International Women's Day: 12 Inspirational Women Defining the Future of Hospitality

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These 12 women not only hold senior roles in the hospitality industry, but also consistently dedicate themselves to gender diversity in accommodation. These female leaders continue to challenge and expand the boundaries of their fields, and their contributions will pave the way in developing the future of hospitality and female roles within it.

Liz Lambert is a chief creative consultant and founder of Bunkhouse Group, a luxury hotelier brand. Starting as a creative writing student who then went on to pursue a law career in the Manhattan District Attorney office in New York, Lambert fell into hotel and brand design rather than seeking it out at the start. She has been highly regarded for her eclectic taste and commitment to high-quality service, as well as her dedication to bringing community engagement to the hotels she designs for - beyond what has been done before. As a master hotelier, Lambert has been able to bring vibrant creativity to her own life as well as the lives of many others.

Rocio Lane, founder and CEO of Cleancio

Rocio Lane is the founder and CEO of on-demand vacation rental cleaning company Cleancio. Born and raised in Bolivia, the Hispanic entrepreneur fell in love with the industry because of the possibility it held for innovation. She hosted Airbnb properties and engaged with the host side of the industry for years before realising there was room for improvement on the side of property management and housekeeping operations. The pursuit of her passion for housekeeping would later grow into the high-quality service for short-term rental businesses and hosts that it is today. Looking forward, especially on International Women’s Day, Lane hopes to continue affecting positive change in the short-term rental industry. This includes her mission to bring more women into leadership roles in the industry.

Yaa Birago, co-founder and CEO of Femmebnb

Yaa Priscilla Birago is the co-founder and CEO of Femmebnb Inc. Femmebnb is the first social networking and short-term rental platform to allow women to rent their spaces to other women, maximising safety, peace of mind and comfort for users and hosts. Birago began the company after being sexually harassed in front of her Airbnb apartment in Rome, and receiving no support from her male Airbnb host. This harrowing experience and knowledge of its resonance across the short-term rental industry as a whole motivated Birago to develop a strong community to empower female travellers and lift-up female hosts. 

Heather Bayer, CEO of CottageLINK Rental Management

Heather Bayer is the CEO of CottageLINK Rental Management and co-founder of Vacation Rental Formula, an educational training resource site for industry professionals. Her love for the short-term rental business came from a family trip in 1998, in which she experienced some of the most moving and idyllic family memories in an Ontario cottage. In addition to the operation of the Vacation Rental Success podcast–with 380 episodes and over 830,000 downloads–Bayer also owns and manages 140 waterfront cottages across southern Ontario. Like everyone, Bayer was forced to navigate through the strange new professional world of the Covid-19 pandemic. She relied on her greatest strength, which she cites as the passion she has had for both rental management and her clients for the past 20 years. Bayer’s embracement of risk also applies to her policies on female employment in the industry. Her insights on International Women’s Day include expanding a full-force acceptance of women in all roles.

Merilee Karr, founder and CEO of UnderTheDoormat

Merilee Karr is the founder and CEO of UnderTheDoormat and chair of the UK Short Term Accommodation Association [STAA]. Earlier in her career, her experience as a global strategy manager and global retail maintenance manager at Shell fostered her desire to make a difference in the home-sharing sector. Through her work, she has led the industry’s engagement with local and national governments to accelerate the professionalisation of the short-term rental sector, and revolutionised the home-sharing experience to replicate boutique hotel-like standards. Karr’s roles at UnderTheDoormat and the STAA are prime examples of female leadership in the industry; she is able to demonstrate her passion for standards and responsible growth for the entire sector. Her continued efforts in the field cannot go unnoticed in the review of inspirational women to celebrate for 2021.

Jennifer Barnwell, president of Curator Hotel & Resort Collection

Jennifer Barnwell is the current president of Curator Hotel & Resort Collection in Bethesda, MD, as well as the previous senior vice president of asset management for Pebblebrook Hotel Trust. After receiving a Bachelor of Science from the School of Hotel Administration of Cornell University, Barnwell held senior roles at Peninsula Real Estate and Tishman Hotel & Realty, cementing her presence and experience in the hospitality industry before taking on the role of president. At Curator Hotel & Resort Collection, Barnwell oversees all aspects of Curator with a specific focus on the membership of Curator and its strategic operating partnerships. Her extensive experience and dedication to transforming independent lifestyle hotels has become a major asset to Curator Hotel & Resort Collection, as well as the industry as a whole. 

Nadira Lalji, founder of Inhabit Hotels and director at Precis Management Services

Nadira Lalji is the founder of Inhabit Hotels and director at Precis Management Services. Born in Canada, Lalji is a third-generation hotelier whose family owns the Montcalm brand of hotels. Her notable work on the Inhabit Hotels is commonly referred to as Lalji’s ‘brainchild,’ one that she developed alongside her cousin, Rihim Lalji. Lalji’s design is known to incorporate common elements of laid-back luxury with the intrinsic wellbeing of guests in mind. Wellness is at the centre of Lalji’s brand, emphasising it as a way of being rather than a simple design tenet. Her innovative designs and commitment to the introduction of wellness in the boutique hotel industry has set Lalji apart in her own right, and she is a prime example of revolutionary female leadership in the industry. 

Beatrice Tollman, founder and president of Red Carnation Hotel Collection

Beatrice Tollman is the founder and president of Red Carnation Hotel Collection, as well as a recipient of the Corporate Hotelier of the World award from HOTEL magazine in 2020. Tollman has dedicated her life to building the portfolio her and her husband now boast today: with 20 exceptional properties in their famed Red Carnation Hotel Collection. Named after the flower Tollman’s husband always wears, all of Tollman’s hotels within the Red Carnation collection pay homage to the Tollman’s marriage and dual efforts on the hotels, with every member of their team wearing a red carnation. Outside of the passion evident in her marriage, Tollman brings the power of tradition and a love for hotel management to every location within the Red Carnation Hotel Collection. She’s known to read and respond to every guest comment on her hotels, fostering a deeper and more profound connection between management and guests. Tollman and the work she’s done with the Red Carnation Hotel Collection illustrate the power that passion and dedication can have in the industry when coupled with genuine love. 

Asli Kutlucan, chief development officer at Cycas Hospitality

Asli Kutlucan is chief development officer at Cycas Hospitality. With other 20 years of experience working in hospitality, Kutlucan has a range of skills and experiences developed in the industries of Turkey, the United States, Europe and Africa. Kutlucan draws her skills from a Harvard University Real Estate Management education and an MBA in Finance from Liverpool University. Before joining Cycas and taking on her specialisation in full service and extended stay hotel operations, Kutlucan spent two years as a lecturer at Akilah Institution for Women in Rwanda, teaching hospitality and entrepreneurship. She also developed her own consultancy group, working with private investors in the food, beverage and hotel sector. Kutlucan’s efforts to inspire and empower women in Rwanda through teaching and hands-on experience, together with her success at Cycas, define her as a female leader striving to push the limits of the hospitality business. 

Jo Layton, CEO of CAP Worldwide Serviced Apartments

Jo Layton is the CEO of CAP Worldwide Serviced Apartments and the founder of the ‘At CAP, you’re welcome’ programme, launched in November 2020. Layton’s work with the ‘At CAP, you’re welcome’ programme aims to ensure that minority owned and diverse partners of CAP have equal opportunities to become a part of the brand and have access to the booking services that CAP Worldwide provides. Not only does Layton champion the involvement of women in senior roles at CAP Worldwide, but she has led the company to become a part of the formal WEConnect International Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) accreditation programme, which provides support for female-owned businesses and promotes certified women-owned suppliers. 

Judi Bikulege, chief investment officer at Extended Stay America

Judi Bikulege is the chief investment office of Extended Stay America, with more than thirty years of experience in the hospitality and finance fields. She has played instrumental roles in over $8 billion of hotel acquisitions and contributed to development, asset management, risk management and operations in Extended Stay America. Prior to her promotion to chief investment officer, Bikulege held the role of senior managing director of real estate in Extended Stay America and multiple senior roles with Gencom and Morgans Hotels Group. Bikulge’s presence in the finance and hospitality industries is a great example of female representation in a male-dominated field, and she continues to inspire more women to take on senior roles within their companies. 

Petra Deuter, executive director of Iconic Luxury Hotels-International

Petra Deuter has been working for L+R Hotels for three and a half years, holding three roles simultaneously: director of operations/asset manager, executive director of Iconic Luxury Hotels- International and head of talent development at L+R Hotels. Deuter fell in love with the industry after catching the ‘travel bug’ at an early age, and started a career in hospitality as a waitress at the age of 16. Later on, she applied for a role at Lufthansa Airlines, where she served 15 years in the travel and hospitality industry before finding her current positions at L+R Hotels. Within her current roles at an expanding luxury hotel brand, Deuter has led the way in career development leadership and the initiation of successful employer programmes. Most notably, Deuter managed a significant and innovative launch with L+R Hotels; she fostered the creation and implementation of the inaugural Fast Track Management in Training Programme, with all hotels joining together to support it. THis launch marks not only a milestone for the L+R Hotels brand, but a milestone for both Deuter and the industry. Through her early experience in the industry and her current roles, Deuter has helped shape a more sustainable and fair hospitality industry, including ensuring much improved leadership and gender equality.  

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