Pioneering Women In Travel

meet the inspirational leaders, past and present

This year we wanted to pay tribute to some of the incredible women who were pioneers in travel. It’s these women and their amazing achievements, often in the face of adversity, who paved the way for women in the travel industry today.

And we also meet some of the inspirational women a little closer to home, who are inspiring their colleagues and leading Gray Dawes Travel to the next chapter of our long and exciting journey!

female business traveller at the airport


1849 – 1944

A pioneer in the automotive industry, Bertha was the first person – not just woman – to go on a recorded cross-country roadtrip on the 5th August in 1888. Over her 65 mile journey, she rigorously tested the patent Motorwagen – invented by her husband Carl Benz – and during her journey even invented brake pads! At a time when scientists thought that women’s brains were unable to absorb and process as much information as men’s brains, Benz was determined to prove them wrong. On her 95th birthday she was proclaimed an honorary senator by the Technical University of Karlsruhe, as she was never allowed to study as a young woman.


1897 – 1937

The first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic in 1932, Amelia Earhart was also the first female passenger to cross the Atlantic by plane in 1928. A true pioneer in aviation, she received the United States Distinguished Flying Cross award for her achievements. Earhart later went on to become a member of the National Woman’s Party and was one of the first supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment – it’s safe to say she was instrumental in paving the way for women in travel.


1892 – 1926

The first black woman to earn a pilot’s license. Bessie Coleman was an American aviator who was denied entry to flying schools in the United States. Determined to not be deterred by these initial setbacks, Coleman taught herself French and then moved to France, where she earned her Pilot’s license in just 7 months. She went on to specialise in performing aerial tricks, and became the first African American woman to stage a public flight in America. A true inspiration, proving that nothing is impossible if you have determination.


1903 – 1941

In 1930 Johnson achieved worldwide recognition as the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia. In recognition of this incredible achievement, she received a CBE at George V’s 1930 Birthday Honours list. A determined Pilot, she went on to set further records, setting a solo record for the flight from London to Cape Town, and flying with co-Pilot Jack Humphreys to become the first people to fly from London to Moscow in one day, then continuing onto Tokyo setting a record time for a flight from Britain to Japan. In 1940 Johnson supported the RAF in the Second World War, working transporting aircraft around the country.


1915 – 2009

Nancy Bird Walton, OBE was a pioneering Australian aviator, known as “The Angel of the Outback”, and the founder and patron of the Australian Women Pilots’ Association.

In the 1930s, she became a fully qualified pilot at the age of 19 to become the youngest Australian woman to gain a pilot’s licence.

The first Airbus A380 delivered to Australian airline Qantas was named in her honour. Her name on the A380 was originally written “Nancy Bird Walton”, but Qantas respected her preference for the hyphenation that her late husband used (“Nancy-Bird”), and the hyphen was added before the aircraft’s naming, shortly after she was aboard the ceremonial flight above Sydney.


1936 – 2021

The first woman to sail around the world solo, Krystyna set off from the Canary Islands on 28th March 1976 and returned on the 21st April 1978 after covering 31,666 nautical miles around the globe. After her return, she returned to her home country of Poland and was awarded Gdansk’s Citizen of the Year award.

“I’m not afraid of what I don’t know, although normal people are said to have it the other way around. I didn’t know how one sails around the world, so I wasn’t afraid of it. After I set out, I began to feel true freedom. This is what it was like: I only did what I wanted to, and sometimes what I was supposed to. There were no limitations. At no other place and at no other time did I feel so free.”


1937 – Present

Tereshkova was not only the first woman in space, but also the youngest woman to have flown in space, and lastly, the only woman to have been to space on a solo mission. Quite the accomplishment! In 1963 she set off on her solo mission on the Vostok 6, where she orbited the Earth 48 times, spending almost three days in space.

How did they inspire the next generation of leaders in travel?


We’re bringing you all the latest business travel trends and topics from our very own industry experts.

Each bite-size session offers insight, how-to’s and top tips on subjects such as building traveller confidence, implementing a sustainable travel policy, creating successful corporate travel programmes and more!

Gray Dawes Women

Meet just a few of the inspirational women in Gray Dawes who are helping to drive our business and the corporate travel industry forward. They all share the same pioneering spirit as the leaders above.


160 of 233 Gray Dawes staff are women

Suzanne Horner

Suzanne Horner

Chief Executive Officer

meet Suzanne

Suzanne has enjoyed an illustrious 35-year career spanning retail, leisure, technology, and corporate travel. Since becoming our CEO in 2011, she has overseen a magnificent growth in our business, bringing top line sales up from £28m to £200m in just five years. She is also passionate about helping others achieve their own goals and her door is always open to anyone seeking advice.

Allison Knight

Allison Knight

Director of Operations

meet Allison

A keen netball fan, Allison has enjoyed a twenty year career in the sport (interspersed with 2 retirements… so far) alongside her rise through the corporate travel management ranks. Since joining Gray Dawes as a Leisure Travel Consultant in 1994, she has been an integral part of the company’s rapid growth with her focus on understanding the ever-changing needs of our clients.

Sophie Taylor

Sophie Taylor

Chief Technology Officer

meet Sophie

A natural strategist with a love for new technology, Sophie is our North Star of innovation. Over her 20-plus year career in IT, she has worked at almost every level in the industry for companies big and small, each experience painting a picture of modern tech and its place in all parts of a business. Better still, Sophie is instinctively approachable and happy to share her story.

Sonam Popat

Sonam Popat

Marketing Consultant

meet Sonam

Sonam joined the Gray Dawes family last year, bringing with her over a decade of marketing mastery. Her passion for customer research and learning what makes others tick has been vital in redefining the ways we communicate. She is also one of the youngest members of the Gen BTA Board where her skills are proving invaluable.

Laura Busby

Laura Busby

Global Brand Ambasador

meet Laura

A self-confessed “travel junkie”, Laura is key to championing our brand and ensuring that every member of our team across the world enjoys a positive working experience. Not only is Laura dedicated to making our people happy, she is also the guiding force behind our sustainability initiatives, helping us work in greener ways.

Katie Whitby

Katie Whitby

Head of Events

meet Katie

Katie has been described by both colleagues and customers as a “whirlwind of energy”.  Her zest for life and creative approach to event management has made her an invaluable member of our team, transforming the knowledge of 25 years’ experience into unforgettable moments for clients on the hunt for new adventures.

Claire Cassidy

Claire Cassidy

Corporate Sales Manager

meet Claire

As our highest performing sales person in this traditionally male-dominated world, Claire certainly knows how to hold her own against her sales peers, and then some! With a huge enthusiasm for travel, Claire has already visited over 40 countries and spent a year in Northern China teaching children in a small school.


With a CEO who has achieved the accolade of ‘first female Chair of the Business Travel Association (BTA), we at Gray Dawes Group are driven by pioneers from the top. Meet our diverse and experienced Senior Leadership Team below.

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