The unknown icons of travel you’ve never heard of, but should have

The unknown icons of travel you’ve never heard of, but should have

The unknown icons of travel you’ve never heard of, but should have

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This month, we’ve been celebrating the change makers of travel – those leading the charge for improvement in their respective areas, and shaping the future of the industry for the better.

Here, we take a closer look at some of the most influential people in the world of travel and tourism that you might not be familiar with yet, and learn about the work they’re doing – from raising benchmarks for diversity and inclusion to developing groundbreaking innovations in sustainability.

Also read: Add these Sustainable Cities to your Travel List


Martinique Lewis is founder of The Black Travel Alliance, a non-profit created in response to the lack of diversity and inclusion within the travel industry.

As a black woman who enjoys traveling, she has experienced firsthand the lack of representation and discrimination in the travel industry. To do tackle the issue head on, she traveled to conferences to engage with CEOs and C-Suite executives, questioning their plans to increase diversity and inclusion within their companies. Her efforts were met with muted responses.

As a result, she realized that she could serve as a consultant for brands and destinations that needed guidance. Her work in this area has since earned her recognition as one of the most influential people in the travel industry.

The Black Travel Alliance supports and empowers black travel professionals in education, media and corporate positions, provides training and business support to members, hold brands accountable on lack of diversity in their marketing, and connects brands with black travel media.

Lewis’s organization also conducts and reports on research that supports insights and analysis on the black traveler and the state of the industry in relation to black travel professionals. One of their recent projects is their History of Black Travel website, which researches and contextualizes judicial and cultural events of the past and their effect on black travel, as well as giving insight to early black travel explorers and pioneers.

Moreover, Martinique Lewis created the ABC Travel Green Book, a platform that connects tourists to black-owned businesses and communities worldwide, giving you the ability to connect with the African Diaspora regardless of your travel destination.


Anna Spenceley is one of the foremost experts in sustainable tourism. Her reputation as an industry thought leader is evidenced by her leadership roles in several key organizations. She is the Chair of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas’ (WCPA) Tourism and Protected Areas Specialist Group (TAPAS Group), Board Member of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), and is part of the Travalyst Independent Advisory Group. Her expertise in these roles has been instrumental in shaping policy, practice, and standards that support sustainable tourism.

Her mission, in her words, is to endorse ‘tourism as a way of generating benefits for local people while financing conservation of wildlife and protected areas.’ With a Master’s project in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, a Tropical Biology Association course in Uganda’s Kibale Forest, and PhD in Kruger National Park and its private game reserves, Spenceley has a deep understanding of the complex interplay between tourism, conservation, and local communities.

One of her notable projects is her creation of Guidelines for tourism partnerships and concessions for protected areas, which were made in response to her research that revealed a trend in protected areas seeking rivate sector partnerships to develop and operate sustainable tourism services. To help manage this relationship, she produced the guidelines to support protected areas in forging commercial relationships with tourism investors and operators, so that private business works to support conservation objectives and benefit local people.

Despite the challenges that the tourism industry has faced due to the pandemic, Spenceley remains optimistic about the potential for tourism to drive positive outcomes for everyone involved.

Also read: 11 Fascinating Biodiverse Locations you can visit with Insight


While not a particular individual, we wanted to recognize this amazing scheme thought up by the team at Gatwick Airport in 2016.

When brainstorming ways to support passengers with disabilities, they realized that many people have non-visible disabilities that aren’t easily noticed, and so they may be losing access to the support they need. Annette Cmela, chief brand officer, says these non-visible disabilities could be ‘ cognitive, like dementia, or respiratory, like emphysema’ and so on. To combat this, team at Gatwick came up with the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower, a small initiative to support all passengers, regardless of whether they had a visible disability or not.

Fast forward seven years. What started as a little idea has evolved into a global network consisting of more than 180 airports and five airlines across 26 countries. The premise is simple: by wearing a distinctive sunflower-patterned lanyard, passengers communicate that they may need assistance, which could be things like sign language, extra time, physical assistance or accessible restrooms. Participating airports opt in train staff to recognize these lanyards, which are all free for passengers – at Heathrow, for example, lanyards are available at help desks in each terminal. Passengers can also order personalized ID cards, wristbands and luggage straps for a nominal fee from the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower website.

As Cmela notes, it is crucial to remember that each person has their own unique journey and that the extra assistance provided through the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower program can make a significant difference.


This list wouldn’t be complete without a mention of Insight Vacations’ own Brett Tollman. As well as his role as CEO of The Travel Corporation, a fourth-generation family-run business, Brett is also executive member of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) and an associate member of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

Brett is an ardent champion of sustainable travel. In 2017, he led TTC in being a Diamond Sponsor for the United Nations’ International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. His efforts are best exemplified by his sustainability initiative, the TreadRight Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting sustainable tourism practices.

The TreadRight Foundation coordinate with TTC’s brands to identify projects that fall into its three pillars of Planet, People and Wildlife. These become MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experiences, a term that marks them as positive and sustainable opportunities for guests to interact and experience the local culture while leaving a positive impact on it. Be that through funding the local economy, helping conservation efforts, or simply bringing more awareness and understanding to the broad range of world cultures, we’re now proud to have a MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experience on almost every Insight Vacations tour.

Brett notes that ‘Travelers are now more interested in conscious and sustainable travel. They are seeking immersive and local experiences. We are committed to working on the UNWTO’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), including supporting more women’s empowerment and WE Charity projects around the world, helping to protect endangered wildlife initiatives, and eliminating single-use plastics.’

Also read: MAKE TRAVEL MATTER®: Why Developing Meaningful Travel Experiences Has Never Been More Important