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Beth O’Donnell, Senior Vice President of The Travel TeamREG recently had the opportunity to connect with Beth O’Donnell, Co-President of The Travel Team (TTT). We talked about her career path, views on leadership, and the ongoing challenges facing the travel industry. Don’t worry, we also asked about her favorite travel memories and unchecked destinations on her bucket list!

Beth’s introduction to the travel industry came early in life. She worked part time at a travel agency in the mall during high school. Those early insights ignited a genuine excitement and intrigue in exploring unknown destinations that remain at the heart of Beth’s passion for travel.

“I always make sure to stop and take things in when I’m traveling, especially for business,” remarked Beth. “Meeting people and experiencing new cultures is amazing, and then realizing that you can help other people have those same feelings is what makes this career rewarding.”

Beth joined The Travel Team in 1996 as an Accounting Assistant and quickly advanced into a full time Accounting Manager role. As the agency grew through various acquisitions, Beth moved into Director and Vice President positions, a time during which she gained great knowledge about agency operations and the industry itself.

“Once I started getting more exposure to management meetings and having interactions with leadership at Rich’s, I knew I needed to get my advanced degree,” explained Beth. “I returned to school and a lot of things clicked for me.”

Beth balanced a career and a growing family while attending school part time on nights and weekends. She earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting and then graduated with honors from the Executive MBA program at the University at Buffalo.

In her 20+ year career, Beth has seen her share of challenge and change in the travel industry, but nothing would surpass those imposed by the global pandemic.

“The upheaval caused by the pandemic was the most significant challenge we’ve faced,” said Beth. “Not only from a financial perspective, but the enormous effect it had on people in the hospitality industry and their careers. We had to make a lot of difficult decisions to ensure we had a path to recovery. We have a fantastic group of people, and we learned a lot about ourselves and the value of teamwork and perseverance.”

Having successfully navigated the pandemic, Beth sees three ongoing industry challenges. First, travel restrictions due to economic and political instability will continue, as will safety and security concerns. In addition, the industry faces growing pressure to reduce its carbon footprint and protect natural habitats. Finally, Beth predicts that technology-related concerns, such as cybersecurity risks, data privacy concerns, increased complexity, and short-term inefficiencies, will contribute to disrupt the industry.

Regardless of what lies ahead, The Travel Team is actively engaging in strategies to mitigate and manage challenges, while continuing to deliver exceptional customer experiences.  On the corporate travel side, we joined the Global Business Travel Network (GBTN) as a founding member, eligible to leverage American Express’ vast global supplier network and technology solutions.

A partnership with Virtuoso gives TTT’s vacation clients access to exclusive benefits including a network of vetted travel suppliers, exclusive amenities, personalized services, and global connections, as well as special promotions and discounts.

“We have access to an incredible global network of partners who are in-destination,” explained Beth. “That means if you’re looking for a restaurant in Positano, a transfer in Montreal, or a snorkeling charter in Turks & Caicos, we have first-hand, up-to-date, local knowledge to create truly memorable experiences for you and your family.”

Speaking of memorable experiences, we asked Beth about her personal adventures, and the Amalfi coast tops her list of favorite locales, for the views, the food and the wine! She said there are still many places she’d like to visit; but Bora Bora has been on her bucket list since she was a teenager.

Here are some other highlights from our conversation with Beth:

Tell us about your first job and what you learned from it? 

I worked for a non-profit at a high-technology incubator program affiliated with the University at Buffalo. I learned about the importance of innovation and how people with great ideas and passion can be supported by community and business leaders, not only financially but with their wealth of business knowledge and connections. Mentoring is a real key to success.

What are some of the most important/impactful lessons you have learned during your time at The Travel Team?

I would have to say that the values of the Rich Promise have been the most impactful lessons learned during my time at The Travel Team, a subsidiary of Rich Products. Especially the commitment to doing what’s right – that integrity matters – and treating those around you with respect, the way you expect to be treated.

What is your “Why”? What gets you up in the morning?  

I love working with the people I’m fortunate to call teammates. We help people get from point A to B every single day. We have a chance to make a difference with their journey, especially when things are not so perfect. The number of notes we get from appreciative travelers is what makes it all worthwhile.

What is a typical day like for you? 

I always start out the day reading. Financial news, industry press, trends in travel technology. As with most industries right now, the pace of change is astonishing. 

Who would you say has had the greatest influence on you as a leader and why? 

There have been so many people, especially Mindy and Bob Rich, who have always been so supportive and inspirational. But I would say that the person who I have interacted with the most, and who provided the greatest influence is Joe Segarra. Joe has always been an extraordinary leader, from the beginning of my journey, all the way through to today. Down to earth and incredibly smart, Joe always takes the time to listen and truly learn our business to provide the right amount of guidance. Even with all the Rich Entertainment Group entities he oversees, he takes the time to know our associates by name and asks about them frequently. He is genuinely the best.

What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time? 

One of the most important jobs we have as leaders is to understand people and what motivates them to be the best version of themselves – to contribute meaningful work for the company and enjoy what they do. It’s not a one size fits all approach. Encourage individuals to share their thoughts, and listen, listen, listen.

In one sentence, can you tell us what you think is the most important thing about being a leader?

The most important thing about being a great leader is to inspire and empower others, lead by example, and to build trust and effective communication within the team

Now for some fun! We presented Beth with these “first reaction” questions and gave her only one to three words to respond:

  1. Describe The Travel Team in one word?  TEAM
  2. Describe TTT customers in one word?  FANTASTIC
  3. What’s one attribute you look for when hiring an associate? CONFIDENCE
  4. What is the one word you want your customers to say about The Travel Team?  ADAPTABLE – That we make it easy to do business with us, the way they want to do their business.
  5. In three words or less, describe what it takes to be successful?  INTEGRITY, PASSION, RESPONSIVENESS
  6. What is the one word that you believe has the most power in the English language?  CHANGE

To learn more about other members of the Rich Entertainment Group (REG) leadership team, check out our interviews with REG President Joe Segarra and Mike Buczkowski, President of Rich Baseball Operations. Stay tuned for future editions of our Leadership Roundtable series, including a conversation with Beth’s Co-President, Luke Thomas.