LOS ANGELES, CA – Since 1987, Frances Kiradjian has demonstrated a fierce commitment to disrupting the travel and hospitality landscape by redefining the path to success for women in these sectors and creating inclusive platforms elevating female voices. This also created the first global community for boutique hoteliers, BLLA (Boutique Lifestyle Leaders Association).
At the start of her career, Kiradjian worked for Carlson Travel, a business travel management company. Passionate and driven, she attended conferences on the industry’s fringe to gain a global perspective. She soon noticed a lack of women in leadership roles on the stages of almost every hospitality conference she attended. At the time, Kiradjian belonged to the IFWTO (International Federation of Women’s Travel). Taking on the responsibility of leading the Los Angeles chapter, she entirely relaunched it in 1987. The first event took place inside a luxury store called I. Magnin in Beverly Hills, and more than 150 participants took over a floor of the store, eager to collaborate.
The keynote speaker was the EVP of Estee Lauder at the time, Ida Crawford Stewart, who spoke to the crowd about women in leadership roles. “My heart was full, and it was then and there that I pledged to take this calling forward,” Frances shared.
Frances knew she would make it her mission to transform the travel industry. She envisioned a travel and hospitality landscape with more women in executive positions. She worked to create a community of other emboldened women to “light the torch to pass on knowledge and a vision to the next generation.”
Frances immersed herself in a world of authentic leadership. In 2009, she founded The Boutique Lifestyle Leaders Association, BLLA, intending to “unify, empower, educate and advocate for a growing community of creators within the dynamic realm of boutique lifestyle—not only establishing and maintaining industry standards but boldly advancing its cultural impact and category innovation.” Starting with the first BLLA Awards event in October 2010, the organization has hosted numerous annual conferences inviting women to speak alongside their male counterparts on prominent stages. The organization supports all association members by offering boutique-specific resources, marketing tools, news, networking spaces, and endless support. You can find more about previous and upcoming BLLA events here.
Frances also made time to Cofound StayBoutique, a soon-to-launch discovery platform for the Boutique Lifestyle, and The Travel Industry Executive Women’s Network, TIEWN. Joined by her hard-working daughter, Ariela Kiradjian, the mother-daughter duo proudly lead the global network. Now supporting over 13,000 professionals, the members represent sectors in hotel and lodging, aviation, cruise lines, car rental companies, tourism agencies, travel agencies, corporate travel managers, tour operators, rail travel agencies, and travel technology. This is accomplished through educational opportunities, such as webinars and seminars, annual conferences celebrating all things travel and crucial conversations, a mentorship program connecting women from around the world, and networking opportunities for those at different stages in their careers. The organization demonstrates an inclusive approach to building a global community. TIEWN’s mission revolves around educating and supporting women in the travel industry and elevating them to positions of authority, influence, and leadership.
The network’s most recent event occurred on July 11th and 12th in Beverly Hills, California. The theme, Money, Abundance, and Manifestation, offered tools for associates to embrace the feminine, use the power of manifestation to bring abundance, and encourage individuals’ growth. Most importantly, the event highlighted how traditionally labeled as ‘feminine’ skills can be incredible sources of strength, vital tools women can leverage when pursuing a career in hospitality and travel.
For as long as men have predominantly run this business, and even now, traits such as compassion, beauty, authenticity, sensitivity, and empathetic listening are often seen as obstacles women must overcome to succeed in male-dominated spaces. However, The 2022 Women in Travel and Hospitality Conference crafted a professional environment redefining these traits as valuable skills. The event encouraged women to embrace feeling beautiful, invoke charisma, network authentically, and playfully create an alternative world, leveraging the natural elements of female identity to drive genuine change strategically. In case you missed it, here are some meaningful moments of the event:
A conversation between Nina Grondin, Partner and Co-Founder of Curioso, and Alexis Readinger, Founder of Preen, Inc., showcased how qualities such as empathy, intentional listening, and emotion have given women the upper hand when it comes to leadership in design in Women in the World of Design. Grondin began the talk by stating that women in the field, and women leading design, are not rare, as “women dominate this field for the most part.” Explaining why she thinks this is the case, she offered, “one of the reasons women tend to fill the design space is because we’re a bit more empathetic and emotive. And, we understand that good design isn’t just about how a space looks, but it’s about how a space makes you feel.”
Alexis Readinger, who combines architecture and design in her career, shared her thoughts as to why she believes women have such a strong presence in the industry:
“One of the ways we think about what we’re creating in my firm is that we’re creating an immersive, conscious design,” said Readinger. “The aesthetic is not derivative of anything about my or firm’s identity; it’s not a signature. It’s listening. We see design as a mirror, and we’re listening to our client’s deepest commitment to what they’re creating. Most people don’t do hospitality projects without insane passion, so what does it look like to be immersed in that? Though I think a man could get to that, it is a feminine approach.”
Nina Grondin and Alexis Readinger agreed that a feminine approach while working in design has played a critical role in women’s historic success. Meanwhile, Beth Campbell, Barbara Best-Santos, and Eileen Madigan, all of whom work in design, spoke on the value of Energy Leadership in Using Energy in the Way We Create. The three revered professionals touched on how a positive, trusting mindset, and a career coach, have all significantly contributed to the success of their careers.
Eileen Madigan, SVP of Global Interior Design at Las Vegas Sands Corp. has an impressive career under her belt. With a history in luxury hotel design, she now works on developing large-scale luxury retail arenas for a leading company in travel and hospitality. So, as one of only two women on a 25-person executive board, she openly explained how she came to develop her reputation for constructive team management skills. These strategies included; finding a career coach and believing in a 7-level approach to directing energy and mindset. She began, “my future purpose is to help women in their succession plans. Nobody teaches you this; you go through so many mistakes, you say certain things, you’re put in situations that nobody in education or your career explained in detail how to handle.” Madigan’s articulate advice in this discussion underlined her commitment to TIEWN’s education and mentorship goals.
All three speakers on stage have worked in similar sectors for years and knew one another well. Beth Campbell offered a compelling statement after introducing the two other women. “I want you to understand the number of steps and the courage it takes to make all these moves in your career because they’re not small ones, but you see that there’s resilience inside of that. There’s the power of positive thinking. Not that any of us didn’t have doubts, because we did. Some fears drive us. But it’s in the choices we make. We’ve realized it takes the same amount of energy to be fearful as it does to be faithful. You can believe in yourself,” said Beth. It was moving to see the professionals represent a sincere commitment to embracing oneself, leveraging interpersonal skills, and sharing wisdom with future generations.
The conference invited an impressive queue of travel industry executives to offer their perspective input, including Andrea Grigg, JLL’s Global Head of Asset Management, and Hilda Delgado, the CFO of Viceroy Hotels and Resorts. The two partook in an enlightening discussion regarding key hotel investment and asset management principles. Titled Hotel Investment, theycontributed to the discussion of directing energy efficiently, bringing the recurring theme to the hotel business, and left the audience feeling inspired to “be unapologetically themselves”. After, Ariela moderated a fabulous conversation between Moniqua Lane, Owner of The Downtown Clifton Hotel & The Citizen Hotel, and Carolyn Schneider, Co-Founder and President of Casetta Group, in a discussion titled The Hotel Ownership Landscape. The three spoke on the value of adaptively reusing neglected spaces to invite tourism to new places, and gracefully incorporated the topic of diversity in hotel management.
Another memorable moment embracing this idea of energy and intuition came from Alejandra DeLuca, Owner of Malibu Meditations Journey in The Energy of Money. DeLuca invited whimsy and wonder by setting a piece of quartz in front of each attendee. Ariela joined her on stage, and together, dressed in white gowns and goddess regalia, the two guided the room with the collective wisdom and playful embodiment of spirit. After an affirming spiel encouraging participants to use energy and thought to manifest their dreams, she concluded by leading the group in a communal meditation to celebrate worthiness and the intention to “know they are enough.” The reflection left a palpable positivity in the event space.
The 2022 Women in Travel and Hospitality Conference moved attendees and participants. The event underscored the ingenuity of female-driven leadership and the value of leveraging internal strength. These collaborative events are positive work steps necessary to dismantle industry obstacles.
“I continuously see women being mistreated, which motivates me to help the industry improve. We all love hospitality and travel, as it makes the world a better place. The only obstacles for women who would like to move up the ranks of leadership into a higher position are the drive, determination, and education/knowledge to take steps to be successful,” shared Frances. TIEWN is making it its mission to supply this necessary support. “This should also include a plan of action carefully organized alongside a consultant or mentor,” Frances added.
Since the birth of BLLA and TIEWN, Frances has seen these efforts pay off:
“We see more women in C-level positions, but that has only been the last few years, so it’s been a long ride. We are optimistic about seeing this trend continue. We also see a big trend, particularly after the pandemic, of women starting their own companies. TIEWN members do support each other when asked. Our Mentorship program is designed to fuel the progress of our entrepreneurs, as many of our leaders have been in that position before and can share best practices and make introductions.”
However, it’s not only the members who see the positive impact of TIEWN’s initiatives. “The effort you put into this initiative directly impacts almost every aspect of how our customers view their experiences while traveling and the stakeholders of all the wonderful travel-related businesses around the world,” she explained.
By dedicating her career to elevating professional female voices, Frances Kirdjian has spent the past 35 years building a platform empowering a legacy of determined women. Regardless of where they are in their careers, their age, or where they were born, TIEWN’s diverse community continues to pave the way for future generations. Frances’s legacy shines through her daughter as she forages her path and begins her own projects, such as her recent podcast show, “The Unfamiliar Shift with Ariela” and her group, The Conscious Souls of Hospitality. Together these two, backed by a global network of brilliant individuals, work to reimagine the opportunities for the future.
About the Boutique Lifestyle Leaders Association (BLLA)
Founded in 2009, the Boutique Lifestyle Leaders Association (BLLA) is the official association for the world’s top visionaries in the boutique lifestyle industry. Membership with the BLLA includes not just a strengthened sense of community—it offers all the resources necessary for small and independent businesses to thrive in this growing sector, including access to distribution channels, marketing tools, webinars, white papers, reports about the evolving boutique landscape, and more. The organization promotes connection, education, and advocacy. As a pioneer in forecasting the boutique movement, the BLLA’s network has grown beyond its hotel foundation to welcome more passionate entrepreneurs, businesses, and purveyors that amplify the boutique lifestyle. BLLA is a catalyst for trends and the future of boutique. blla.org