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The importance of mentoring

I was fortunate enough to be invited by Women In Travel to be a mentor at their session Entrepreneurship in Travel, during this year’s Arabian Travel Market (ATM), Dubai.

As a social enterprise, Women in Travel is dedicated to leveraging the global travel, tourism and hospitality industry and its suppliers, to provide women with the opportunity to fulfil their economic and individual potential.

Before the mentoring session began, I was part of the audience listening to a panel of four women in travel, who provided an extraordinarily honest overview of the challenges they have faced – and still face – working in the travel industry.

As I listened to their stories, I realised these challenges are not just limited to the travel industry, but all industries – because the issues they face are due to how women perceive themselves at work.

One panelist described how, at an interview for the senior position she now holds, she started to list out all the things she wasn’t good at – Excel spreadsheets, reports and so on – rather than focusing on her strengths. We laughed, ruefully, in the audience, as we recognised this character trait in ourselves.

‘Find your tribe’ was one of the key takeaways for helping participants to build confidence in themselves and at work. Surround yourself with women – and men – who are really passionate about something and are doing something about it, who will inspire you.

Include your team as part of your ‘tribe’, too: these are the people you work closely with, day by day, so it’s vital to support and nurture each other, so you can each develop, both professionally and on a personal level.

In this section, I will look at the outcomes of the mentoring session that followed

For me, Arabian Travel Market (ATM), Dubai used to mean working through the night to write, edit and approve numerous pages of copy, that would be sent to the printer’s by 2am, for distribution by 9am the following morning to all show exhibitors and visitors.

In another life, I was the Editor of TTG (Travel Trade Gazette) Middle East & North Africa. As the official media partner of ATM, TTG MENA launched the show dailies. Once a year, I went from producing a monthly magazine, with an average pagination of 60 pages, to churning out three dailies on site, topping more than 100 pages each in their prime, as well as delivering that month’s bumper ATM issue, with a limited team and to very tight, inflexible deadlines.

The pain and sleepless nights were worth it, as we watched the dailies increase in size and popularity each year, as more exhibitors wanted to get involved and feature their success stories.

I remembered all this as I attended ATM this year – not as an editor (I crossed to the ‘dark side’ of PR several years ago), but as a mentor, to women in travel. What experiences could I share with young women, entrepreneurs and those with business challenges, that would really benefit them and help shape their decisions?

As it turned out, I learned a lot from the women I was surrounded by, who shared their stories on how they are developing new, or established, businesses to keep up with the times and reach the right target audiences. There were participants from Russia, Kazakhstan, the UAE, the UK and countries, but they all shared a common thread: as female professionals, we face similar challenges in the workplace that test our confidence in our own abilities, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Just meeting like-minded people and sharing information, experiences and advice, gave me a new spring in my step, not least as I left ATM with not a page of copy in sight!

Sarah Longbottom is Director of Strategy & Planning at Cicero & Bernay Public Relations, an independent PR agency headquartered in Dubai offering new-age public relations consultancy to the UAE and across the MENA region. | www.cbpr.me