International Women’s Day: Celebrating Leaders in Hospitality and Technology

Even though women are still underrepresented in the hospitality and tech industries, with only 1 in 22 CEOs, and 1 in 9 presidents being a woman, their presence is much more profound than ever.

Today, women in hospitality and technology bring with them great perspective and expertise. They’re fearless in voicing their opinions and are building their own path to success and unprecedented growth.

We had the privilege to speak with Irene Talg, General Manager at Hotel Tigaiga on Tenerife, and Tiziana Laterza, Hotel Manager at Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria in Sorrento, who share a few things in common beyond their success in a male-dominated field. Although their paths may be different to get where they are today, they share a passion for hospitality, an entrepreneurial approach, and a penchant for hard work.

In addition, we sat with Anja Honnefelder, Chief Legal and People Officer at trivago, as well as Jessica Neth, trivago’s Global Head of Technical Partnerships, to learn about their work as women breaking the glass ceiling on the tech side of the industry.

Let’s take a look at their insights, experience, and personal stories, as well as find out what it takes for women to reach a senior position in the hospitality and tech industries today.

Did you always want to work in hospitality? How did you get to where you are today?

Irene Talg: The hotel is a family business that was opened in 1959 by my grandfather and father. My siblings and I were brought up experiencing hotel daily life from childhood, so I didn’t really want to work in the hospitality sector. I studied business administration, but my father made it very attractive for me to return. From the start, he let me implement all my ideas in all areas of the hotel, from quality certifications to environmental management, from social media to revenue management—and here I am!

Tiziana Laterza: Since my early years, I started traveling around the world. I’m fascinated by meeting new cultures, new people, and new experiences, all which led me to pursue a career in travel agencies. The jump from there to the hotel industry was an easy one, especially because you get to be a part of the new experiences people are seeking when traveling.

Anja Honnefelder: “After I graduated from high school, my dad cut me a deal: Study three years of law and then become a foreign correspondent—my dream job at the time. My dad was clearly smarter than me because seven years later I started as a fully-fledged lawyer in a big law firm. Fast forward another seven years to me waiting for my job interview at trivago. I immediately knew I liked it here—things seemed a little chaotic, but in a good way. I wouldn’t be reporting on CNN, but this was a step closer to the environment I envisioned myself in.

Jessica Neth: I always knew I wanted to work in the travel industry. After finishing my studies [in Travel and Tourism Management], I found an internship at trivago, which was a small start-up at that time. Looking back, it was one of the best decisions I ever made. A start-up gives you the ability to imaginedesignbuild, and create rather than follow standard workflows and processes. When I look at trivago now, one of the leading tech companies, there was probably no better place for me to take on such incredible responsibility and have such immense growth potential.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Tiziana Laterza: Hospitality gives you the opportunity to work in an international environment. Not only because hotel guests come from all over the world, but also because the same applies to those working in a hotel. It’s a people-oriented industry, and thats what gears me up every morning. You get to be creative and help people make the most out of their stay while visiting your hotel and country.

Irene Talg: I enjoy making our guests happy and recognizing how they value the effort that’s been made every day by each and all of our Tigaiga team members to achieve that.

Anja Honnefelder: I’m lucky to be surrounded by incredible people from different corners of the world—smart, driven, humble, and always up for a laugh. Travel has seen better days, but I see this as an opportunity to navigate a crisis like I always imagined I would. All I can say is challenge accepted, and I’m looking forward to shaping the future of travel with trivago!

Jessica Neth: What I love most about my job is having a voice. Being able to constantly share your ideas and visions and being heard isn’t self-evident these days; it’s helped me grow along with the company.

What do you find to be the most challenging part of your job?

Irene Talg: It’s a challenge to keep up to date because there are so many departments in a hotel. Were constantly innovating, so that repeat guests and new guests at the Tigaiga find more that they expect, as well as experience wonderful a holiday. We want to offer our guests a place to feel at home and relax, for example not only to enjoy the green environment of our subtropical gardens that surround our premises, but also learning about where the flowers and plants come from, and when they bloom.

Tiziana Laterza: The fact that being a hotel manager involves a great deal of variety, not just in terms of the hours you work, but also the work you do during those hours. Although the greatest challenge is trying to make guests (and staff) happy, working in hotels is all about ensuring that guests’ wants and needs are met and even exceeded—it’s no longer limited to just a warm bed and good meals.

Anja Honnefelder: Although it’s definitely less chaotic at trivago compared to when I first started, it’s never boring! There are always new challenges, and I’m still constantly learning, from building a legal team and supporting trivago through its IPO to diving into topics related to human resources as Chief People Officer.

Jessica Neth: The biggest challenge that I see, especially looking at hotel technology solutions, is the fragmentation of the industry, with so many suppliers offering seemingly identical services. The market is flooded with technology products, with many of them being too expensive, too complex to operate, or not tailored to the needs and budgets of smaller properties. This makes it very difficult for independent properties to choose the right options for their business.

What new innovations have you introduced at your property?

Tiziana Laterza: We teamed up with the Municipality of Sorrento, and we now host art exhibitionslive concerts from local artists, theater plays, and so on. Our aim is to help our guests experience local arts and, so far, the feedback we’ve had from our guests is beyond expectations.

Irene Talg: We installed a composting machine for the treatment of the organic waste from our kitchen and restaurant. Our goal is to reduce waste and the emission of greenhouse gases, as well as produce quality compost for our gardens.

What can companies do to help empower women in the workplace?

Anja Honnefelder: A work-life balance is important for all talents in a company, such as offering both flexible vacation time and working hours. But it becomes even more important for women with children.

For example, at trivago we provide parents the best support possible because we know there are times that can be challenging. We have resources to help new parents navigate the German system for parental leave, how to register a spot in day care, as well as give the primary caretaker full flexibility to work from home for the first three years after the birth of a child. The process to go on parental leave and return to the workplace needs to go smoothly.

Jessica Neth: Knowledge and education are key, as they’re both empowering. So, it’s important to invest in women by offering mentoring or coaching programs, for example, to further help them to develop and build their skills.

I’ve had a female coach for some time. She’s really helped me and showed me ways to better position myself. As a result, it’s built up my self-confidence even more. I think when you empower women, you raise their self-confidence. In return, you have motivated employees who will also create great relationships within the company and contribute to important and strategic decisions.

What advice would you share with women who are at the start of their careers and aspire to reach a senior position?

Tiziana Laterza: Love what you do, be passionate about it, and always invest time in it. Stay on top of hospitality trends, what people like, what will make them feel at home when choosing your hotel. Apply yourself at everyday tasks, no matter how easy or small they seem. But most importantly, keep on gaining knowledge by participating in seminars, workshops, and conferences. That will help you exchange knowledge with peers, give you a new perspective, and make you an important asset for the hotel you’ll be working at.

Irene Talg: Experience all the tasks in the hotel at every level to see what each one implies. Open your mind and discover the multi-faceted career the hotel industry offers, too. If you love your job, you’ll be happy!

Anja Honnefelder: What’s always helped me is to stay curious and thirsty to learn more. The courage to move out of your comfort zone will then come automatically.

Although it’s also easy to get distracted by what others may think of you and steer you off course, you can’t please everyone. What matters most is that you’re happy and fulfilled with the path you’ve chosen. As long as you have your goals in mind, keep believing in yourself.

Moreover, when times get tough, lean into them; there’s seldom success without hard work behind the difficult moments. And, of course, don’t lose your humor along the way—enjoy the ride!

Jessica Neth: What I’ve observed the last couple of years is still the stereotype that men ‘take charge’ and women ‘take care.’ I’ve had many meetings with men whose female assistants usually had a lot more expertise and a better overview of the topics than they did. Therefore, the advice I would give to women who are at the start of their careers is: Don’t underestimate yourself. Don’t be afraid of speaking up. Also try to constantly put yourself forward for opportunities, whether it’s leading a new project, attending an event, or conducting your first business meeting.

The organization tackling the leadership gap in the travel and tourism industry 

Furthermore, we had the privilege to speak with Laura Mandala, Managing Director of Mandala Research and former VP of Research with the US Travel Association. She’s also the founder of Women in Travel & Tourism International (Witti), with the goal to connect, support, and promote women’s contributions in travel and tourism.

While citing staff data from several companies and organizations, Laura emphasized the fact that “at the most senior levels women are disproportionately underrepresented.”

Witti aims to address this leadership gap by:

  • Highlighting the contributions of womento the industry through its annual award program.
  • Providing networking opportunities for womento connect women in other segments of the industry and expand their opportunities to learn about available leadership positions.
  • Maintaining the dialogue around the lack of parity in leadershipby conducting and participating in panels on women in the industry at travel conferences and trade shows around the globe.

“Analyses of leadership decision-making reveal that people tend to hire people ‘like them’ and who are already in their professional or social circles,” Laura explained.  “If we don’t expand whos in those circles or require that more diverse pools of talent are considered for leadership positions, then we’ll continue to have leadership mirroring the leadership we see today.”