Elske Doets, director of Doets Reizen is truly an inspiring Dutch travel entrepreneur. In 2017, she was named ‘Businesswoman of the Year’; she gives speeches, inspires people, writes and raises important social issues whenever she can. Being a good employer, over-tourism, social impact, developing female talent, the future of society and the economy – these are just some of the topics that are close to her heart. We talk to her in the run-up to the Travel Congress 2023.
Doets Reizen is a dynamic and very ambitious company. In addition, as a person, you speak out about many other relevant issues and have recently founded a social start-up. How are the travel industry and these social issues linked for you, and where do you see the impact of this “cross-pollination”?
“Doets Reizen is the basis, and in addition, I run the Young Lady Business Academy. After I was named ‘Businesswoman of the Year’ (in 2017), I founded the Academy, which now already has 500 alumni. It is giving back in a way that is not related to my business. Many entrepreneurs do not find such a side business without a direct link to travel very interesting, but social involvement makes you an attractive employer for the younger generations. It has taught me to look at the social urgency of issues such as ageing, climate, diversity and inclusiveness. The Academy inspired me to found the start-up BuddyBold, which pairs younger buddies with elderly people who are still living at home or in care facilities. It’s a totally different business, but as an entrepreneur from outside the field you can make a real difference.”
It is fair to say that this is a disruptive time for the travel industry. Being sensitive to the social discussion is a challenge, but also offers opportunities for the travel industry. Where do you see the biggest positive changes when it comes to embracing change in travel companies?
“Generally, the travel industry very much lives in its own bubble, and has its eyes closed to external threats. Sustainability is often not given the attention that it needs, and many companies feel that tourism also supports the local economy. That is a short-term point of view; it’s whitewashing yourself, as tourism is also destructive. We still have too many people in the industry with blinkers on, and are hesitant to take the next step. It takes courage to turn a negative impact into a positive impact. If we would take this issue more seriously, we ourselves will also be taken more seriously by politicians the next time we face a pandemic or other disruption. It’s time to stop frolicking around Disneyland; the happy, smiley Mickey Mouse stories need to be put aside and we have take the time to make sense of the threats the industry is facing.”
Continuing to innovate using creativity and entrepreneurship is essential, but also challenging. We also face internal challenges. As a travel company, what topic is high on your agenda as a stepping stone to becoming a sustainable employer in this sector?
“I think diversity and inclusiveness are important. It is an industry with a lot of young women and there is little cultural diversity. The industry also lost its shine during the COVID crisis, and it is no longer an industry that people are immediately attracted to. We need to speed things up again, to get and keep people on board, also from outside the travel industry. And that includes realising that employees deserve to be shown appreciation in terms of salary.”
Finally, as an entrepreneur, you are also realistic and critical. What strategic success factors do you see as the drivers of future-proof business models in the travel industry, which, in your opinion, have not yet been sufficiently exploited?
“Travel has been way too cheap. People and Planet must be included in the price, to create room to innovate in the future. A trip or vacation should obviously continue to fulfil people’s need to connect with themselves and others, but it does not have to involve a far-flung destination: there are plenty of destinations nearby. We are moving from unlimited and cheap mobility to limited mobility, and that makes scarcity of supply and demand an interesting business case.”
13:30 - 14:15 (NL) Talkshow: how are we going to make our industry more sustainable?
15:30 - 16:00 (NL) A conversation with Elske Doets, Stef Driessen, Paul Peeters and Fenny Koppen about True Pricing.
In addition to being the founder of the Young Lady Business Academy (non-profit) and the socially engaged start-up Buddybold, Elske Doets has been the owner of Doets Travel for 20 years. She has an independent spirit and a clear view of the future of society and the economy.
Do you want to attend the keynotes of Elske? Order your ticket for Travel Congress here.