In May of this year I went to Puerto Rico to attend a travel conference for the first time. Previously I’d only attended TravelCon, however this one had been on my list for a while. The Women in Travel Summit, also known as WITS, has been a pillar in the travel conference circuit for the past decade. I had heard a lot about it from colleagues, although the pandemic thwarted my attendance for a few years. Now that I’ve experienced it first-hand, here is my unfiltered and honest Women in Travel Summit Conference Review, plus some helpful tips if you’re planning on going.
What is Wanderful?
Wanderful is a global community of like-minded travellers and travel content creators. In their words, “Wanderful helps all women travel the world by connecting them to their biggest asset – each other”. They provide online and in-person spaces for women and women-identifying travellers to connect through trips, chapter meetups, virtual events, and the annual WITS conference. Through their network, Wanderful also connects travel content creators to companies. Perhaps most importantly, Wanderful’s mission includes advocacy work as they strive towards making the travel industry more equitable and inclusive.
There are several chapters worldwide, including Wanderful North America chapters like Montréal and Toronto in Canada, Mexico City in Mexico, and several across the United States. There are also local hubs in the Netherlands, Scotland, England, and France, as well as a virtual BIPOC chapter. In total, there are 36 local and virtual Wanderful groups.
What is the Women in Travel Summit?
The Women in Travel Summit is a travel conference for both lay travellers and travel creators, as well as the DMOs (destination marketing organizations) and businesses seeking working partnerships. The creator summit brings media and creators together and also provides a forum for female-identifying travellers to gather and explore a new location. There are a mixture of keynote speakers, breakout sessions, panel discussions, evening events, and tours offered over the 3-day conference. Lunches are provided. Dinners are not, which is perfect because it’s an opportunity to explore the local food scene!
Where and When is the Conference?
The next annual North America Women in Travel Summit conference is being held in Salt Lake City, Utah in April of 2024. Generally, the North American conferences are held in the spring. Past WITS conferences have been held in Québec City, Kansas City, Portland (Maine), Milwaukee, Irvine, Boston, and Chicago. There have also been 2 European editions held in late fall in Riga, Latvia in 2019 and Gdansk, Poland in 2022.
Who Are Past Speakers at the Women in Travel Summit?
Each year, the Women in Travel Summit invites an impressive and diverse roster of speakers ranging in expertise from content creation, hotels, publishing, and tourism offices around the world. A few of the past speakers have included award-winning author and photographer Lola Akinmade, award-winning PBS TV Host Mickela Mallozzi of the amazing show Bare Feet, Emmy-award-winning producer Lisa Lubin, and fellow Canadian / former French teacher / travel content creator and Emmy-award-winning TV host Oneika Raymond.
Conference “Dos” and “Don’ts”
DO: Stay at the Conference Hotel (maybe)
I’ll start this suggestion by saying I’ve stayed at both conference hotels and off-site hostels or vacation rentals. Let’s go over the pros and cons for each option, shall we? Staying off-site is likely to cost a heckuva lot less than staying at the conference resort or hotel. It is definitely the driving force behind my decision to do so in the past. That being said, what I saved in cash, I lost in time and convenience, as is usually the trade-off in life. It wasn’t the end of the world, but it was a pain to walk 40 minutes round-trip from the conference to the hostel to change for evening events or to grab something I forgot. I was also sometimes late to events because I wanted to drop off my laptop instead of dragging it around all night. The downside here is the time lost getting to know people since you only have 3 days with them. The flip side of the to-and-fro is that it can be a great time to decompress and get fresh air after spending hours in over-air-conditioned rooms. I don’t think it needs to be mentioned but, just in case, there is absolutely no shame in making the most cost-effective decision. In fact, own it! The travel industry is full of budget-minded individuals so it’s probable that you’ll meet several other conference attendees staying off-site.
Moving on to the next choice. The 2 biggest pros to staying where the conference is held have already been mentioned: time and convenience. The most obvious downside is the their ridiculous price, even with conference discounts. This is especially true for us Canadians when conferences are in the States or Europe. Now, travellers are a crafty, resourceful bunch so it’s no surprise that there are ways to mitigate the cost. If you know others attending the conference or those whose travels overlap in time and place, ask if they’re open to sharing a room. If you don’t know anyone attending, it’s still a great idea. How are you supposed to find people to share with? Oftentimes there are Facebook groups so that attendees can connect before, during, and after the conference. It’s quite common to find roommates in these online groups. If you’re worried about getting along with strangers, arrange a video call beforehand to see how you jive or don’t, and just know that after the 3 days are up you never have to see them again!
On the plus side, staying on-site makes life so easy. Too cold and want a jacket? Run upstairs and grab it. Tired of lugging around your water bottle or feel like a snack? Upstairs ya go. Need a power nap to recharge? Head upstairs! You get the gist. If plans change last minute and you don’t have wifi or someone forgets to contact you, you also won’t lose the group while staying on-site. The list of scenarios that make staying at the conference hotel convenient are endless.
Ultimately you need to make the best decision for your scenario. Depending where your values lay for cost, privacy, convenience, and so on, whatever decision you make will be just dandy.
DO: Know Your Conference “Why”
Perhaps this seems obvious, but I’m including it nonetheless. People attend conferences for different reasons: business networking, to explore a new place, to reconnect with friends, to learn new skills or improve areas of expertise, to market themselves, etc… Hopefully you have an idea of your intentions when you purchase the ticket. Similarly to setting SMART goals, it’s easier to evaluate if a conference was worth it when you go in with a game plan.
Once you know your why, it can be helpful to prep before arriving. Research the speakers if you’re not familiar with them, check out the schedule to make sure sessions you’re interested in don’t overlap, and keep an eye out to know if there will be recordings available afterwards. If you’re able to extend your travels by a few days, I would highly suggest signing up for FAM trips, tours, and other extra conference activities. Make sure to do this as soon as they open up because they fill up quickly.
DO: Get Your WITS Ticket at a Discount or for Free
We’ve tackled the options to reduce accommodation costs, but conference tickets sometimes aren’t so cheap either. Never fear, friends! There’s more than one way to peel an orange. If you’re attending as a business owner, keep in mind that it’s a business expense. If you’re attending as an employee of a company, it’s likely that they will cover costs. There are always (dare I say always?) discounted or tiered tickets. Look for speaker discount codes, early bird pricing, and hop on newsletter lists to get the scoop before the general public. The ultimate conference money-saving hack is to volunteer and attend for free. Yup – free! If this is appealing, get on that mailing list to receive notifications for when to sign up or email the organizers directly.
DO: Get Outside Your Comfort Zone
It can be intimidating going to a conference alone. It can also be brilliant. Like travel, when you’re with a partner, or friend, or group, you don’t meet as many people because you have a built-in social system. Go alone to the conferences. Meet new people! Many attendees are in the same position and willing to talk to strangers. In addition to making friends, get outside of your comfort zone and practice your elevator pitch. There’s nothing like repetition to smooth out rough edges. If you’re open to it, there’s also a lot of opportunity for constructive feedback. Next, even if your numbers are low schedule business meetings at the conference markets. If anything, it will be great practice for introducing yourself, learning how to inquire what DMOs are looking for, and building relationships in your industry. A friendly, genuine conversation goes a long way!
DO: Pack Layers
Puerto Rico is a HOT place, but anyone who’s attended a conference before will tell you that those rooms are COLD! Regardless of the conference destination, pack layers. Also, bring a reusable water bottle, wherever you’re travelling.
DON’T: Base Your Value on Stats Alone
Controversial take: numbers aren’t everything. Before you come at me, they are important. But they aren’t everything. I know first-hand how much imposter syndrome can hold you back. Heck, I still grapple with it. However, contrary to what our capitalist system preaches, being a likeable, hardworking, trustworthy human is pretty darn valuable. Plus, everyone starts somewhere, and that usually means somewhere small or unknown. Fabulous! Now’s your time to grow, make a ton of mistakes, and build your business. Sign up for the meetings and introduce yourself to colleagues and future business partners. Then keep working your butt off to help your goals take shape.
DON’T: Stay Just for the Conference
Let me say this one nice and loud: extend your conference stay into a vacation or work trip!!! Why not?! You’ve already booked the plane/train/bus tickets, so go out and explore. Even if it’s a place you’ve visited before, give yourself 1 day to arrive and get settled and another to decompress and digest the whirlwind. When I attended the WITS conference in Puerto Rico, you better believe I added extra time. I even tacked on a new work partnership with the fabulous Van del Sol, a campervan company based out of San Juan. I had never been to Puerto Rico, so it was a priority to extend my time on the main island. If you want to catch some of the fun I had working with them, check out this reel.
My Personal Women in Travel Summit Conference Review
Now that you’ve learned about the Wanderful community and WITS, here is my personal Women in Travel Summit conference review. Please keep in mind that this is my opinion and your experience is likely to differ from mine. Overall it was a positive experience at my first WITS. I attended a few helpful presentations, caught up with old friends, visited a new place, and met a lot of interesting individuals. The people were truly what made the conference worthwhile. Discover Puerto Rico was also a fantastic location host, offering excellent FAM tours and excursions, and putting on one heck of an opening night event.
The Not as Good
From a work trip perspective, I didn’t learn as much as I’d hoped. This conference seems to be geared more towards beginners than intermediate or advanced content creators. The first day was nearly a write-off because it was a Beginner Bootcamp (which cost extra to attend) that didn’t apply to me. I also didn’t book any of the mentor meetings (understandably and appropriately at an extra cost), because I wasn’t sure how much value they would provide with their short time slots. Perhaps I made the wrong decision to forego them, but perhaps not. There were a couple of other things I found interesting, like the last minute email notice that an evening mixer would be a cash event “so that local businesses are supported”. I’m pretty sure they’re still financially supported when the organization running the event pays them.
Would I Attend Another?
Would I attend another WITS? As of right now I’ve signed up for the 2024 Utah event, though mostly to reconnect with colleagues and friends and to experience Utah for the first time. I have heard it’s not the best season to be in Salt Lake though. I’m going to evaluate this decision early next year.
Thank You for Reading!
I hope that this conference review has been helpful for you! If you have any questions about WITS or even general questions about attending conferences, please don’t hesitate to send me an email at email@example.com.
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