Women in Tourism Industry Spotlight: Susan Russell

In the first of a new series of blog posts for Women in Tourism, we’re going to be finding out more about our colleagues across the industry. In our first post we interview Susan Russell, Marketing Manager of Festivals Edinburgh, and Chair and co-founder of Women In Tourism. 

Tell us a little about yourself and what you do

I’m the Marketing ManaSusan Russellger at Festivals Edinburgh, the umbrella organisation for our city’s 12 major festivals.  We support the festivals with their collaborative ambitions across a range of activity, with the marketing team function undertaking year-round campaigns to promote the World’s Leading Festival City.  We undertake campaigns in key cities both within the UK and in international markets, encouraging new visitors to book a trip to one of our many festivals.

We also support travel and lifestyle media to visit the Festival City throughout the year; to experience Edinburgh at festival time and create editorial for features.  Over the last seven years this output has grown from some £100,000 PR AVE to over £16m and we work in collaboration with a number of partners across the city to deliver this.

What areas of the industry (and any other projects) are you involved in?

I’m involved in a number of strategic projects both for Edinburgh and on a national level.  More on WIT below, but in addition I’m also part of our city’s China Ready Steering Group.  In May 2015 I took part in Edinburgh Napier University’s Destination Leaders Programme (DLP) and through it our group focused on the Chinese leisure market and how ready our city is to fully capitalise on the opportunity.  We set out eight recommendations, with the suggestion that the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group (ETAG) lead on driving this activity forward.  In June 2015 ETAG curated a number of interested parties to drive forward a Chinese strategy; which has since resulted in a number of workshops focusing on how businesses can become China Ready.

The premise is that the activity will support businesses individually and collectively to engage with the market, with the long-term ambition that this work will help support the Edinburgh Airport team in converting the first direct route into Scotland from mainland China.  Full information on this exciting project can be found here. 

I also recently supported the team at Youth Travel Edinburgh (YTE) as they start to create their long-term strategy and ambition.  The YTE group are a small gathering of interested parties who recognise the opportunities around growing the youth market for the city.  It’s always great to brainstorm and discuss new ideas and models of working; with collaboration a huge opportunity for expedited growth and activity.

What were your motivations for getting involved with Women in Tourism?

Following completion of the DLP in May 2015 I started to think about how all the learnings and observations of the last year could be put into practice.  Throughout the year of study I became increasingly interested in the number of women who work within the Scottish tourism industry, but make up only a small percentage of senior or board level positions.  Through anecdotal conversations with a few DLP alumni, we came together in June 2015 to discuss what we felt were the challenges and opportunities for women within the sector, and agreed that a formal strategy, which outlined our ambitions, was needed.

As such, WIT WIT-Committeewas constituted with a formal committee and terms of reference, and we spent the next six months talking to colleagues from across the sector about our thinking and ongoing evolution.  In January this year we launched WIT!  The founding activity of work for us at the moment is to distribute a survey to the entire sector, to gather thoughts and opinions on leadership opportunities, career development and consider other issues around gender equality, such as remuneration.

The findings of the survey will feed into the next phase of WIT and any activity we undertake; with the statistics and fact-based evidence vital for WIT to lobby and advocate for change across the sector.

What areas of the tourism industry are you particularly interested in?

Prior to joining Festivals Edinburgh I spent six years working within both the UK and International marketing teams at VisitScotland.  Although my focus is now firmly on Edinburgh and it’s festivals, I am passionate about the entire sector, and having grown up in the Highlands, am aware of the different challenges and opportunities for both urban and rural contexts.  I feel I am a natural communicator and have a fantastic network of contacts across the sector; however am acutely aware that many who are new to the industry may lack the knowledge or experience of how to progress – with a supportive mentor or group a key driver for encouraging and supporting colleagues as they progress in their career.

What aspirations do you have for Women in Tourism and its development?

I have many!  Its unbelievable to see how quickly WIT has developed and the industry has been hugely supportive both through its evolution and now launch.  We are still very embryonic, with the survey the first step in ensuring our anecdotal thinking is in line with the wider sector.

While our roots are very much within Scotland, our small seed of an idea is quickly growing branches and we’ve had interest from our European neighbours in Iceland, Hungary and Germany; and from as far afield as Canada and Australia.  We’ve created WIT to support and develop the Scottish tourism industry, but our collaborative framework could easily be expanded to enable other countries to adopt our activity and create their own chapters.  When you consider a global opportunity for mentoring, shared learning and understanding it really is an extremely exciting concept!

Any advice for women just starting out in the industry?

Be ambitious.  Think big.  Don’t be scared to suggest ideas or different ways of working, even if no one agrees with you.  A colleague once said to me ‘It’s better to be embarrassed for 30 seconds than ignorant for life’.  It’s very true.

Thank you to Susan Russell for kick-starting our Industry Spotlight series.

If you’re interested in taking part in our Spotlight Series email us: info@womenintourism.co.uk