Women represent more than half of all students in university hospitality programs — 67% according to the Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Education, May 2015. Yet, a study from that same year found that women hold fewer than 40% of all hotel managerial positions and less than 20% of general management roles.
For this article, however, rather than dwelling on the statistics, we want to focus on the women who are defying them.
We had the privilege of speaking to several innovative and in-charge women hotel managers. While they may have taken different paths to get to where they are today, they have a few things in common beyond their success in a male-dominated field. Chief among these similarities are a passion for taking care of their guests, an entrepreneurial approach to running a hotel, and a penchant for hard work.
We also spoke to trivago’s Global Head of Technical Partnerships, Jessica Neth, to learn about her work as a woman breaking the glass ceiling on the technology side of the industry.
Here, these women share their thoughts about their career paths, their innovations as industry leaders, and their advice for other women who aspire to reach a senior hospitality position.
From left: Hotel Manager Tiziana Laterza of Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria; Hotel Manager Irene Talg of Hotel Tigaiga, Hotel Manager Elena Röhl of The Mandala Hotel, and trivago Global Head of Technical Partnerships Jessica Neth
trivago Business Blog: Did you always want to work in hospitality? How did you get to where you are today?
“The hotel is a family business opened 1959 by my grandfather and father,” explained Irene Talg, General Manager of Hotel Tigaiga in Tenerife. “My siblings and I were brought up experiencing the hotel daily life from childhood. I did not really want to work in the hospitality sector and studied business administration, but my father made it very attractive for me to return; letting me implement from the start 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!”
“I started out in the hospitality world back in 2000 and never thought of working in a hotel before,” said manager of The Mandala Hotel, Elena Röhl. “From the very beginning, I realized that a good education is a key to start in this industry. The Swiss hotel education was an important keystone to get where I am, but surely not the only one. It is not possible to reach a senior position in hospitality without hard work and continuous learning and developing yourself. And of course, not without a passion for hospitality.”
“Since my early years I started traveling around the world,” Tiziana Laterza, manager of Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria told us. “I was fascinated by meeting new cultures, new people, and new experiences. That lead me to pursue a career in travel agencies. From there the jump 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.”
“I knew I wanted to work in the travel industry,” revealed Jessica Neth. “After finishing my studies [in Travel and Tourism Management], I found an internship at trivago, then a small startup. Looking back, it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Working at a startup gives you the ability to imagine, design, build, and create rather than follow standard workflows and processes. Looking 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 the hotel guests come from all over the world, but because the same applies to people working in a hotel. It’s a people-oriented industry and that is what gears me up every morning. You get to be creative and help people make the most out of their stay when visiting your hotel and your country.”
Irene Talg — “Making our guests happy and acknowledging how they value the effort made every day by each and all our Tigaiga team members to achieve this.”
Elena Röhl — “I enjoy the great variety of tasks that my job brings and creativity together with expertise, that is required in this fast-paced environment.”
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 is not self-evident these days and it helped me grow together with the company.”
What do you find to be the most challenging part of being a hotel manager?
Elena Röhl — “As a hotel manager, you constantly face different challenges, starting from finding the qualified staff and ending with customer expectations, technological development, and steady growing revenue expectations. However, I believe the biggest challenge nowadays is technology: its development is increasingly influencing the operations of the hotels, as well as hotel guest’s needs and expectations. Keeping up with this development is the most challenging part in my mind.”
Irene Talg — “Keeping up to date; there are so many departments in a hotel, and we are constantly innovating so that repeaters and new guests find here at the Tigaiga more that they expect and experience wonderful holidays. We want to offer our guests a place to feel at home and relax for example in our subtropical gardens, but not only enjoying the green environment which surrounds our premises but also learning about were 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 only in terms of the hours you work, but also the work you do during those hours. But the greatest challenge is trying to make guests (and staff) happy. Working in hotels is all about ensuring guests’ wants and needs are met and even exceeded — and it’s no longer limited to just a warm bed and good meals.”
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, 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?
Elena Röhl — “I was responsible for a number of implementations of technological innovations, which are not immediately visible to the customer, but improve customer experience indirectly: switching to a more advanced PMS (Property Management System), implementing automated revenue management solutions and CRM, optimizing the connectivity of the hotel. Operationally we have for example switched from the printed hotel directory in the room to its electronic version, with the option to order room service or place a request by housekeeping using the in-room tablet.”
Tiziana Laterza — “We teamed up with the Municipality of Sorrento and we host art exhibitions, live 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 — “Ten months ago we installed a new composting machine for the treatment of the organic waste from our kitchen and restaurant: Our aim is to reduce waste and the emission of greenhouse gases and produce quality compost for our gardens.”
What advice would you share with women who are at the start of their hospitality careers and aspire to reach a senior position?
Irene Talg — “’Experience’ all tasks in the hotel at every level to see what each implies and open your mind and discover the multi-faceted career the hotel industry offers. If you love your job, you will be happy!”
Jessica Neth — “What I’ve observed the last couple of years is still the stereotype that men ‘take charge’ and women ‘take care.’ I 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 and try to constantly put yourself forward for opportunities, whether it’s leading a new project, attending an event, or conducting your first business meeting.”
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.”
Elena Röhl — “I think that today it’s become easier for women to reach a senior management position in the hospitality industry, as the required skills and qualities are not gender related. So, there is no specific advice for women. Good hospitality education with certain practical experience is a good start. Inform yourself about the company you are going to start working for. Keep yourself motivated and remain agile. Be ready to work hard to make steps in your hospitality carrier, do earn the respect of your teammates and develop your leadership skills. A good manager is always a good leader with a team of professionals.”
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The organization tackling the leadership gap in the travel and tourism industry
We also had the privilege of speaking to Laura Mandala, Managing Director of Mandala Research and former VP of Research with the U.S. Travel Association, who founded witti (Women in Travel & Tourism, International) to “Address the leadership gap in the highest ranks of the travel industry.”
Citing staff data from several companies and organizations, Laura highlighted the fact that “At the most senior levels women are disproportionately underrepresented.”
Witti aims to address this leadership gap by:
- Highlighting the contributions of women to the industry through its annual award program.
- Providing networking opportunities for women to connect women in other segments of the industry and expand their opportunities for learning about available leadership positions.
- Maintaining the dialogue around the lack of parity in leadership by 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 who is in those circles or require that more diverse pools of talent are considered for leadership positions, then we will continue to have leadership mirroring the leadership we see today.”
Visit http://womenintravelandtourism.com/ to find out more about witti, its mission, and initiatives.