Looking for inspiration? Whether you’re trying to get out there and travel more or you’re a creator or travel industry professional, these women are leading the way. From challenging the industry to be better to forging a whole new path for women travelers, each of these 25 women is positively impacting the world of travel right now.
Every one of these women is also a 2021 Finalist for the Bessie Awards by Wanderful. Follow them for inspiration and motivation!
About the Bessie Awards
The Bessie Awards honor women of impact in travel, particularly influencers, creative entrepreneurs, marketers, and industry members who add a compelling voice to the industry.
The awards are named after Bessie Coleman, the first woman of African American and Native American descent to hold a pilot’s license. Invoking the spirit of Ms. Coleman, these travel industry awards honor the truly creative work of some of the incredible thought leaders and innovators in travel. Wanderful hopes that, by showcasing such work, we can inspire more builders in the travel space to contribute their voices.
The Bessie Awards value the contributions of diverse women and nonbinary people of all ages and backgrounds who represent us as a community of travelers.
Attend the Bessie Awards LIVE on 23 April 2021!
Check out the full list of Bessie Awards winners and current Finalists
As a photographer, Erin is passionate about learning and sharing stories from all over this world, particularly those that have a deep connection to this planet and its people, and has shot for clients like Adobe, Sony, and tourism boards across the US. In Our Nature, the mini-series Sullivan hosts for REI, she dives into questions about the future of the outdoors. When the pandemic hit, Erin challenged herself to create adventures from entirely within her apartment. “Our Great Indoors” quickly went from personal project to international news. She has learned that life itself provides each of us with an interdisciplinary education and encourages us to use it intentionally.
Shivya Nath runs the award-winning travel blog, The Shooting Star. In 2013, she gave up her apartment, sold most of her belongings, stored some in the boot of a friend’s car and hit the road indefinitely. Shivya is a leading advocate of solo, offbeat, vegan and responsible travel. She has appeared on the cover of National Geographic Traveller India and been featured by The Washington Post among travel influencers changing the way we think about the world. During the pandemic, she co-founded Voices of Rural India – a passion project that leverages digital storytelling to create alternate livelihoods in remote, rural communities across India.
Glo Atanmo is a creative entrepreneur and online educator, starting her career as a travel blogger, venturing to over 80 countries across 6 continents and telling the stories of destinations around the world. She’s landed features in Forbes, Oprah Magazine, Conde Nast, Essence, BBC, and is now the host of “The Glo Show” podcast. She’s authored a book, spoken on many stages, hosted international retreats and conferences, and now focuses on using her digital platform to leverage unity through her lessons of life and business wisdom.
Related: 39 Black Women Travel Influencers
Even the most well-meaning traveler may find themselves unconsciously (or consciously) contributing to racism in the world. Alex Temblador, Mixed Latinx freelance travel writer and award-winning author, covers some questions travelers can ask to adjust their habits and contribute to a higher standard of travel. Alex is a finalist for her article “Questions Every Anti-Racist Traveler Should Ask on a Trip” published in Conde Nast Traveler.
Alicia A. Wallace is a women’s rights activist, public educator, movement builder, and writer from The Bahamas. She is the Director of Hollaback! Bahamas — part of a global movement to end street harassment — and uses the platform to broaden discussions on feminism and gender-based violence and discrimination. She serves as the Regional Coordinator of Hollaback! Caribbean, and has designed a safe space training program and designation system for the region. Alicia is also Director of Equality Bahamas which promotes women’s rights as human rights. Alicia is a Bessie Awards finalist for her article “The Racist Cost of a Pandemic Vacation in The Bahamas” published in Momentum on Medium.
Amber Lucas is an influencer and content strategist specializing in creative storytelling, digital marketing, and social media. Her brand, A*Mused Blog is where she shares what she is passionate about: Lifestyle in Sonoma County, wine, skincare, and BIPOC representation within these industries. Amber is a finalist for her article “I’ve Supported the Wine Industry for Years, Why Won’t it Support Me?” published in KQED.
Colleen Cannon founded Women’s Quest after a highly successful career as a professional triathlete. In her racing days, she was World Champion in 1984 and National Champion in 1988 and 1990. She was also a multiple U.S. National team member.
In 1992, Colleen founded Women’s Quest with the desire to ignite a spark and passion in people for the outdoors, their own bodies, and their spirits. She wanted to create a safe environment for women to experience new kinds of activities and was the first woman to put together transformational travel retreats that combined physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
Now, 30 years later, Colleen has traveled all over the globe, leading retreats to unite and empower women. From Costa Rica to Iceland to Peru to Bhutan and beyond, Women’s Quest gives back to every community that they work with. Their newest endeavor, the Quest online membership, continues to do so virtually.
Mrs. Neelam Khanna
Mrs. Neelam Khanna is an eminent name in the field of art, design and wellness. An alumnus of the esteemed Welham Girls’ High School, Dehradun, Mrs. Khanna is a luxury connoisseur, with an illustrious career spanning over 40 years.
She started her career as an entrepreneur of hand-woven textiles. She followed that up with a long relationship with the prestigious Oberoi Group of hotels, where she was involved in curating stunning art spaces in the lobbies and guest rooms of Oberoi and Trident hotels, across India. She has also been at the helm of luxury apparel and publishing businesses, the most recent one being the launch of Hermes in India in 2008.
Mrs. Khanna co-founded India’s pioneer destination spa Ananda in the Himalayas with her husband two decades ago, and set on to create a world class wellness retreat. It’s her fine aesthetics that adorn the walls of this palatial palace and spa; right from the earthy tones, the nature inspired wall art and the royal hues. Her eye for detail and elegant, minimalistic design is what sets her personal style apart, and gives her the discerning creative flair. Mrs. Khanna’s personal interest in holistic wellness has been instrumental in shaping the wellness offerings at the award-winning Ananda in the Himalayas. She also went on to launch the Ananda Spa Institute in 2008, which trains students from India and several international countries as certified therapists in Ayurveda and other traditional wellness therapies.
Alessandra Alonso is the founder of Women in Travel CIC, a social enterprise dedicated to empowering women through employability and entrepreneurship in travel, tourism and hospitality. In January 2020, she also launched the first International Women in Travel and Tourism Forum that took place in Iceland and at which the First Lady gave her key note. Alessandra has dedicated over 15 years to supporting women in the sector, first within gender consulting boutique Shine and more recently launching social enterprise Women in Travel.
Gabby Beckford is a Gen Z travel expert, content creator, and solo female travel expert behind Packs Light. At 25, Gabby is a (recently) full-time digital nomad and travel creative. She made her transition only 2 weeks before COVID-19 struck and despite the pandemic whirlwind, she’s continued to help young women see the world with her weekly-shared Funded Travel Opportunities, written the GoRemote Guide to help other creatives secure remote work and travel intentionally in 2021, and continued to live her mission of seeking risk, seizing opportunity, and seeing the world. She’s been featured in publications like The New York Times, Good Morning America, National Geographic, and Forbes.
Wanda Duncan broke up with America, and has been working online and traveling since 2016. While traveling, she craved community, and created a Facebook group, Black Women Digital Nomad Entrepreneurs. She had long wanted to get the ladies from her group together, and in 2020 launched International Black Women Travel Jubilee, an annual travel conference that centers and empowers Black women travelers, content creators, and digital nomads. Wanda also loves sharing in-depth conversations with fellow Black women travelers on the weekly show Black Women Travel Podcast, which has been covered by Travel Noire three times, AFAR, BBC Radio, and Travel Massive.
Rani Cheema is the CEO & Culinary Travel Curator at Cheema’s Travel. Rani grew up immersed in the hotbed of international eats, born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens. After graduating from The School of Visual Arts she began her dream career as an art director at the Food Network. After 5 years of her as an art director and her entire life living in NYC, she picked up and moved to Dhaka, Bangladesh to design textiles, then Lugo, Spain and Gwangju, South Korea to teach English, before returning to the U.S.
She came back determined to build a business helping others explore the world through gastronomy and deeper connections within a safe space. Cheema’s Travel’s group trips are for all folx with some being for self-identifying women. Rani’s been recognized as a Travel + Leisure Rising Star at ILTM Cannes and she holds a seat on the Advisory Board for Teens Of Color Abroad, a non-profit that makes the world accessible to Black & brown teens. Rani also trains and mentors other female travel agents because “we need more women living in their desire and dreams”.
Jenny Bruso is the founder of Unlikely Hikers. She identifies as a white, queer, fat, femme, writer, hiker, and group hike leader. Jenny has CPTSD and it affects every part of her life. A late bloomer to the outdoors, it wasn’t until 2012 that she went on the hike that would change the course of her life from career waitress to outdoor leader and advocate for underrepresented outdoorspeople. Jenny believes the outdoors should be for EVERYBODY and EVERY BODY.
One century ago, in 1921, Bessie Coleman became the first African American female to earn an international pilot’s license. She was a true trailblazer, exemplifying determination, resilience and genius in her quest to break barriers and prove the impossible – possible.
The mission at Afro-Latino Travels with Kim Haas, a new, ground breaking PBS travelogue, is to fly like Bessie, showcasing Latin America’s Afro descendent trailblazers introducing television audiences to the Afro-Latino artists, writers, chefs/cooks, dancers, singers, environmental conservationists and so many others who despite the turbulence, soar above the clouds, inspire and thrive.
Sara Mansouri and Lola Akinmade Åkerström
Founded by Lola Akinmade Åkerström and Sara Mansouri, Sweden-based Local Purse supports travel guides, cultural artisans, and local vendors by providing a web-based platform to faciliate live video shopping experiences. The startup has just released two fully vetted live shopping experiences and is currently onboarding and vetting more partners and destinations for both one-to-one experiences and events.
Related: Introducing Local Purse
Stephanie Flor is the Founder of Around the World Beauty, a global beauty community and beauty tour company whose mission it is to enrich and empower you to redefine beauty. To embrace beauty as diverse, inclusive and ethical. And to discover what Beauty means for you.
They guide women around the globe on exclusive beauty journeys, curated to immerse them into the world’s most vibrant cultures. To date, they have successfully hosted beauty journeys to India, Morocco, Ecuador, Tanzania and Costa Rica with 100’s of women. In 2020 they launched a product line inspired by our destinations for a staycation that also gives back. They were featured in Forbes and Yahoo Life.
Emilie Bridon and Erika Takeuchi
In 2020, Emilie Bridon and Erika Takeuchi launched TROVE, a subscription and gift box for the travel-lover. Born out of a love of discovery, each box takes TROVE Travelers to a new city, immersing them in the culture through multiple hands-on experiences led by experts of the region as well as an assortment of locally-sourced foods and goodies. 20% of company profits are donated back to the featured small businesses to aid in lifting up the local artisans and chefs. TROVE has taken its travelers to Florence, Italy, Kyoto, Japan, and Seattle, Washington.
Preeti Suri is Founder & CEO at AdventureTripr, an online platform to explore and book extraordinary outdoor experiences designed by local experts and guides. Preeti is on a mission to make the outdoors accessible to everyone and believes adventuring should be affordable, simple, and credible. Getting outside shouldn’t be complicated or intimidating! AdventureTripr aims to provide people education and opportunities to head out safely with confidence in what they’re doing even if it’s not something they’ve had the opportunity or been able to do before. Their trips are planned by experts so they are personalized, ensuring a positive experience and creating a desire to adventure and get outside more.
Related: Latinx Travel Influencers to Follow
Anna Ford and Erica Eliot
Anna Ford and Erica Eliot are two of the three Co-Founders of Jet-Set Offset, an aviation-focused start-up with a mission to decarbonize travel. Their technology tools make it easy for individuals and businesses to reduce, track, and mitigate their travel-based carbon emissions. Anna Ford is a climate activist and change agent with deep experience building public/private partnerships; Erica Eliot a communications and marketing professional with a background in non-profits and sustainability.
Yaa Priscilla Birago and Diana Obeng
Yaa Birago and Diana Obeng are Co-Founders of Femmebnb, a social networking vacation rental platform that alleviates safety issues associated with women who travel. Femmebnb helps them rent spaces from other women to maximize safety, along with providing a 24/7 AI-Powered Travel Assistant (companion) to help women plan their trips from start to end. In addition, the platform is designed for women to connect with other women around the world through ‘HerCommunity’. HerCommunity is a unique online space that helps women travelers find travel buddies and friends in real-time no matter where they are. And, most importantly, the folks at Femmebnb believe in paying it forward! For every transaction on their platform, a portion will be used to provide menstrual equity, menstrual hygiene education, and products to girls in Africa to help eradicate period poverty.
In January 2020, Victoria O’Connell founded Golightly, a members-only club and global vacation rental platform for women. Golightly came about after she had a terrible experience renting out her London flat on a huge short-term rental site and identifying the need for a platform that simultaneously champions women’s safety in travel and a sense of community. On Golightly, members may list and book within the connected network but they may travel with whomever they wish. Members may also see how they are connected to each other, similar to Linkedin, which adds an additional layer of accountability. While the company launched right before the pandemic it has grown despite it, now having over 5,000 members across 74 countries.
Join us at the 2021 Bessie Awards!
All WITS Online attendees are invited to attend the awards ceremony
Looking for travel inspiration? Wanderful is a global community for travel-loving women. Connect with us!