To mark International Women’s Day 2021, which has been held annually on March 8 since 1977, we spoke to 4 inspiring and pioneering women in our local partner community. The day was originally conceived when the UN invited member states to declare a day for women’s rights and world peace. Today, it is the perfect opportunity to reflect on the developments made towards gender equality, to explore what still needs to be done, and to celebrate the women who have courageously pushed for change and smashed glass ceilings.

So, meet these 4 inspiring women, who started their own business in the travel and experience industry, and have insightful career advice journeys we could all learn from. 

Liv and Jenny — Walking Tours in Scotland, Glasgow

With a passion for both women in business and Scotland, Jenny and Liv started Walking Tours in Scotland in 2017 after spending £100 on building their website. 4 years later, they have 18 walking guides over the country.

Jenny McLay — The Chocolatarium, Edinburgh

Jenny is the owner and founder of The Chocolatarium, a city-center wonderland where customers can enjoy (you’ve guessed it) chocolate. After becoming a flight attendant, working overseas, and setting up her own English school, Jenny founded her highly successful chocolate tour company in the heart of Edinburgh in 2019. 

Ana Araque— Imagine Experiences, London

A trained marketeer with 25 years of experience in the travel industry, Ana has an extensive and varied career portfolio. From being part of The Shard’s design team to growing the sightseeing company Big Bus across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, she’s packed a lot in. Last year, she joined forces with a friend and industry colleague to launch Imagine Experiences, a UK-based experience operator offering exclusive and immersive tours to small groups.

GetYourGuide: Hi everyone — thank you for talking with us. Tell us, how did your journey as a business owner begin? When did you start working in the travel industry and what’s next?

Liv and Jenny: As business students in Glasgow, we realized there were no walking tour providers in the city itself. That’s when we came up with the idea to create our own: we put in £100 to build a website with no clue where it would go. But here we are 4 years later with 18 guides across the country! 

Today, we both absolutely adore running the business – it’s our baby, and we have many plans for the future such as expanding our offerings in the cities we already operate in as well as expanding to new countries.

Jenny: I started my career as a flight attendant, then became an English teacher overseas before taking the entrepreneurship route. I founded my first business, an English school in 2012 back in Scotland. After 7 years, the business was well established and I was looking for a new challenge.

I’ve always loved chocolate in all shapes, sizes, and flavors (my family still teases me for my childhood habit of melting my favorite bars in the microwave and eating them with a spoon!) I’m also hugely proud of Edinburgh as a city – I think living abroad gave me a strong sense of belonging when I returned – so a chocolate-themed visitor attraction in Edinburgh’s Old Town seemed the perfect new venture. The Chocolatarium is a city-center chocolate attraction where visitors come to enjoy all things chocolate. You learn all about cacao, make chocolate bars, and taste some weird (but mostly wonderful) chocolate.

Ana: In 2020 during “The Great Lockdown” (as we call it at Imagine), eager to find the positives in the COVID-19 pandemic, I joined forces with a friend and industry colleague to launch Imagine Experiences. Together we wanted to create experiences that COVID-19 couldn’t stop: experiences that put a smile back on people’s faces and give them positive, everlasting memories.

GetYourGuide: What advice would you give to someone who’d like to start a business in the travel and experience industry?  

Liv and Jenny: Go for it! There are so many reasons not to do something but there are so many more reasons to give it a go and see what happens.

Jenny: Be a customer. Experience as many things as you can yourself so you understand what does and doesn’t work from the visitor’s point of view. 

Ana: Surround yourself with a team of people that believe in what you do as much as you. Listen to advice from all kinds of areas and experts but ultimately follow your own views and experience, build a brand and values that you can be proud of, ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing and the answers will come instinctively. Oh and one more thing, make sure you go on a long, long holiday just before!

GetYourGuide: From your experience, what are the behaviors holding women back in their careers? Do you have tips on how to overcome these behaviors?

Liv and Jenny: Women can often suffer from imposter syndrome in male-dominated industries but as more women join the community this is definitely getting easier. Another is fear of what others think: when we told family and friends we were going to start Walking Tours in Scotland they thought it wasn’t going to be successful or something we could make a living out of, but 4 years on, here we are. 

Jenny: Women tend to ask for funding less often and when they do, they ask for less. No one else is more or less entitled to funding than you. Find out what funding is available and don’t be shy about it. If you believe in your business and that you’re the right person to run it, it’s not fair to let people miss out on the opportunity to invest, is it?

Also, I think women underestimate the influence the people around them can have on their happiness, feeling of being valued, and motivation in the workplace. You can overcome challenges at work when you’ve got the right people by your side so prioritize who you work with. I’ve learned so much from people who run small businesses and listening to others can really spark ideas and keep you driving forward.

Ana: Women tend to be more emotional, which makes us more passionate and caring. This can be a weakness if uncontrolled, so make it a big strength and harness your passion.“Emotional Intelligence” is a crucial aspect of professional life these days and our strength makes us unique and massively agile in our careers! Work on your self-image. Be proud of yourself and who you are. 

GetYourGuide: What are your tips on balancing career development with personal life?

Liv and Jenny: Set time aside for your personal life is key to avoid burnout. Having bad days is ok and taking time off is essential. It gives you space to reflect, recharge and is a great way of stimulating new ideas. 

Jenny: My son is the main reason I started a business in the first place. I was a single parent at the time and it gave me the flexibility to be able to pick him up after school and provide us with a decent income.

To get a business off the ground, however, you’re going to have to put the work in. In the early days, being up at 3:00 AM wasn’t unusual. But in the longer term, work the hours that are right for you. Only work the hours that make you feel fulfilled and give you the time for your family or other things that you love to do.

Ana: I’m very grateful to have been able to find a few positives from this pandemic and one of the best gifts anyone could have: time. Time to appreciate, value, reflect, and rediscover my family. I’ve also had the time to launch the most ambitious project I’ve undertaken yet.

GetYourGuide: Do you have any more inspiring stories or fun anecdotes from your career paths you’d like to share?

Liv and Jenny: We’ve had many tears of laughter and sadness along the way. A memory that sticks was celebrating our third birthday last year with some friends. Being able to go for a lovely dinner and to share drinks on the business was a moment of pride and joy for us both.

Jenny: This week, I’ve done some accounting, some marketing, some HR, some (Zoom) networking, caught up with my team, applied for funding, designed a tasting board, posted some gift vouchers, and taste-matched some whisky and chocolate. And this is all in lockdown. The variety you get in running a visitor attraction is wonderful, I’m never bored and I’d recommend it to anyone.

Ana: The last 8 months have been one long anecdote. From walking around an empty London looking for suppliers to knocking on pub doors checking who was going to open, preparing and dressing our actors in public toilets, indulging in rainy picnics, working in sheds, and filming a safety video in my mother’s flat. You name it, we did it.