Giving Back Beats Going on a Cruise

With nearly 25 years of experience in the travel industry, Martha Troncoza is using her success to help incarcerated youth turn their lives around

For years, Martha Troncoza had a recurring dream of being sent to jail but never getting an answer when she asked about her court or release dates. After she began hosting workshops for incarcerated women—teaching them everything from healthy living and wellness techniques to how to dress for job interviews—her dream changed. She was finally released.

“There’s one thing that happens when you’re locked up: when you get out, you want to put things behind you,” Troncoza says. “But, I’ve been carrying this baggage for so long. I knew I needed to help these young women. Not only for them but for myself.”

The second-generation Mexican American and California native is now vice president of air operations at Viking Cruises, after having logged nearly twenty-five years in the travel industry. In her position, she addresses three issues: customer service, technology, and staffing. She says her staff makes sure to provide the most direct flights, with intuitive connections when necessary. Her team spends time on seat assignments and small details other companies overlook, and she works with United Airlines, Air Canada, and other top partner airlines to leverage her $300 million in annual spending to negotiate the best rates.

While addressing customer service, Viking Cruises’ air department also uses technology to handle some processes more efficiently without sacrificing product and quality. In all, Troncoza has automated 70 percent of what was once a fully manual and laborious process.

But while she has found success in her adult life, Troncoza’s teen years were a struggle. She was fourteen when she joined a gang, fifteen when she was incarcerated, and almost twenty when she was released and eventually had her record exonerated.   

Though Troncoza once described herself as a “hard-core gang member” when she was first imprisoned, she began to turn her life around in her four years at California Youth Authority. First, she finished high school and started college, and she also worked in the now-defunct Trans World Airlines’ call center to earn some money while still incarcerated.

“Sixty percent of my payment went to victims’ restitution, 40 percent to me, and 20 percent to my savings so that I had money once I got out,” Troncoza says. “But, my incentive to work was that I got tangible things. I could buy snacks and my own hygiene products.”

Such rewards are a pittance compared to what she earns in her current role at Viking Cruises, where she has worked for the past decade. After years of earning paychecks large enough to pay for the purchase of two houses, though, Troncoza wanted to focus on helping others—incarcerated youth in particular.

So, two years ago, she partnered with the Women of Substance and Men of Honor (WOSMOH) organization to return to the facility where she was incarcerated—now called the California Division of Juvenile Justice—to create an eight-week workshop, titled Young Women Breaking Barriers, for twenty participants.

“My giving back goes way back to starting in travel and the success that I have had,” Troncoza says. “My goal is to make a difference. For youth that don’t have the support and grow up in poverty, they struggle even more. Many of these youth fall into crime and make bad choices. The first thing society can do is forgive and encourage these youth.”

She self-funded the eight-week workshop she hosted in 2015 (spending up to $2,000 per session), and she hosted a second workshop in July 2017, focusing on issues such as female hygiene, how to behave in social situations, how to meditate, and how to build trust. “We plan for two hours for each session, and there are about eight sessions,” she says, adding that her company is very supportive of her volunteer work. “I sometimes take vacation from work because it’s important to me.”

Troncoza also plans, at a newly opened WOSMOH wellness center, to share the skills she’s learned in the travel industry with foster kids and recently incarcerated youth so that they can learn what it’s like to work for an airline, hotel, or cruise company.

Between her core responsibilities at Viking and her volunteering—she also sits on the executive board of Tourism Cares, which helps rehabilitate cities and travel sites across the United States and Canada—she doesn’t have a lot of personal time. But, she’s quick to add that giving back to her community “trumps being on a Mediterranean cruise for me.”