jennifer for including myself and my company. We are dedicated to the needs of women travelers and to their unique perspective on learning about global issues. In a sense women travelers are micro Secretaries of State!
0 #3 Amy L Charles 2014-05-09 10:57
Thank you, Rick and Tom, for your suggestions and input.

There was no oversight or bias in any way, and we realize there are many additional deserving women who weren't part of the Top 14 Most Influential Women in Group Travel. Those featured were nominated by Groups Today readers; the women you've mentioned were not among the names we received for consideration.

(I made the acquaintance of Shannon a few months back, when we sought her input for the LGBT travel article that appeared in the January/Februar y issue. She is delightful!)

Groups Today will continue to showcase and seek insight from people who influence the group travel industry. Thank you all for making the world of travel a better place!


Amy L Charles
Editorial Director
0 #2 Rick Hurlbut 2014-05-08 20:10
Whether through oversight or bias, some very important women organizing specific lesbian travel groups and events are missing from your list.

Judy Dlugacz, Olivia,
Mariah Hanson, The Dinah/Club Skirts,
Shannon Wentworth and Jen Rainen, Sweet,

These are just the 'most influential'. There are scores more lesbians working in group travel.
+1 #1 Tom Merrill 2014-05-08 17:13
This is a wonderful and deserving list, no question and kudos to all included. I would argue, however, that it should include former NTA President and founder of New Horizons Kathy LeTarte who…despite being retired….contin ues to have a remarkable influence on group and performance travel through the many people she trained and mentored over the years that continue the legacy of her values and philosophy of client care in multiple facets of the industry.

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"The only thing we ask is you love our city as much as we do," said Aaron Foley, appointed Neighborhood Storyteller for the city of Detroit and author of the book How to Live in Detroit without Being a Jackass.

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So, I read (most of) Foley's book in preparation for writing this essay.

And I will try to write about Detroit without being a jackass.

According to Foley, Detroit was once a city of 2 million people. Today, it's broke and harbors somewhere around 700,000 residents. (Only an estimated 60 to 80 percent of the city's 139 square miles is occupied.) Detroit was once the mecca of the now-global automotive industry and home of M-1, or Woodward Avenue, the first paved road in the United States. When the auto industry began decentralizing from Detroit between 1945 and 1957, a substantial portion of the population left with the companies. Even Motown moved, to Los Angeles in the 1970s.

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Yet in recent years, it seems the steering wheel may be finally turning around. Motor City and Motown has a new nickname: America's Great Comeback City.

Here's where the tourism industry comes in.

The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) recognizes tourism as a critical force in sustainable development and livability. Tourism drives economic growth, encourages inclusivity and promotes environmental sustainability.

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I'm going to lose most of my street cred here: I was only introduced to the travel industry on a professional level about a year ago. But in that short time, I've realized that if any group of people is equipped to love a city as much as its citizens do, it's the travel professionals.

I'd wager that's why 200 volunteers from 22 states and 80 companies joined Tourism Cares—the philanthropic community of the tourism industry—in Detroit on May 12, 2017, for the signature event in the Tourism Cares for Our Cities series.

"Detroit was on the top of our wish list from the very beginning," said Jessica Ahern, Director of Events, Tourism Cares. "Detroit is a city with so much to offer—and it's evolving in rich, substantive ways."

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