How travel businesses can drive diversity from the inside out

How travel businesses can drive diversity from the inside out

By Marijke Timmers*, Chief Marketing Officer at Atlas

How travel businesses can drive diversity from the inside out

Three-quarters of the world’s major conflicts have a cultural component. With so much tension in the world these days, promoting global acceptance and understanding is crucial to fostering a future where unity prevails over division and peace triumphs over conflict.

Marijke Timmers, Chief Marketing Officer, Atlas

Every year on May 21, the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development highlights the importance of protecting the richness of the world’s cultures. It also underscores how intercultural dialogue is key to peace and sustainable development.

At Atlas, we believe the travel industry plays an important role in bringing more diversity and acceptance to the world. 

Travel makes the world safer and more peaceful by enabling people to explore and understand different cultures, languages, traditions and beliefs. Low-cost is fundamental to increasing the accessibility and affordability of travel for all, and that’s why we do what we do. 

Today, we call on travel suppliers and sellers to think about how you can contribute to and positively impact the mission of driving cultural diversity.

The theme for this year’s World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development is to discover and experience diversity.  

It could not be more relevant to the travel industry: travel by its very nature is global, and so it must be the way we behave as an industry – embracing diversity at every level. 

Every journey starts with asking the right questions: 

  • How truly diverse and inclusive is your travel business?  
  • Is your business policy- or purpose-driven?  
  • Does your team not just buy in but believe and stand for your values? 
  • How does this translate to the service you provide and the responsibilities you choose to take on?  

Not sure how well you are doing right now?  

Then this World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development seems like the perfect time to initiate a debate about diversity and inclusion in your organization. You don’t have to make it perfect; you just have to get it going. 

Team Atlas explores Singapore

Being genuine in your actions is more important than moving fast and reaching far. 


As a marketer, I’ve seen so many brands talk about purpose in order to connect with their customers emotionally. It’s a great strategy and one I highly recommend. But today’s consumers and especially today’s travelers are waking up to the ‘purpose-pretense’. In the same way, consumers are now more aware of greenwashing, they are also much more skeptical about brands impersonating integrity purely for profit, under the disguise of ‘purpose’.  

Sadly, diversity and inclusion initiatives in many organizations are at risk of heading down the same track (which is tragic when you consider that innovation can only come from diversity of thought and ideas).   

At Atlas, we are committed to ensuring that our truly global and diverse workforce lives and breathes our purpose from the inside, shares the same values and is driven by the same motives. 

Every year, we assess how well our team aligns with our purpose. This metric is just as important to us as the team’s satisfaction score. 

Our recent employee survey shows that 95% of our people believe in travel’s ability to create inclusivity and acceptance in the world, and 90% of them trust that Atlas is enabling more people to experience travel. 

We embed our purpose in our decision-making, our commercial model, hiring policies and beyond. Nothing should compromise our overall vision of opening travel for all. 

Marijke Timmers, Atlas' CMO and the founder of Dara's Children Trust, on her visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, with Atlas' CEO and Founder Mary Li

But what we do is just as important as how we do it. 


Embracing diversity is not easy – you have to be open to new ideas and not make any assumptions. 

Here are just a few of the ways we live by our commitment to diversity.

With 23 different languages spoken in our small team of ~60, we’ve learned not to make any assumptions. 

Instead of focusing on someone’s communication skills in English (as our primary business language), we always encourage each other to focus on the intent, avoid making any assumptions and trust that we all work towards the same goals. It’s much more productive than holding a grudge over every incorrectly spoken word. We also use several AI translation tools to assist with the language barriers – and create equal opportunities for all the bright people we have on the team. 

Even something as simple as age differs between cultures. In New Zealand (where I’m based), I am 45 years old at the time of writing this blog. In Cambodia (where my charity operates), I would be 46 because, at birth, I would have been one year old already. In China (where much of our product and development teams reside) I would be… 47! Because like in Cambodia, you are one year old at birth and then the next year is counted as Chinese New Year.  

This prime example shows how even such a similarly simple concept as age can be so different in other cultures.  

Despite the above points, we have also learned that we are more similar than different. All unique in our own ways, we come together to share travel stories, food and life experiences. We celebrate growing our families as much as growing our business. We laugh together, share our cats’ (and kids’) photos and cheer each other on a good and a bad day. 

We also acknowledge the common nature of experience to be a human these days, with all its joys and challenges. Recently, we’ve injected more mindfulness into our day-to-day. It started with our leadership teams learning meditation and mindfulness techniques as part of our growth as people and leaders. We are committed to also filtering these tools through our entire business. Because, regardless of where we come from and what our responsibilities are, it’s important for all of us to take care of our mental health and wellbeing – both at home and at work. 

Last year, we introduced a cross-border, cross-functional initiative to help all the teams access people internally they normally wouldn’t work with daily. With monthly themed meetings and dedicated chat groups, this program encouraged people to learn more about each other and to share their ambitions, beliefs, cultural norms, communication styles, and values.  

This initiative also allowed everyone to better understand and appreciate the diverse set of skills we have in our global team and leverage them in ways we previously wouldn’t have considered. 

As a result, our Employee Engagement survey last year climbed to over 90% satisfaction score for enjoying working with various teams. Enriching partnerships is a core value for us, so we are delighted with this outcome. 

The evolution of our cross-border, cross-functional teams this year is our Atlas for Impact initiative. It’s one of our core initiatives as a business as we come together to create a positive impact across four of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

We are focusing on four SDGs most aligned with our business and values: 

  • No Poverty (1) 
  • Quality Education (4) 
  • Reduced Inequalities (10) 
  • Climate Action (13) 

In mixed groups, we are working on moving the dial for these SDGs – both internally and externally.  

It has been incredible to witness the shift from an intellectual conversation about purpose to an actionable dialogue around the issues facing us all. We set up metrics and work towards these goals as one team, while still learning about each other and the diversity of our team and the parts of the world we call in from. 

Atlas is committed to create a positive impact across four of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Pictured: Team Atlas with their 'SDG' necklaces.

These are a few ways we are embracing diversity in our team, while growing a fast-paced start-up and building a world-leading LCC distribution platform. Our diversity enables us to view problems differently and find innovative solutions, while enjoying working with each other. 

And, Atlas urges the global travel sector to join in. All of us in the travel industry must play our part in creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce – one that is built on shared values but also empowered to embrace our differences. 

We know many of our travel industry partners have similar initiatives and encourage those who haven’t yet made a start, to kick it off with something simple. 

While we experiment with our initiatives, we’re always keen to learn from others across the travel ecosystem – so let us know what you do and who you think does well in space! 

Team Atlas on a business trip: Clive Ashmore Butler, Mary Li, Liujie Yang, Spencer Nailor, Dany Dantas

*Marijke Timmers is Chief Marketing Officer at Atlas. Marijke has more than 20 years of experience marketing some of the world’s fastest-growing companies, delivering high-impact, measurable marketing and customer experience programs. Before joining Atlas, Marijke was Head of Marketing for eNett International (now WEX) and held senior marketing positions at ANZ Institutional, Barclays Capital and Citigroup. In 2010, she founded and is Director of Dara Children’s Trust – a charity that supports hundreds of underprivileged families in Cambodia through community and education initiatives. As CMO for Atlas, Marijke and her team deliver brand management, customer acquisition, customer experience, employee engagement and exceptional usability across Atlas platforms. 

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