Renee Welsh is the co-creator of Booking Boss, the award-winning ticketing and booking management platform. The company was sold to Helix Leisure in 2017. In 2018 she became CEO of Solutions Group, where she is now responsible for two of Helix’s companies – Booking Boss and Embed.
Renee Welsh was named Entrepreneur of the year in 2016 by Travel Weekly. She spoke to Blooloop about making a name for herself in the world of attractions technology. She also talked about how she is leading the way for women in the industry.
Welsh studied travel & tourism at Williams Business College in Sydney, Australia. In 2000, she graduated from Macquarie University with a bachelor’s degree in Commerce Marketing.
During her early career, she built up experience in the fields of travel, events, marketing and eCommerce. She then became part of the founding team at her first startup in 2001, named RedBalloon. This online provider of personal and corporate experience gifts offers over 5000 gift ideas and vouchers, from adventure activities to luxurious getaways.
From here, Welsh went on to create another startup in 2005, called GoDo. GoDo is an instant online booking facility for activities and tours in Australia and New Zealand. In 2010, she became a General Manager at Wotif Group. There she oversaw the marketing, product, social media, sales and CRM teams for the GoDo website, as well as travel.com.au.
The beginning of Booking Boss
In 2013, Welsh began Booking Boss. The company was created along with her husband Andy Welsh, an enterprise software engineer. Given her experience in the online tourism industry, she was in an ideal position to observe a growing problem. Namely, that too many tourism businesses were still working from diaries and spreadsheets. She knew that, with the shift to online businesses, many of these companies would struggle.
This realisation led her and Andy to create Booking Boss. This cloud-based reservation software is designed specifically for attractions, tour operators and activity providers. The web-based solution is able to manage ticketing and bookings centrally. This means that operators can reduce queues and streamline processes. It also helps to make the guest experience more positive.
Booking Boss won Best Software Product of the Year in the Australian Business Awards 2014. It also won Silver at the NSW Tourism Awards 2016.
Booking Boss and Helix Leisure
Booking Boss was sold to global organisation Helix Leisure in 2017. Welsh says that although selling the company was not an easy decision, it was the right decision for the company and the brand.
“Helix Leisure is a well-respected, family-owned business. It shares very similar values and had a legacy of innovation,” she says. “This was a big part in narrowing down who we wanted to grow Booking Boss with. There’s a huge amount that Booking Boss is doing for this industry, and that’s really exciting.
“Knowing Booking Boss was becoming a part of the Helix Leisure group; I knew the business would benefit from the existing operational strengths of Helix. For example, automatic international expansion with the existing Helix Leisure global footprint (5 offices across the globe) and access to an existing global customer-base (over 1,000 customers across 42 countries).
“It also benefits from a local salesforce, local operations (with over 3,000 installations), care. That’s not to mention the development resources to take Booking Boss to new heights. It was clear what Helix Leisure would do for the brand.”
Renee Welsh & Solutions Group
Then in April 2018, Welsh became CEO of Solutions Group. Headquartered in Singapore, she is responsible for two of Helix Leisure’s companies – Embed and Booking Boss.
“Becoming CEO of the Solutions Group, with the Embed and Booking Boss businesses, was a natural and organic progression,” says Welsh. “When I joined the company, I focused on the integration of the two businesses and teams along with product development.
Embed is a worldwide leader in cashless business management systems and solutions for the amusement, entertainment and leisure industries.
Changing the industry
Welsh believes that these two companies are in a unique position, with the ability to change the industry:
“We are on a mission to enable, empower and ease the business of fun with a vision of transforming the industry. By putting the guest at the heart of everything we do, we enable the operator to thrive.
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“Since stepping into the CEO role I’ve been single-minded in my aim to elevate every function of the company. From installation and training to support and care, and from product features to the company’s culture and value system. I’m assembling an executive team from various high-tech industries. I’ve seen so many tipping points in the last year and it’s only the beginning.
A new challenge
Welsh was more than happy to take on the challenge of her new role within Solutions Group and Helix Leisure.
“As an Entrepreneur and Founder, I am a seasoned business leader. I am comfortable delving into various parts of an operation. Coming into this role I faced the same challenges that any CEO faces when stepping into a new company. I count myself fortunate to have a strong diverse team supporting me.
“Pulling our company together and pushing for unified systems and goals has been achieved through really hard work. I’m proud of what we’ve achieved and even more so seeing how the company has responded to it; it’s humbling to see!”
Renee Welsh on women in the industry
Welsh also talks about her experience as a female entrepreneur and CEO in the business, as well as diversity in the industry in general.
“I take pride in our diversity metrics. And you’ll see this reflected across all our social media channels! 33% of our leadership team is female, when half of all startups have no women on their leadership teams*. Only 17% of Fortune 500 CEO’s are women** and only one in four start-ups has a woman on the founding team.*
“It is a widely known fact that women are underrepresented in the high-tech sector. Raising capital is harder for start-ups with female founders. Start-ups with female founders are more likely to tap small investors* or risk not securing funding at all.”
“I consider myself highly motivated and resilient. But going through the high-tech start-up experience served to build resilience that is not easily shaken. I hope my Entrepreneurial experience with Booking Boss (as Founder) and now CEO of Helix Leisure serves to debunk myths about women in tech.”
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She also believes that actions and attitudes are changing:
“We’ve seen it happening across all industries but the numbers are not climbing quickly enough. So, clearly there’s slow progress towards gender parity. With that in mind, it is an honour to helm this company and brand. We are pioneering and trailblazing this movement in the family entertainment space.
“We’re also seeing more people approach us for leadership positions. From memory didn’t happen at all until recently; I’m definitely seeing that change.”
Closing the gender gap
“60% of start-ups have programs to increase women in leadership.* With 33% of our leadership made up of women, we are living the example that others aspire to achieve. It is a testament to our value system, our culture and organisation, who we are and how we do things. Our GM of EMEA is female and our Head of Sales in the Americas is female. Our CMO and Chief of HR, based in Singapore, are both women.
“We are a high-tech firm employing people from 24 cultures of which 38% are female. Closing the gender gap in tech is hard. But I believe we are on the right track and have many exceptional role models to be able to continue this momentum.”
Renee Welsh on the attractions industry
Welsh also speaks positively about the changes that new technologies have brought to the industry:
“We’re on the cusp of an exciting transformation that’s led by technology adopted by the guest- our end consumers. This end of the spectrum has an expectation that businesses keep up and deliver a superior guest experience. This is a shift in how we at Embed will do things; it is a very exciting time and is a completely different way of thinking.
“Businesses have to evolve in order to stay competitive. The peril of sticking with old technology is that they will not compete with businesses who are more focused on their guests. These businesses are offering superior guest experiences.
Finally, Renee Welsh says, “We have some exciting developments in the works that we will announce at IAPPA this year. Stay tuned.”
*Source: Women in Technology Leadership 2019, Silicon Valley Bank **NCWIT.