People & Stories

Recognising women in business: Trafalgar's Rita Kelly

To recognise International Women’s Day 2020, we wanted to shine a spotlight on some of the incredible women who make up the Trafalgar family. Whether leading teams in our offices around the world, or helping to deliver the very best travel experiences on the road, the women of Trafalgar challenge gender stereotypes, champion each other and pave for the way for other women within the travel industry, all whilst being supported by a business that has celebrated and recognised women for 100 years – The Travel Corporation.

In this three part special, we’ll be showcasing 3 extraordinary ladies who have seen their lives changes and blossom whilst working for TTC. Ladies who lead by example, and who inspire others through their tenacity and passion.

In this edition, we sit down with Rita Kelly, VP of Marketing and Communications for Trafalgar USA, who has been with TTC for other 6 years…

rita kelly

What does your daily job entail?

I help inspire Americans to travel and empower them to book their trip. Some may not be aware that we are the best way to travel so it’s my responsibility to create the strategic marketing plans for the US audience to ensure that we are driving demand for those looking to travel.

I oversee all marketing strategy, planning and implementation for three of our beloved TTC brands -Trafalgar, Costsaver and Brendan Vacations. I help contribute to global marketing plans and provide requirements and enhancement recommendations for better online conversions. I evaluate and with my team, help improve the customer journey from online lead generation and acquisition to booking and post booking nurture to exceed repeat guests.  

What has kept you with TTC for so long?

I have never really been an avid traveller, it just wasn’t a thing within my family. I was born in Lebanon and came to the US when I was four years old, so times were tough and resources were limited. As I got older, like most Americans, I thought a staycation or a flop and drop trip to Cabo was the full extent of travel.

Then, I discovered Ireland and Amsterdam in my early 20s when I planned a trip with friends. It was a lot of work planning that trip and when people asked me if I saw this or that on my trip, (besides Temple Bar of course), I couldn’t recall what I saw. So when I first started with Contiki (TTC’s youth brand) as the Director of Marketing in 2014, I discovered a whole new world when it came to travel, literally. I had no idea what a guided vacation was, and instantly had regrets about turning 36 that year, as Contiki only caters for guests up to 35.

I made a commitment to myself then, that I would ensure that Americans became aware of the amazing brands that TTC has to offer and that we truly are empowering people and enabling them to travel and see the world. The opportunities we bring and what we do has kept me with TTC for so long.

How has TTC enabled your career to flourish?

Working in the advertising and digital agency world for 15 years, my ultimate career goal was to one day work on the brand side but only if it was a brand or product that I was passionate about. Leaving the creativity and the innovation that agency life fulfilled for me was going to be my biggest miss.

However, in 2014, when I accepted the position to head up marketing for Contiki USA, I saw how quickly it was accepted to flex my direct consumer experience and digital campaign ideas and saw a shift in strategy with this brand that the company quickly adopted and encouraged. It was then that I knew I had made the right choice and that I didn’t need to work at an advertising or digital agency to get that same fulfilment. I just needed a company that believed in me and my skillset to allow me to flourish and gave me the tools to succeed.

Fast forward four years, I jumped on the opportunity (still within TTC) to become VP of Marketing for three other remarkable sister brands, Trafalgar, Costsaver and Brendan Vacations – all with their own brand identities and brand voice, not to mention a visionary global CEO, Gavin Tollman, who I continue to be inspired by daily as he is never afraid to push the envelope in the pursuit of making travel dreams come true. I use my creativity, strategic mind, and get to work with an incredible team who I call my family that I am so proud of. They challenge me daily and encourage me to bring forth my best self.

How do you think you have changed personally during your time with TTC?

I feel like I’ve grown from being a manager to now a leader. I surround myself with smart people who balance each other’s skillsets and I love watching my team develop and grow.

I am surrounded by so many powerful women at TTC who take charge and lead by example. I am encouraged to challenge the team and myself daily, and I’m not afraid to speak up and have a voice. I do not accept the answer “because we’ve always done it this way”.

Earlier in my career, I used to think that becoming a mom would hinder my career just with the stigma that came with it – you would always be letting someone down – whether your kid, your husband, your employer. However, TTC has shifted that mindset for me. I became pregnant while working for the business and am now a mother of a four-year-old. TTC allowed me to flourish as a mother and I now bring back from my work travels the culture and depth that I can share with my husband, Shawn, and our daughter, Ava. It has made me a better wife, a better mom, and a better human.

rita and family

How does it feel to look around and see so many strong female leaders in the business? What kind of message does that send to the travel industry, and to young women in business?

I always believed that a woman alone has power, but collectively women can make an impact. In the past, women in the workforce would compete with one another since there was less opportunity to climb the ladder, but today we as women recognize that we benefit more from collaboration over competition. I see that more than ever at TTC, and especially within Trafalgar, and I lean so much on the incredible women that surround me on my marketing team and our leadership team. We lift each other up, rather than push each other down.

Is there one woman in the business you particularly look up to – someone who has acted as a mentor for you?

There are so many strong females that I look up to and am surrounded by daily at TTC, but one is a standout to me, Melissa DaSilva. She is the Alpha Woman at the top of my list who I admire as a business professional, a mom and a superhuman. If I can only be half the woman she is, then that would make me feel accomplished. She opened the TTC door for me and has continued to open doors that have led me to my success.

Do you think the travel industry is a place of opportunity for women, more so than other industries?

Women are transforming the face of the travel industry. Most travel brands are marketing directly to females, not only because they are responsible for most of the travel decisions made for their families, but also because solo travel is a growing trend amongst women. It only makes sense that this is a place of opportunity for women because we don’t have to try and figure out what women want; we know what they want.

As a Mum, what do you hope the future has in store for young children, and particularly young girls?

I read this statement somewhere and I loved the sentiment, “Women bring discovered joys to all who possess that same adventurous spirit, to bring them back to themselves, a new and improved person. That is a thing of beauty.”

I want my daughter, Ava, to find beauty in things and people and grow up to be a strong independent woman. I want her to be confident and surround herself with people who will respect her and listen to her ideas.

I believe that travel changes you and makes you a better human being so I encourage families to travel more with their children to show them the world, and what better way to do that then together.

rita and daughter
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