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Female Founder Spotlight: Kelley Louise, Founder of Impact Travel Alliance

In the monthly Female Founder Spotlight series, I interview inspiring female entrepreneurs, business owners, and bloggers, asking them about how they got their businesses to where they are today. In this interview, we meet Kelley Louise  founder of Impact Travel Alliance. 

A travel entrepreneur passionate about storytelling and sustainability, Kelley is the founder of Impact Travel Alliance, a nonprofit and community aimed at teaching travelers how to spend their money mindfully so that they have a positive impact on local communities and the environment. She also runs runs Elsewhere Agency, a boutique creative agency for clients in the travel/impact space.

Kelley has built her career through carefully selected opportunities in the United States and abroad, including leadership roles in entrepreneurial endeavors, social impact projects and media strategy. A content creator herself, Kelley is an avid photographer and writer. Kelley is a passionate connector, and has an innate ability to build loyal and diverse communities.

She has held several keynote speaking positions, and presented at the United Nations, MMGY’s Vail Summit and the NTA’s Travel Exchange. Kelley has been interviewed by press including the New York Times, Fast Company, Forbes and Mashable. She is the recipient of the Bessie Award for excellence in Social Impact from the Women in Travel Summit (WITS).

Kelley has a bachelor’s degree in Media & Culture from The New School. She is based in Brooklyn, New York.

Kelley Louise founder of impact travel alliance

What is the one book that you would recommend to every aspiring female entrepreneur?

This is tough because different books have resonated with me at different times in my career, but right now, I would recommend Originals: How Nonconformists Change the World. Other top picks from my list: New Power, Quiet, The ONE Thing and Present Over Perfect.

What behavior or habit have you adopted that has had the biggest impact on your business?

I make a point to carve time out to take time off. I know this can be scary or hard to do when you love your job, but you can’t hustle all the time. I’ve come to learn that some of my best ideas come to me when I take time away from my day-to-day, and perhaps more importantly: my personal relationships are more valuable than my career. Finding opportunities for balance is really key when building a long-term entrepreneurial career.

kelley louise founder of impact travel alliance on a bridge

What’s one monthly subscription you could not live without?

Not gonna lie, I do love my Netflix subscription, but I’m also really obsessed with my subscription for Keap candles. For some reason, I always found myself not lighting candles to make them last, and having a subscription gives me an excuse to take some time to slow down and enjoy them more often since another will be on its way soon.

What advice would you give to your younger self in relation to life and work?

Take care of your mind and body before anything else. You can’t build a business, you can’t help others, you basically can’t do anything if both you aren’t healthy.

I’m honestly shocked that I was able to do as much as I did for so long without incorporating some of the healthy habits that I do now, such as healthy eating, setting practices to be realistic with my time (and what I take on), and practicing yoga. I could have saved myself a lot of stress and heartache if I had picked up those habits earlier on.

Good Times Yoga Studio

What is something that happened to you or your business, that felt disappointing at the time that turned out to be a blessing in disguise?

I’ve had clients who were on monthly retainers let me go. That experience is always going to be upsetting when you’re putting your all into helping them grow, but I’ve come to learn that those ebbs and flows are part of agency life.

Sometimes it’s the work you’re doing (and that’s ok; it’s not always the right fit) and sometimes it’s just the stage they’re at in their business. There’s also going to be times where you’re the one who has to let a client to go! It’s all a reminder to hold true to your vision, and to have faith that when one door closes, another opens.

What is a commonly held opinion in your industry that you disagree with?

Maybe this isn’t necessarily a commonly held opinion because I know a lot of professionals disagree with it, but there needs to be more female representation in leadership roles in tourism. Women make 80 to 85 percent of all travel decisions, and we also make up 60 to 65% of the workforce in tourism – but the higher you go up the ladder, the less female representation you see.

There aren’t statistics strictly for the travel industry, but looking across sectors, only 25 percent of C-level positions are held by women (with only six percent as CEOs). Companies with strong female leadership generate a return on equity of 10 percent versus seven percent for those that lacked female leadership. Put simply, it’s just good business to support women-led initiatives.

Impact Travel Alliance’s global summit at the United Nations Headquarters in NYC
Impact Travel Alliance’s global summit at the United Nations Headquarters in NYC

If you could only work 2 hours per week on your business, what would you do?

Realistically, I would focus on strategy and development so that I can empower my team to support with the organization’s growth. Selfishly, the experience that inspires me the most is my love of travel and meeting people around the world so that I can share those stories through content creation.

Impact Travel Alliances local chapters
ITA local chapters

What advice would you give to someone considering branching out on their own to start their own business?

Find mentors to help accelerate your growth. Whether that means finding professionals who have already gone through what you’re setting out to do or even starting in a full-time role that helps you gain the skills you need (training wheels, if you will), having supporters who can cheer you on helps you to have more linear growth. As an entrepreneur, you’re entering a world with a lot of non-linear growth, so those mentors are incredibly valuable in helping you to lay a stronger foundation.

kelley louise founder impact travel alliance

Can you share another female entrepreneur who inspires you that you think we should talk to next? Tell us why you love to follow her journey and what lessons you have learned from her. 

I’m surrounded by so many amazing female entrepreneurs! Here are a few of my favorites: 

  • Rachel Hawkes: I have the pleasure of working with Rachel on a daily basis, and not only is she incredibly smart – she also leads with grace and empathy. Rachel is the co-founder of ViaHero, a travel company that connects you with a local to help plan your trip. 
  • Mita Carriman: Mita and I have found ways to collaborate over the years, and I’m a big fan of her work, drive and dedication to the vision of her company. Mita is the founder of Adventurely, a platform that helps solo travelers connect with one another. 
  • Lia Garcia: Lia is a badass, and she’s also one of the funniest people I know – and I’m pretty sure she’s one of the only people who I can describe with “badass” and “funny” in the same sentence. Listen to her podcast, read her stories – she’s got a great perspective on the world around her. Lia’s the blogger behind Practical Wanderlust
  • Cherae Robinson: I’ve admired Cherae’s work for a long time – she’s the founder of Tastemakers Africa. She’s created a really cool, and much-needed travel company within the industry, and she’s built it with such incredible style. Tastemakers just landed a closed a seed round of $1.6M, and that’s no easy feat. I’m excited to continue to follow her journey.
  • Jessica Nabongo: I was connected to Jessica by Eric and Kent from Black & Abroad when I was looking for speakers for one of our conferences and I asked for a recommendation on the one person they thought was really just killing it in their creative endeavors – and their rec didn’t disappoint. At the time, Jessica was midway through her dream of being the first black woman to visit every country, and she’s since achieved that goal. Her posts on Instagram are thoughtful and smart, and her work is a reminder that if you set a goal and stick to it, you can achieve some pretty incredible things. 
Kelley Louise founder of impact travel alliance

Thanks for reading! We hope that you found this interview inspiring and helpful for your own entrepreneurial journey. If you enjoyed this article and would like more business and entrepreneurial advice straight to your inbox, subscribe below! 

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