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The Future is Female: A Celebration of Women in Travel & Hospitality

With the theme for International Women’s Day 2022 set as #BreakTheBias, we are turning to inspirational female leaders in the luxury travel and hospitality industry to reminisce on their careers, share their learnings and celebrate what exactly it is that makes women in this sector a force to be reckoned with. 

Curtain Bluff Resort, Antigua

The Fantastic Female Leadership Team at The Curtain Bluff Resort, Antigua

In a world rebounding from some of the most turbulent times in recent memory – and with women statistically worst affected, recognising #IWD2022 couldn’t be more important.

Luxury travel and hospitality is an industry that runs deep in our veins, but the sector that we are passionate about is also the one that faced the brunt of the pandemic, affecting a workforce of which 55.5% are women, yet the overwhelming majority in managerial positions are men.

We sit down with leading ladies in hospitality to hear about their journeys, who inspired them and their advice for others. With special thanks to Karen Kapaldi (Coral Reef Club & The Sandpiper), Petit Miribel (Sol y Luna), Toya Turner (Curtain Bluff Resort), Olivia Morrow (Jamaica Inn), Henrietta Lloyd (Travel Experts - Cazenove + Loyd) and Emma Hartland-Mahon & Sarah Richards (Travel & Hospitality PR Gurus - J Public Relations).

Here's what they had to say...

Who/what inspired you to work in travel and hospitality?

Petit Miribel, Owner, Sol y Luna, Peru: Education led me towards hospitality. My husband Franz and I opened Hotel Sol y Luna in Peru’s Sacred Valley as a way of using tourism to raise funds for the Sol y Luna Foundation that we had already founded. In 1998, we began constructing our first school and in 2000 we opened our hotel. The roots of Sol y Luna as a hotel, and its reason for being, has always been to support the community, primarily through education.  

Karen Capaldi, Owner, Coral Reef Club & The Sandpiper, Barbados: Both of my parents and particularly my mother, Cynthia O’Hara who is the chairman of our hotels, and at 91, still very active.  I grew up in our home in the grounds of Coral Reef Club surrounded by guests and the team.  This inspired me to join the family business and after 35 years I am still as passionate about the hotel industry as I was when I started.

Toya Turner, Reservations & Revenue Manager at Curtain Bluff Resort, Antigua: My grandmother, who worked at a small eight-room boutique hotel in Antigua. I went to work with her on many occasions as a young child and got to meet guests from all over the world, which broadened my horizons and inspired me to work in the travel industry.

 

How has the hospitality landscape shifted for women over the years?

Henrietta Loyd, Co-Founder, Cazenove + Loyd: When I co-founded Cazenove + Loyd back in ‘93, women were scarce in the tailormade travel industry – not only were there very few tour operators, fullstop, none of them were started by women. I hope it’s fair to say that we trailblazed for women in this industry; we certainly encountered male counterparts who were incredibly sniffy at the time, but the fact we are still standing 30 years later speaks for itself.

Karen Capaldi, Owner, Coral Reef Club & The Sandpiper, Barbados: When I first entered the business, I knew of only two female hoteliers and one was my mother. I now know and work with many. A hotel association board that I sit on is chaired by a woman and has had several strong, female chairs over the past 15 years.  We have just appointed our first female Food & Beverage Manager at one one of our hotels.  Not before time, things have changed, however I would like to see women continue to elevate to high level positions in hospitality.

Naomi Heaton, Founder & CEO, The Other House, London: While it remains true that the majority of the senior leadership positions in the industry are occupied by men, I believe the hospitality industry is on the right path to fostering women in leadership. More and more women are taking on senior leadership roles such as General Manager of some of the most fabulous properties in the world and it inspires more young women to explore the hospitality industry and consider it as a sector where they can succeed. It’s important that we continue to pave the path for the future generation of women in hospitality to follow. I hope that my position as CEO of a significant, growing and groundbreaking enterprise will also be inspirational for the women who are embarking in hospitality as a career.

Sarah Richards, Co-Managing Director at J Public Relations: Certain senior leadership roles in the hospitality industry such as GMs and restaurant managers have typically been represented by men. However, it’s less unusual now to see women in these senior roles. For instance, our client The Beaumont in Mayfair has a brilliant F&B operations manager, Leni Miras, who is utterly charming and extremely knowledgeable. I would love to see even more women in high flying leadership roles and more women represented in thought leadership opportunities.

 

Which of your achievements are you most proud of? 

Karen Capaldi, Owner, Coral Reef Club & The Sandpiper, Barbados: As well as huge bricks and mortar developments at both Coral Reef Club and The Sandpiper, I am incredibly proud of all the training we have done with our team alongside doing these projects. Seeing them develop and creating a good working environment is very satisfying.  I also still enjoy the day-to-day operations, enabling guests to have an amazing holiday and motivating individuals to develop their talents.

Olivia Morrow, Assistant Director of Sales & Marketing at Jamaica Inn, Jamaica: The first legitimate internship I secured. I was 18 and applied for a front office job at the Trump Tower in Chicago (well before Mr. Trump ran for President). Moving to Chicago as a young girl, living on my own for the first time and working in such an incredible and vast hotel was a turning point for me. It was a huge learning curve, but it felt great being part of a supportive and positive team. It was here that I learnt about the power of anticipating guests' needs and the experience really solidified my love for the travel and hospitality industry.

 

What's your long term career goal? 

Naomi Heaton, Founder & CEO, The Other House, London: To change the shape of the hospitality market with The Other House, making it far more relevant to today’s travellers. We are now looking for more value-added experiences, slow travel where work and vacation can be combined, and service on our own terms. In the near term, I am looking to acquire more assets in the different villages of prime central london and then roll out to other global destinations which like London attract both corporate and leisure travellers. Next stop? Probably New York, hubs like Singapore and other European capitals.  

Petit Miribel, Sol y Luna, Peru: The thing that has always driven me is to improve the livelihoods and wellbeing of some of the world’s most impoverished communities by offering their children an education. I also have a current goal which is something we are working on this year: to take the Sol y Luna Foundation to the next level, forming a board and improving our communication and campaigns so as to widen the net of fundraising.

 

What changes would you still like to see?

Naomi Heaton, Founder & CEO, The Other House, London: Both genders bring different skill sets to the table, which underscores the importance of diversity in the workplace. I want to see the industry really focussing on how to foster team spirit and create opportunity. At The Other House, we want to ensure that our team, our ‘OtherHousemates’,  are given the best development opportunities, are able to multitask, and find out which career paths suit them best. We want to focus on mental wellbeing and ensure that they have secure work contracts. We want an environment that people will aspire to work in, creating the best results for them personally, our guests and our business. This is as important for men as it is for women and I want to see equality and diversity. 

Toya Turner: Until quite recently, it was an Old Boy’s club and I would love to continue to see more diversity in the top echelon of the industry – not only more female managers but owners/developers, too. It is promising to see the hospitality landscape slowly changing as female managers are given more opportunities to be visible and promoted to the upper levels.

 

What strengths do women have in the travel and hospitality industry?

Henrietta Loyd, Co-Founder, Cazenove + Loyd Travel Expert: The woman has found her voice and a fitting niche in this business. Women make great salespeople, and at the top end, it’s a very female heavy industry these days, which speaks volumes about our skills. Girls are better at listening and they have less ego, plus the ability to read a situation well is famously a female skill. 

Naomi Heaton, Founder & CEO, The Other House, London: Hospitality is a people-oriented industry and women ­– with their ability to multi-task and having a passion to take care of both their internal team and guests – can reflect the very essence of hospitality. Empathy plays an important role in the industry. Being able to understand, recognise and predict the emotions and needs of guests is a special skill. I believe emotional intelligence is a critical factor that drives overall success and performance – making hospitality an industry that women can truly thrive in. But the same can certainly be said for all the wonderful men I have met in the industry. 

Toya Turner, Reservations & Revenue Manager, Curtain Bluff Resort, Antigua: Women tend to be more mindful in how they lead their teams, inclusive and collaborative in decision making and compassionate towards guests and fellow team members.

Karen Capaldi, Owner, Coral Reef Club & The Sandpiper, Barbados: Many women are strong leaders but also have a caring nature which is particularly important in a people-oriented industry. Happy team = happy guests, as we say. I believe women think more long term and care about the environment and the future. On the whole, women also offer an attention to detail that is important and we tend to have a good eye. Presentation is a big part of what we do, whether that be the presentation of interiors, team members, or menus. The skills of multitasking with the variety of tasks required in the industry is a plus and excellent communication skills are traits that many women in managerial positions bring to the table. 

Olivia Morrow, Assistant Director of Sales & Marketing at Jamaica Inn, Jamaica: Of course, it is unique for each person, but I think women bring a softer touch to the hospitality industry and a keen eye for the smaller details. Empathy is another strength – the ability to walk in the shoes of your guests and feel what they feel is so important.

 

Which women do you admire in the industry?  

Olivia Morrow, Assistant Director of Sales & Marketing at Jamaica Inn, Jamaica: Ruth Rodgers from the River Café is somewhat of a legend in the UKs hospitality sector. She has been leading the team at the iconic River Café since 1987 and making her mark on London’s gastronomic scene with some of the best food in London.

Naomi Heaton, Founder & CEO, The Other House, London: I admire women in every aspect of the sector, both making the guest experience the best it can be and ensuring they move up the career ladder, from our housekeepers, who have a hard job that so often goes unrecognised to our ‘House Jacks’ who are working Front of House to ensure that every guest interaction is the best one.  The same goes for our restaurant and bar teams, providing flamboyant experiences to remember  and our back of house teams - such as security, engineers, night managers or finance. We have wonderful women working in every one of these disciplines and I admire them for their  dogged determination to do their best, to succeed and to make the workplace a better place.

Toya Turner, Reservations & Revenue Manager at Curtain Bluff Resort, Antigua: Antoinette Chen who runs and owns Sandy Haven in Negril, Jamaica. She is a local Jamaican woman who has started and developed her own luxury boutique property from a background in retail.

 

Do you have any advice to other women looking to make it in travel and hospitality? 

Emma Hartland-Mahon, Co-Managing Director at J Public Relations: The luxury travel and hospitality PR industry is very competitive and fast-paced, so in order to stand out you have to be prepared to work hard, attend events and network at every opportunity. Carving out a name for yourself within the media as hyper-efficient and a relevant source of information is also key to becoming a market leader. 

Olivia Morrow, Assistant Director of Sales & Marketing at Jamaica Inn, Jamaica: Come to work with a positive attitude, a smile and a hunger for learning and growth. Take criticism and feedback constructively, and not to heart.  

Karen Capaldi, Owner, Coral Reef Club & The Sandpiper, Barbados: I would encourage women to particularly develop their communication and management skills, to not be emotional in difficult situations, however, to be in touch with their emotions when dealing with supporting their teams in the industry.

Naomi Heaton,  Founder & CEO, The Other House, London: Regardless of the sector and industry, my advice is always the same ­– never let old or traditional barriers stop you from achieving your goals and future ambitions. Follow your intuition and goals and be as dogged as you can. Almost anything can be achieved with hard work, insight and determination. When you’re faced with an obstacle or road block, find ways around them and you’ll see that you often end up with a better and more creative solution.

Petit Miribel, Owner, Sol y Luna, Peru: Everything starts with love.


 

As is evident from the testimonials of these inspirational females, women are natural born leaders of the travel and hospitality industry, shining in a world that is ready to  #BreakTheBias through skill, determination and hard graft, with added empathy, compassion and care. In a sector still recovering from the brunt of the pandemic, their input and guidance is now more vital than ever.

With the great travel reset, there is an opportunity to diversify leadership and continue to champion the people – women and men – that are driving the recovery of the industry and leading it to culturally relevant, soulful and sensitive new heights.

The Background: The history of International Women’s Day dates back to 1908, when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter working hours, better pay and the right to vote. The first National Woman's Day in the United States was declared the following year but things were made official in 1975, when the United Nations declared this day a celebration worldwide.

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