Travel Agents

“Women are the backbone of the travel industry”: Flight Centre’s Melanie Waters-Ryan

Lauren Croft

In case you hadn’t read the billion other articles we’ve written, we recently had our annual Women in Travel Awards!

There was a keynote from the ever-inspiring Ann Sherry, 19 fabulous awards were given out, and women in this industry were just celebrated in general. Sounds like a perfect night, right?

Well it was, and you should be devastated if you missed out.

Especially because we crowned our 2018 Power List Winner! This award is one of the most coveted out there, and given our keynote Ann Sherry won last year, this year’s winner had some big shoes to fill.

And if anyone could fill those shoes, it’s Flight Centre’s chief operating officer, Melanie Waters-Ryan (pictured below).

Photography by andre&dominqiue
Photography by andre&dominqiue

Waters-Ryan started her career with Flight Centre 31 years ago, as a retail travel agent, and has since worked her way right to the top.

Which we (and our expert panel of industry judges) thought was worth the top spot on the power list.

While Waters-Ryan has been on the power list a few times, she said it was “a lovely surprise” to be crowned the Power List Winner.

“It was a really humbling experience to think that the rest of the industry would vote for me, because I’ve obviously been within Flight Centre for a long time, so everyone [there] knows me, but it was very lovely and humbling and a surprise that the rest of the industry recognised me,” she told TW.

“I also think it was a nice recognition for Flight Centre. We’ve got a lot of great women in the company and I felt like it wasn’t just my award but maybe a bit of an award for the women of Flight Centre.”

And the women of Flight Centre is something Waters-Ryan is pretty damn passionate about.

“It’s my view that women are the backbone of the travel industry in Australia.

“I know in Flight Centre they are about 70 per cent of our staff, and I would suspect it’s pretty similar, but when you look at the very, very top positions, they are mainly men,” she said.

“I think we need to do everything we can to promote women, and that’s certainly why I like the Power List because these are women who have risen to the top, or been entrepreneurial or started their own business who have managed to succeed to a very high level.”

And being one of those few women at a high level, Waters-Ryan said the women at executive levels tend to “look out for each other”, even if they aren’t in the same company.

“I just think it’s really important because you know, there are so many women and they are disproportionately represented at the very top, and it’s not different in Flight Centre. I think we need to change some of that,” she said.

“I think that the travel industry awards for women is a great thing because it seriously does just recognise the women.”

There are a few initiatives within Flight Centre that Waters-Ryan has spearheaded, including Women Wise, an inspirational learning forum to inspire the women of Flight Centre, and Goddess in the Board Room, where a few women were chosen for a year-long program, designed for those who want to move into more senior roles.

“I’m really proud of that one because out of the eight or nine women that participated, six of them have moved into more senior roles,” Waters-Ryan said of Goddess in the Board Room.

“I’d love to see us do more of that at an industry level.”

But for now, Waters-Ryan said she is simply “honoured” to have topped the power list, and for her, and the other women of both the travel industry and Flight Centre, to have been celebrated and recognised.

Oh, and that Ann Sherry told her it “was about time” she topped the power list.

“That’s what I was most proud of actually, is that everyone seemed to know me.

“I know Ann Sherry very well in terms of what she’s done, so to be recognised with the likes of those sorts of women I think is very nice, a very proud moment,” she said.

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