Asia | People & Stories

A chat with Mae Cheah (Trafalgar President for Asia)

Recently updated on October 6th, 2022 at 05:08 pm

This International Women’s Day, we at Trafalgar are celebrating just some of the incredible female leaders within our business. Ours is a brand driven by women, with 83% of our executive team made up of strong, ambitious female leaders.

One of these leaders is Mae Cheah, Trafalgar President for the Asia region. Mae has been with Trafalgar for 8 years and has risen through the ranks to now hold the top role in her region – a feat that is even more impressive given the fact that women in senior management roles are still very much in the minority across Asia.

We caught up with Mae to hear her story…

Mae Cheah

Please introduce yourself to our readers and say who you are, and what you do?

I would describe myself as a professional explorer – I love uncovering the unknown, discovering new places and the hidden secrets of a destination. As President for Trafalgar and Costsaver in Asia, my role is to lead the team to seek new ways to engage and inspire everyone to discover the joy of travel. I believe when travel restarts, we have a huge role to play in delivering stress-free guided holidays and making travel dreams come true.

When did you join the Trafalgar team, and in what role?

It has been eight years since I joined Trafalgar and citing a quote from Izaak Walton, “Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter”.  It still seems just a short while ago when I joined the company as Regional Director of Sales for Asia, and I credit my supportive colleagues in playing such a huge part in my journey and personal growth.

It has been a fulfilling and exhilarating journey of transformation.

Since then, how have you developed through the business?

The reason why I love my job is that everyday is a new adventure and no two days are alike. I have also been fortunate to be in an organisation that encourages ambition and to strive for the best results possible. One of my most valuable lessons, from our CEO Gavin Tollman, is to constantly challenge the status quo and raise the bar. By seeking new ways to challenge myself and the team here in Asia, I have seen great success in creating new opportunities, and have also found new ways to help our travel agent partners grow as well. Most recently, we launched our first “Near Not Far” domestic tours here in Singapore, where we had to pivot our business to helping locals rediscover their own backyard.  

Mae Cheah

How do you feel the business has supported you on your journey to where you are now?

Trafalgar’s unwavering support and trust in my abilities to lead the brand in Asia, has had a profound effect on my determination. Having a nurturing environment within business is something I truly appreciate.

Are there any particular women within the business who have inspired you along the way?

Inspire is a strong word for me and not one that I would throw around lightly. Melissa da Silva, President USA for Trafalgar, Costsaver, Brendan Vacation and Contiki, has always inspired me since I first met her in 2018 at our global leadership conference. In an industry dominated by men, Melissa is a steadfast woman who works both behind and on the frontline of the travel industry. She creates impressive, inspiring work and initiatives across all the brands under her helm.

Is it common to see many women in leadership roles in Asia?

We have come a long way from where we were, and slowly but surely we are seeing an increase of women in leadership roles across industries. Within ASEAN countries (Southeast Asian Nations) over the past year alone, the number of women in senior management has increased from 28% to 35%.

I’m proud to say that within the Trafalgar team here in Asia, we are far exceeding these numbers. 80% of my team are women, and our executive team is 100% women.

Trafalgar is well and truly paving the way for women to grow into leadership roles and I am proud to work with these capable and passionate ladies who have great potential to be tomorrow’s leaders.

What can be done to help increase the number of leadership roles available to women within the travel industry?

We can increase awareness about the benefits of gender diversity. Studies have shown that gender diversity within a business results in better financial performance, access to resources, and creates more ideas and insights. It also serves a more diverse customer base. We can introduce a mentoring program within the industry to ensure younger women are guided to achieve their highest potential and be positioned for leadership roles. 

Mae Cheah

Why do you think it is so important for younger women within the business to see strong female leaders like yourself?

It is important to have a culture where women are equally represented in the workforce – something that is sadly still lacking here in Asia. For young women to know that they have the potential to grow into strong leaders, they must first set different expectations for themselves. When women have access to strong female leaders, as they do here at Trafalgar, they can be nurtured and encouraged to reach their full potential, but they need to be surrounded by that specific mindset through better support, mentorship and networking. 

Do you feel proud of yourself for all that you have achieved to date?

Looking back, I am very proud of the key milestones in my career… but I also believe that there is always a higher bar to reach, and I’ll never stop trying to reach it!

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