Flying High: We Celebrate The Women Who Make Flight Centre Soar

Flying High: We Celebrate The Women Who Make Flight Centre Soar

Some 70% of the workforce at Flight Centre Travel group is female. That’s some serious girl power. The career path, support network and goals of every person is unique, so to celebrate International Women’s Day, we’ve asked a bunch of women from around the company to share a bit about their career journey so far, why they work where they do, and what advice they’ve found most powerful, be it for work, or life.  


Melanie Waters-Ryan (she/her)

Chief Executive Officer, Global Supply, Flight Centre Travel Group

Mel started at Flight Centre on the eve of her 21st birthday, by answering a job ad in a newspaper. Over 30 years later, she’s had an incredible number of careers here, she’s become a wife, a mum, and a senior leader across many parts of the business. Ahead of her retirement this year, Mel says that being a woman has never held her back... in fact, she credits it as a key factor in many of her successes over the years.  

She says the key things that have helped her to succeed are being organised, listening to her intuition and never apologising for being direct and decisive. “Embrace bossy, because it’s good quality. I often say if you need to get something done, bring me a list of the bossy women and we’ll get it done.” 

Mel believes gender equality and diversity of all kinds is the key to success because diversity brings more perspectives to the table and fosters curiosity and openness. She believes that women have an uncanny ability to combine both the hard and soft skills required to succeed, in both business and in life. She is an incredible role model, particularly in a company where 70% of the workforce is female. 

Piece of advice she swears by?

Understand how the cash register rings in a business, and in your personal life. If you understand money and how it flows, it’s empowering. So be an active part of your personal and family finances, and the same at work. Secondly, collect skills and experiences. Throw yourself at a new job, even if you’ve only got half the qualifications for it because you will learn. That broadening of your experience and skillset means you’re a better leader, better thinker and more considered when promotions come up. And finally, have fun. Leadership is hard, but if you’re not having fun, you shouldn’t be doing it.



Rhea Altoft (she/her)

Team Leader at Flight Centre WestCity, Auckland, New Zealand

Rhea is the Team Leader at our Flight Centre WestCity store in Auckland and has been working at Flight Centre for 18 years. She started as a novice in our Onehunga store and worked her way to a leadership role over the years. She is also a mum of two boys, aged 14 and 11 years, and has found Flight Centre to be a great place to find some work/life balance: “I was very grateful to Flight Centre for their workplace flexibility, which meant that I could raise my boys and continue working at my pace through those years.”  

Originally from India, Rhea moved to New Zealand in 2002 and hasn’t looked back! She absolutely loves the relaxed Kiwi way of life, enjoys taking a swim at the beach after work in the summer and being a total foodie, she loves cooking with her eldest son who shares her passion for good food.   

And of course, Rhea loves travelling. She especially loves discovering other cultures, people and their cuisines. It all started when she was 21, backpacking around Europe with her best friend. It was her very first overseas experience and it ignited her passion for travel. “Now I always have to have my next holiday planned before I finish the current one!”   

One piece of advice that’s helped her?

When it comes to her career this is the advice she has for younger women starting out: “Be true to yourself and don't compare yourself to others. Don't be afraid to set high goals and work hard towards them.”   

And Rhea did exactly that with her career at Flight Centre: “A great aspect of Flight Centre is the recognition of achievements. I received a sales award at our National Ball every year from 2016 and in 2022 I was in the Top 10 Travel Experts in New Zealand which meant I achieved one of my ultimate goals, attending a Flight Centre Global Gathering! This was held in Las Vegas, and I was so proud to be part of the NZ contingent!” 


Kholiwe Dludla (she/her)

Management Accountant, South Africa

Kholiwe is a wife and mother of two wonderful children living in the West Rand.  She loves coffee, baking, hair dressing, hiking, reading and travelling. Kholiwe graduated from the University of Johannesburg and started her finance career at an FMCG company until 2013.  She then joined Flight Centre in June 2013 and has worked in different roles in finance, starting as a Banking Administrator, then joining the Ops Accountant's team. Following this she joined Central Payments, Creditors and finally moved into her current role a few months ago. 

The best advice she would pass on to a younger woman or her younger self would be "enjoy every stage of your life and know that nothing lasts forever, especially the bad times". If Kholiwe wasn’t currently working at Flight Centre she would have been a baker! She loves baking and would love to own a small pastry shop one day.  

Is there a life quote or philosophy you identify with or try to live by?

Always be kind.


Susana Gomes (she/her)

Director of Marketing, Flight Centre Canada

Susana is the Director of Marketing for Flight Centre Canada Retail and is new to the travel industry coming from a diverse marketing background in finance, ebooks, and telecom. She is an avid and passionate traveller and has been to 45 different countries. She is a full-funnel marketing guru and has worked through several successful rebranding and integrated marketing campaigns. When Susana is not developing award-winning marketing campaigns and exploring the globe, she enjoys spending time with her friends and family, especially her husband and young daughter, exploring foodie hot spots in Toronto, and is currently embarking on a new pottery hobby.  

When Susana was younger, she dreamed of being a lawyer (practical) or singer (fantasy!), but has always been passionate about travel, and if she could travel the world as her job, that is what she would do. Naturally marketing in the travel industry fit that bill nicely. Her top travel highlight was in 2019 before she got married, she and her husband took a two-month trip to India, Nepal, and Africa, doing some extreme adventure activities! Some highlights include, trekking to Everest Base Camp, exploring South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Zambia, bungee jumping from the highest bridge in South Africa, and dipping into the Devils Pool at Victoria Falls.  

One piece of advice she has?

Never screen yourself out, be assertive, project confidence, and surround yourself with strong male and female mentors. When you are young there is so much pressure to have your path all figured out, but you can do so many different things in your career and it’s okay to go through life and continue to explore different interests. 


Davida Wulff-Vanderpuije (she/her)

Content & Community Lead, Flight Centre UK

Davida grew up on her grandmother's witty Ananse stories under the starry nights of a Ghanaian childhood and always saw them as vivid adventures because of her engaging storytelling skills. On family road trips, her mum would squeeze travel essays out of her after the journeys. Those were the early shoots of her passion for travel and storytelling, though she didn't know it at the time. She pursued Journalism & Communications, started her first travel blog in 2008 when she lived in Paris, France, eventually did her Masters in Responsible Tourism, and has been sharpening her content and marketing expertise in the travel industry for some years now. 10-year-old Davida wanted to either be a television broadcaster or a teacher who travels the world teaching English. Given where she’s ended up, she’s of the firm belief that things align in the direction you’ve been travelling. Davida likes to say travel is her Ikigai - it's been ticking along with the beat of life and is both personal and professional for her.  

When not at work, she’s still living “Davida” loca as a storytelling writer, podcaster and founder of travel, food and culture blog, Wonders of Wanders. Her writings and audio narrations capture the memories of the journeys that shape us - to soothe the soul, sparkle the heart and celebrate all things transformational through the lens of travel.  

Advice she would give to her younger self or to a young woman?

“You cannot speak to all of the people all of the time, but you can create from the intimacy of your experiences. That is your superpower, and a uniqueness nobody can take away from you. You may not be everybody’s cup of sobolo - thrive anyway.” 


Cat Salkeld (she/her)

Senior CRM Executive, Flight Centre UK

With parents who met while travelling the world, Cat reckons travel’s always been in her blood! And that’s before you get to know her 10-year-old self wanted to be touring popstar (we think there’s still time!) Cat started her Flight Centre career in 2014 as a Travel Consultant and worked as Assistant Manager in two of our UK stores. She worked with customers to build bucket-list trips and complex travel plans while also helping team members with their personal development and training. Moving into the Marketing Automation team in 2019, Cat now looks after all email communications that go to our UK customers. This ranges from inspirational content and hot offers, to service messaging and travel updates. With a large part of her time in this role being during the pandemic, it’s certainly been challenging. However, Cat’s grateful for the opportunity to upskill as she’s had the chance to work across various areas in the marketing team including Content, Social Media and Customer Relations.  

Her advise to young women is to have confidence in yourself and avoid wasting time worrying about not being accomplished enough. “In the past, I didn’t have had the confidence to speak up in team meetings or give feedback when my thoughts would have been valuable, because I was more focused on doubting myself and looking foolish than the opportunities for learning these situations presented. Knowledge is power in most cases, so by always finding ways to learn more about the role you’re in or what others in the team are doing, means you can build your confidence quickly and make the most of the skills you have to offer.” 

Her biggest travel highlight of all time?

Whale-watching in Kaikoura (New Zealand) on a scenic flight was incredible. I was sitting in the front seat (basically the co-pilot!) as we took in breathtaking views of the stunning landscapes below. We were lucky enough to see so much marine life, from huge sperm whales and a pod of pilot whales to dolphins. The pilot even said it was one of the most successful trips he’d flown on!


Sara Winfield (she/her)

Global Store Merchandise Leader & Australia Media Lead

Sara started at Flight Centre when she was just 18, so a lot of how Sara identifies herself has been moulded at this company. Starting out as a retail consultant, Sara has made a habit of moving into areas she knows nothing about and excelling at them. She moved into marketing with zero marketing experience, has managed media buying, running the global creative team, and now store merchandising. One of her proudest career moments to date was being asked to return to work post-covid to bring all media buying in-house – something Flight Centre Australia had never done before.  

Why does she like working in travel? “Travel has played a huge role in discovering who I am and what I like. It's helped me realise I'm actually an extrovert, I enjoy my own company, and I am always curious.” 

10-year-old Sara was convinced she’d become a lawyer, but if she were to choose another career path, it would be something in tech, or a not-for-profit, with the intention of making a difference in the world. One thing she swears by no matter what she’s doing? “Trust your gut – your intuition guides you and you’ll know is something doesn’t feel right.” 

Advice that’s had the biggest impact on her?

First, C.I.A. – Can you control it? Can you influence it? Do you need to accept it? It's a way to ground yourself in a situation either personally or professionally to avoid dwelling on things you can't control, or reminding yourself of what you can. Next, the stretch zone is where you grow. It's the one juuuuust outside of your comfort zone – it challenges you, it's the one that gives you nerves, sweaty palms, even the pit at your stomach. It's the difficult conversations. It's the public speaking. The ownership of a mistake. Not knowing what an answer is or where to find it. It's all of these situations that push you to grow, and that stretch zone is one you have to visit as often as you can. And finally, nothing good ever happens after 2am. Go home. 


Emese Graham (she/her)

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Manager, Flight Centre Travel Group Americas

From a paper route to Marketing with Flight Centre Canada to the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Manager for Flight Centre Travel Group in the Americas, Emese has truly done it all! She is working on her Master’s Degree in Social Justice and Equity Studies, learning how to play the steel drums, and enjoys spending as much time as she can outdoors in nature. Emese sure knows how to balance her busy time. She has accomplished so much to be proud of in the DEI space. Emese is passionate about working with data and analytics, enjoys putting strategy up against big picture issues, and loves seeing the progress Flight Centre Travel Group is making as a company in the DEI space.  

Her favourite travel experience was sailing to the Galapagos Islands with Intrepid Travel. She loved the beautiful, quiet moments to watch the wildlife and reflect on nature in the lovely magical place.  

One piece of advice she has?

Confidence comes with experience and being nervous about building one’s career is a part of the process, but to try and keep a balance with the important things in life like family, friends, and other life experiences. 


Stash Steyn (she/her)

Contract Manager Commercial Supply

Nastassja 'Stash' Steyn has always had a passion for travel and the travel industry as a whole, she thinks we are very fortunate to be able to 'sell a dream " and have fun while doing so. She says travelling makes you a storyteller and it is a privilege to be able to have a career in something that makes you worldly and connects you with so many like-minded people across the globe. 

Stash is responsible for managing and maintaining relationships with our preferred partners #wesupportthosethatsupportus! Her previous experience includes retail at the former Menlyn Flight Centre in Pretoria, a wholesale consultant at Flight Centre Holidays, product support as well as talent acquistion. Stash is a proud flightie and definitely a brand warrior, using any and every opportunity to let others know how amazing our company is. 

Stash loves the idea of helping women feel beautiful so would have been an aesthetician if she wasn’t in her current role. Her biggest travel highlight of all time has to be breaking a heel in Monte Carlo Casino in Monaco and walking around one of the world's most luxurious casinos on tip toe so security wouldn't kick her out for being bare foot! 

Is there a life quote or philosophy you identify with or try to live by?

If you don't like something, change it.. if you can't change it, change your attitude-  Maya Angelou.


Lisa Patel (she/her)

Team Leader at Flight Centre Queensgate, Lower Hutt, New Zealand

Lisa is one determined lady! When she puts her mind to something she works really hard to achieve it and that’s how she went from starting out at Flight Centre 13 years ago in our North City store in Porirua, and worked her way up to being the team leader at our Queensgate store in Lower Hutt.  

The biggest highlight of her career was getting back into leadership after COVID affected the travel industry widely.  

“I had worked really hard to get into a Team Leader role pre-covid and just 6 months in was devasted that the store I was managing (Parliament store in Wellington CBD) was one of the first to close when COVID struck...yes, I was down for a bit but then I picked myself back up and worked hard in looking after our customers and keeping a positive mindset.” 
“Fast forward a couple of years later and the hard work paid off, I became Assistant Team Leader of our North City store and then a month later the Team Leader at Queensgate!  That was a huge achievement, and I am really excited to be helping in rebuilding our business after COVID.” 

Outside of work, Lisa is a solo mum, “I have a sweet yet sassy 7-year-old daughter! She's my world, and my travel partner in crime, keeping me grounded after a busy day with her infectious smile.”  

They both share a passion for travel (surprise surprise!) and have just come back from a 12-night cruise from Sydney to Auckland, with Celebrity Cruises.  

Her favourite travel experience?

Lisa is also a self-proclaimed “Disney nut”! “I have taken my daughter to Disneyland twice already as well as a Disney cruise to Mexico, and yes, we are going on one of the Disney cruises that are coming to New Zealand later this year, I can't wait! And we are booked to go to Disneyland Paris in September too haha!” 

Is there a life quote or philosophy you identify with or try to live by?

 "If your goals don't scare you, they aren't big enough " 


Antoinette Turner (she/her)

General Manager, Flight Centre South Africa

Antoinette is celebrating her 16th year in Flight Centre this year. She started her career in retail as a consultant, before moving around different teams and businesses, including a stint as the Brand Leader for Cruisabout and Regional manager for Gauteng / outer regional areas. She has a total of 15 years of Leadership experience with absolute passion for this company, the people, and the customers.   

Antoinette is a wife and a mom of a beautiful son and a Doberman Pincher.  Her family is her life and she treasures time spent with them.  She loves cooking - proper Afrikaans traditional meals. One of Antoinette's biggest highlights as a leader is seeing an impact on people growing not just in business but in their own personal capacity. Another big highlight for her was the first time she put her feet in the Caribbean Sea - to travel is such a blessing. 

Advice she has for young women is to never give up on what you really want - work hard, have grit and determination.  Whatever you do give it 110%.


Heidi Walker (she/her)

GM of Leisure Brands Flight Centre New Zealand

Heidi has been part of the Flight Centre family for 24 years. She has worked in many different parts of the business and started as a ticketer in our Ticket Centre, worked her way up into senior leadership roles and is now the GM of our Leisure Brands (Flight Centre, Travel Associates, and Independent Brokers).  

One of her biggest achievements was to receive several Flight Centre global and national awards including Most Improved Area, Hall of Fame, Directors Award and Most Improved Ticket Centre Globally to name a few. However, her recent recognition as the HeadFit Leader of the Year for wellness in the workplace was even more special to her: “Receiving this award was something I was extremely emotional and proud of.”  

Outside of work, Heidi loves travel and has so many highlights, but if she had to choose one it would be hot air ballooning in Cappadocia in Turkey. “It was such a magical morning rising above the ground and watching the sunrise surrounded by brightly coloured hot air balloons, hovering over some of the most amazing scenery, hearing the call to prayer and eating beautiful fresh food that tasted like sunshine - so many moments all in one day.”  

Her advice to younger women starting out their career?

“Don't doubt your ability, you are stronger than you think you are, work hard and you can achieve anything. But always be humble and take care of yourself, you cannot help others if you don't first look after your own wellbeing.” 


Dilnavaz Kayani (she/her)

Virtual Cruise Team Leader Flight Centre Canada

Dilnavaz’s name means “happiness of the heart,” and that truly comes across in her personality and outlook on life. She grew up and started her family in India, and moved to Canada 12 years ago, with her two sons who are now (22 and 25 years old). Dilnavaz has a degree in Biochemistry and is passionate about sciences. When she was younger, she wanted to go into the genetic engineering field. Dilnavaz had her first experience with Flight Centre while booking her own trip in New Zealand, before immigrating to Canada and joining Flight Centre Canada. Dilnavaz has held many positions since joining the Flight Centre Canada team, from Travel Consultant to Team Leader, to Customer Retention, and now the Cruise Team Leader, she has an abundance of experience with, and passion for Flight Centre. She has a wealth of travel experiences, but when she’s not travelling or selling travel, she is passionate about spending time connecting with friends, socialising with new connections, reading, and working out daily, so when her husband comes from India to spend time together, she can indulge in his famous baked goods.  

Dilnavaz loves a good challenge and has won global awards with her team. Her favourite travel memory is going to Singapore to her first Flight Centre Global Gathering with her whole team to accept the award for Most Improved Team.  

One piece of advice she has?

Be intentional in everything you say and do, enjoy every single moment, and life experience, and give 100+% to everything you want to accomplish. Take each day confidently as it comes, and not to stress about what might happen in the future, everything happens for a reason and there is always a solution. Motto in life: Good thoughts, good words and good deeds. 


Nikki Metcalfe (she/her)

Destination Specialist, Flight Centre UK

Nikki has been at Flight Centre for 19 years and likes to say she’s seen it all. She focuses on the specialist, niche products that Flight Centre sell, ensuring they are the right fit for the customer and offer the best value for money. Nikki has worked through some of the most world-changing events of the last few decades, including the Twin Towers falling, tsunamis, ash clouds and Covid, and credits her calmness with helping her to process information effectively in order to take control of the situation and ensure customers are looked after quickly. 

Outside of work, Nikki’s French bulldogs keep her busy! She loves reading and playing netball. A massive geography geek, she can still be found planning holidays for herself and friends, meaning she’s got a bag full of travel highlights. All-time favourites? Her first solo trip on a one-way ticket to Australia, getting married in Thailand, and seeing the night sky in the Southern Hemisphere, going on safaris and swimming with manta rays. She is always on the lookout for more magical moments to come. 

One piece of advice she has?

Be brave! The world can be a scary place but it needs strong woman at the helm to make meaningful change. Take time to breathe and realise what is important to you. Don’t bust a gut trying to further your career if you are happy side stepping into different roles to grow. Learning is fundamental and keeps us hungry. The old adage “knowledge is power” is so true. 


Kailea Cabico (she/her)

Travel Consultant Flight Centre Canada Broughton Location

Kailea Cabico is a Travel Consultant at the Broughton store location of Flight Centre Canada. Kailea’s parents met while travelling and that made her into a passionate traveller from an early age. She has been with Flight Centre for over nine years, has represented several store locations on the West Coast of Canada, and has held a variety of positions including Travel Consultant, Assistant Team Leader, and Customer Retention. When not selling travel or travelling the globe herself, Kailea enjoys spending time with friends doing activities like game nights, getting new tattoos, watching all the newest true crime documentary series’, crocheting, and channeling her inner Demi Moore (from Ghost) with her love of all thing’s pottery. Her background in Fine Arts and make-up artistry has contributed to her creative side, and she is also fascinated with history and regency era British history.  

Kailea is proud to have contributed to many great successes within smaller shops and increased profits in under-performing shops with a book smarter not harder mentality. Her experience collaborating with the Customer Retention team was a very humbling experience for her and reignited her passion for all things Flight Centre Finance. She has had so many engaging travel experiences, but her highlight trip was an On The Go trip to Turkey a few years ago. She enjoyed the best food and had a breathtaking sunrise hot air ballooning experience in Cappadocia, and truly feels that Turkey is a hidden gem that people don’t typically think about exploring.  

One piece of advice she has?

“Trust your gut, and some of the best things come to those who wait. Feelings do matter and it’s okay to feel those and express yourself. Whether you’re Cis or Trans-gender, all women are important, and should feel empowered to make decisions over their own bodies, feel confident in expressing their own opinions, and stand up for what they believe in.” 


Tamsyn Grundlingh (she/her)

Legacy Area Leader Flight Centre South Africa

Tamsyn is a bubbly, outspoken and caring individual who loves the outdoors, travelling and spending time with her family, pups, lifelong friends and laughing until her stomach hurts. She has been with Flight Centre for seven years, starting her retail journey in the Irene branch in 2016, moved to Brooklyn in 2017 where she became Future Team Leader and then Team Leader in October 2019. Tamsyn then moved to FC Sandton as Team Leader in July 2023 and currently just took on the Flight Centre Legacy Area Leader role. 

The greatest advice given to Tamsyn resulting in a huge impact on her life is to "Listen to understand, do not listen to respond." 

If Tamsyn wasn’t working in her current job she would have her own Interior Design firm specialising in resort design. (Her 10-Year-old self, wanted to be a lawyer). 

Is there a life quote or philosophy you identify with or try to live by?

Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the one's we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek. - Barack Obama 


Kate Neufeld (she/her)

Assistant Location Manager Burlington Location & Employee Resource Group Coordinator for Gender Equity

Kate Neufeld is not only the Assistant Location Manager at the Burlington shop of Flight Centre Canada, one of the top-performing shops in that region, she is also the Employee Resource Group Coordinator for Gender Equity for the region, she is a BUSY woman! Kate came from a background of Hotel Management and transitioned into Flight Centre 13 years ago. Since her start with the company, she has been a Team Leader and Assistant Team Leader at four different shop locations. Her passions are travelling and exploring the world (she’s been to 42 countries and counting!) and selling those unique and amazing travel experiences. From the start as a young woman Kate was always interested in travel, hotels, and hotel management. Her family would go on local trips staying in different hotels, and she always admired the big facilities and all the amenities, it’s no wonder why she landed herself here! Outside of the travel space Kate enjoys hanging out with friends, is an avid foodie (loves Nutella on anything and everything!) and enjoys spending time with her family and her parent’s new puppy, Susan!  

Highlights in her career include working with her incredible and tight-knit shop team, and all the awards she has received in her tenure, including a Newie award, and Most Improved. Kate’s travel highlights include taking the slow boat down the Mekong River in Laos and exploring Luang Prabang at the end of the 2-day journey and travelling to Versailles to watch a one-time only horseback riding competition featuring some of the most well-known global horseback riding competitors.  

One piece of advice she has?

It will never be the perfect time, the stars are never going to be completely aligned, so dive in and give it your all. Truly get to know yourself because the only person looking out for you is you, and it’s so important to use your own internal compass of morals and ethics to guide your decision-making.

This content was originally published by Flight Centre Australia on 27th February 2023.