International Women’s Day profile part three: Donna Kessler

Ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March, Spice News will be running a series of Q+As with inspiring female figureheads from the Australian events industry. Next up, Donna Kessler, Founder and Director, Tourism Portfolio.
Donna Kessler, Founder and Director, Tourism Portfolio

Ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March, Spice News will be running a series of Q+As with inspiring female figureheads from the Australian events industry, learning about the role models who helped them to get to where they are today and discussing what businesses can do to inspire future female leaders in 2018.

Next up is Donna Kessler, Founder and Director, Tourism Portfolio. Since the company’s inception in 2002, Donna has represented an array of destinations, venues, resorts and event suppliers to the meetings, incentives and tourism markets, with nearly three decades of experience in the industry.

Donna has also held positions at the Intercontinental Sydney and Hilton International Australia and she won the acclaimed Meetings and Events Australia State and National Sales and Marketing Person of the Year Award in 2005 and 2008 and now supports these awards in a judging capacity.

Please explain a bit about your current role as Founder and Director of Tourism Portfolio.

My role is varied and different every day!  I’m lucky to lead a fantastic team who all contribute to the success of the clients in our portfolio.  We have domestic and international venue, resort and DMC product and I am hands-on in the sales role, too.

As someone who has started and grown their own business, what have been some of the challenges you’ve faced over the years?

Coming from well-known international brands, such as Hilton International and InterContinental Hotels, establishing your own business certainly has its challenges.  It’s been hard to just get your foot in the door sometimes.

Luckily, I work with fantastic product and many have been with me from the very beginning.  This, combined with great customer relationships, have enabled me to grow and celebrate 16 years in business.

I’ve grown organically, as well as being careful that the portfolio only represents the very best.  I truly believe these products are the best on offer and we don’t represent just anyone.

How did you overcome these challenges?

Hard work and persistence – there are no shortcuts to success.  We have a very clear strategic plan and each team member is focussed on this.  We are always looking for new and innovative ways to connect with customers and deliver ROI to our clients.  The more people we see, the more business we get, it’s that simple.

Is the industry doing enough to champion future female leaders?

I believe the focus and media exposure on female leaders is positive, overall.  There is still a lot of work to do.  It’s encouraging that large companies, such as Qantas, are championing equality and diversity with a clear focus on growing women in their workforce. It’s a start and great to see.

Women in our industry earn less than their male counterparts, the gap is reducing but it still exists.  Interestingly, my mentors in the industry are unequivocally strong females.  I admire them immensely and without their support, professionally and personally, I would not have achieved my successes.  They are straight shooters and, even in a competitive environment, they are supportive and happy to share their experiences.

What can businesses do to better support future female leaders?

Offering flexibility in the workforce and equal pay would be a good start!

What have been some of your career highlights?

Starting Tourism Portfolio, without a doubt.  I know this sounds cliché but every day is a highlight for me.  I genuinely love what I do and I enjoy giving back.

Mentoring young woman and having them realise their potential is another highlight.  I love to see them grow and learn, it’s such a buzz.

One of the biggest highlights most recently was the launch of Get Global 2017. The show surpassed our expectations. It was a massive financial risk but through collaboration with the industry, they have embraced it and I am pleased to say it’s going from strength to strength.

Lastly, if you could go back in time to when you were beginning your career, what advice would you give yourself?

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Learn to let go and be the first to say ‘pick me’, regardless of the request because a ‘can do’ attitude speaks volumes.

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