Business Development | Group Travel Network
Passport stamps from seven continents tell only part Melissa Ardales' story. Travel and adventure have always been in her blood.
She's fortunate to draw from 16 years' experience in the student travel industry, a masters' degree in tourism from Colorado State University—completed in nine months during a cross-country move—and invaluable lessons learned from travel.
"I grew up traveling the Pacific Northwest for horse shows and camping with my family at state and national parks," said Ardales, who studied abroad in France during her junior year in college and lived with a host family. "When I traveled to France and Spain at 16, I knew I wanted to continue studying languages well into adulthood."
Ardales' travel experiences helped broaden her perspective of the world. She knew she would always be a lifelong proponent of encouraging others to travel and see the world with their own eyes.
"With group travel, and specifically student group travel, I am reminded of being that 16-year-old girl traveling to a new place for the first time and hope to make it memorable for all students," said Ardales, who lives in Washington State but works in Orlando. "The travel industry is magical in that it bridges the distance gap!"
Ever the adventurist, Ardales co-owns an aerial arts, bellydance, and yoga studio in Washington, and loves to take classes at other circus and aerial arts studios when she travels.
Ardales, who has been to 35 countries and 48 states, believes growth must come from pushing boundaries and looking at things from new perspectives—sometimes upside down!
"The tourism and hospitality industry is the largest industry in the world—from airlines to restaurants to any attractions or lodging, it's huge!" Ardales said, pondering what aspects of the industry intrigue her. "At the same time, it feels small and well connected. Everyone who works in the industry is closely linked. We can all succeed when things are going right, but we are all vulnerable when something in the world or in one sector of the industry doesn't go well."
Travel is still viewed as a luxury item, for the most part, Ardales said, noting it rides the waves of trends, politics, economics, social media, generational perspectives and more.
"It's critical to stay current to these ever-changing trends and realize that this industry is truly better when we work together," said Ardales, who is proud to serve on the Board of Trustees for the SYTA Youth Foundation. "For someone who is fortunate to travel for work and see so many amazing places in the world, I want to do my part to help make that opportunity affordable and available to underprivileged and at-risk youth.
"It literally feels like I am helping to give these students the world."
Melissa Ardales is one of the 2020 Top 10 Next Gens, as nominated by Groups Today readers for making a difference in the industry with her fresh, progressive perspective. Click here to see the January/February magazine.
Written by Sarah Suydam, Staff Writer for Groups Today.