TORONTO —With a lingering pandemic as its backdrop, the annual Women in Tourism & Hospitality Summit took place October 14 and 15th, with organizers pivoting to its first Virtual Global edition.

“We decided to take WITH into the virtual space, allowing us to go global and to connect with a bigger, broader audience today,” said Rosanna Caira, WITH co-founder and editor and publisher of Kostuch Media Ltd. during her opening address. “We have 1,300 delegates registered from around the world ready to participate in the conversation on women’s advancement, equity, diversion and inclusion.”

“Today, we gathered to achieve outcomes that are better than the last 100 years by joining forces, by collaborating, networking, by saying yes to diversity and inclusion and holding businesses accountable to learn from one another,” added Anne Larcade, co-founder of WITH and president/CEO, Sequel Hotels. “Diversity and equality are a right, not a privilege. Leaders must find a way to include women in the decision-making [process] to ensure better outcomes.”

On Day 1 of last week’s summit, panelists and keynotes walked attendees through what tomorrow’s hospitality world will look like and how the tourism and hospitality industry will need to be re-imagined to ensure great experiences in a safe and healthy manner.

Katie Taylor, chair of the Royal Bank of Canada, and WITH’s honorary chair, opened the conference with a welcome message of hope and resiliency for an industry that has been hit hard COVID-19.

“Travel and tourism is one of the best instruments the world has for bringing people of all backgrounds together and promoting diversity, inclusion and equity for all,” said Taylor. “But rest assured that together we will succeed… we just need to remind ourselves over and over and over again of the importance of empathy, resilience, agility, inclusion, equity, compassion and caring — all of the hallmarks of our fabulous industries and the foundation of the values that we and our employees live every day in this business.”

The program kicked off with a State-of-the-Industry Thought-Leadership Panel. Moderated by Caira, panelists included Don Cleary, president, Marriott Hotels of Canada; Janet Zuccarini, founder of Gusto 54 Restaurants; Julian Buffam, partner, New Castle Hotels and Resorts; and Abigail Tan, CEO, St. Giles Hotels, U.K. The group offered inspiration and advice for surviving through crisis and navigating a post-pandemic landscape.

Buffam credited his company’s employees for keeping the wheels turning since COVID-19 crippled the industry in March. “Our people have always been the source of, and the reason for, our success — and that continues to be the case. It’s a shining example of the resiliency [of the industry, with employees] having put themselves on the frontlines and their families at risk to go to work every day, and quite frankly, delivered results that were really nothing short of extraordinary.”

As a restaurant owner, Zuccarini shared the feelings she had when COVID-19 hit. “I woke up one day and really had the fear of maybe losing everything.” But, she said, “fast forward to today and my team has done incredible work. And we’ve been working with landlords and banks to send the message that we’re all in this together and we all need to work together. [Because] if everyone’s just looking to put money in their pocket, we’re all going to fail.” Zuccarini added that seven months later, the company is now at 70 per cent of its sales volume.

At Marriott Hotels of Canada, Cleary said “we’re doing what we can to manage costs and are optimistic for the future. We’re going to have to persevere to get through this — and we will get through it. I’m very confident that people still want to travel — they want the experience travel can provide — but they have to be confident this virus is behind us.”

For Tan’s team, it’s about working with and for their communities. “For the next six months to a year, it’s not about putting money in our pockets, but about how we can be good partners with society and community and all of us survive together. Not thrive just yet. So, we’re looking to work with different charities and the different councils in our area to see how we can help, since we have the resources — the rooms, the people — because we want our team to be able to come back to work and to work full time.”

When asked what the future of hospitality looks like, Tan said the next 18 to 24 months will be very telling.

“We’ll also see a shift In the way hotels are being used,” she said. “For example, the corporate traveller/business traveller will not come back the same way they did before. There’s a lot of companies cutting big travel expenses, seeing it’s not necessary to travel and to stay in hotels as much as they did. And so, it’s about how we start to target and change the use of our rooms and our public spaces and still be able to attract and maintain an occupancy and a revenue level.”

One of the most-popular features of this year’s summit was the Rapid Fire session, which featured four fearless women leaders who shared their perspectives on how they broke barriers in their own lives and careers. The speakers included Rhonelle Bruder, executive director, Project iRise; Christina Veira, mixologist/restaurant manager; Suzanne Barr, chef and advocate; and Peggy Berg, founder of Castell Project.

“Resilience is my super-power,” said Bruder as way of introduction. “At least that’s the way that I see it. I see resilience as kind of the super-human ability to be able to face adversity and challenges. And not to simply to overcome them, but to thrive and to come out the other end stronger, smarter, more empowered.”

A victim of sex trafficking at a young age, Bruder spoke of her journey from escaping that life and becoming a beacon for other victims of human trafficking through her non-profit organization, iRise.

“Through project iRise, I help other young women who are survivors tap into their resilience, help them find meaningful sustainable employment, and also help break down the barriers that impede their success. And when I talk to these young women, I talk about resilience.”

Next, Veira spoke about the challenges of being a Black woman in the foodservice industry and the importance of compassion and empathy for not just others, but for yourself.

“I would encourage everyone to tap into that empathy, not only for your staff, but also for yourself, and to use that empathy as a driving force for the next steps of your career,” she said. To me, building resilience is also extending compassion and empathy to yourself, and centering that in how you navigate your life, and how you navigate your professional career. And sometimes that will look less linear than what you’re told to do. But not all the systems are built for you and that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. You can accomplish a lot by going that less-linear route.”

Chef Barr took the virtual stage to share the challenges of opening her first restaurant in Toronto and how it shaped her as a chef and person.

“Sometimes, even in the moments you feel like you have to be the Superwoman, you need to be saved. But I really truly feel like it has taken me up to this point in my life to recognize and understand this only makes you stronger. Every moment makes me more curious to see what’s next, and how I can impact the next generation.”

Berg closed out the Rapid-Fire session by talking about her work with Castell Project, her drive to help women and people of colour achieve equity in the hospitality industry and the importance of advocacy.

“An advocate is someone who stands up for you when you are not in the room,” she said. “But advocates are an ecosystem… in the same way when someone advocates for you, you become an advocate for others.”

Following the Rapid-Fire session, WITHorg’s honorary chair, Katie Taylor, presented this year’s Katie Taylor Economic Empowerment Award to Arne Sorenson, president & CEO of Marriott International. The award recognizes outstanding accomplishments — both in the winner’s own career and in furthering the cause of women in the workplace.

“Arne’s many efforts around inclusion, inclusive leadership have been recognized many times,” said Taylor. “And, as we honour Arne’s work today, it’s fair to say that his and Marriott’s efforts to support and drive the success of women is truly world class.”

And, while he was unable to join the summit live, Sorenson shared a video message with attendees, during which he stressed the need for continued efforts to move the needle, especially during these challenging times.

“As we work to recover now and into 2021. It’s critical that we continue our push to advancement. At Marriott, we know our commitment to empowering women leaders will propel our future success,” Sorenson said. “Today we’re living in unprecedented times, which means we need unprecedented efforts to continue the push for equity and inclusion.”

Following the award presentation, Margo Day, member of World Vision’s National Leadership Council and former vice-president, U.S. Education, Microsoft Corp., kicked of the afternoon program with the session, “Become a Catalyst for your Purpose in Life.”

In her talk, which focused on finding fulfillment, Day explained that we are living in the beginning of an era that embraces diversity of background and thought, as well as inclusion. “I know that when we embrace both, one: life becomes far more full; and, two: you actually derive far greater outcomes than if you just were surrounded by people who are like you and think like yourself,” she said. “And part of this whole concept around diversity and inclusion, means that you don’t have to conform anymore…Now we can actually bring our whole self to every interaction that we have, whether it’s personal [or] professional, and feel very confident in doing that.”

“But the question is, how do we prepare ourselves, as people, and as leaders, to really step into these new opportunities that are being presented to women in this whole concept of diversity and inclusion,” Day added, pointing to the principles of trust and gratitude as important factors.

“When you have trust and you’re living your life with gratitude, then you can really begin to formulate who you are and how you [can] lead life meaningfully.”

Rounding out the day, Heather McCrory, CEO, North & Central America, Accor, shared insights from her career path in “From the Laundry Room to the Boardroom.”

Her hospitality career began with a work placement as part of the accounting program she was taking. She ended up working in the laundry department of the Banff Springs Hotel (then CP) — an experience that stuck with her and ultimately led to progressive sales roles in hotels across Alberta before moving to the Fairmont Royal York.

While continuing to work full time, she decided to complete an Executive MBA at Queens University — a decision she credits as being a “pivotal career move.” After 20 years in sales, she was offered an opportunity to move into operations as regional vice-president and general manager at the Royal York.

And, while taking on the role was a huge shift, McCrory credits the mentors that supported her throughout her career with helping prepare and see her through the steep learning curve involved necessary in taking on the new role. “[My mentors] were supportive and honest and they called out my gaps,” she explained.

“I do question some days, if I knew what I was getting into, would I have but made that move? But, I actually think it was the best thing I ever did and it was something that [took me] completely outside of my comfort zone,” she added.

McCrory also pointed out that, while some barriers are systemic, others can be self-imposed, stressing the need to step out of your comfort zone to realize and take on opportunities.

Wrapping up, McCrory shared that, in her current role, she has been working to strengthen initiatives supporting the advancement of women and under-represented groups within Accor. “There has to be meaningful change — the type of advancement that requires sponsorship and mentoring from senior leaders to retain our best and brightest, guide them and keep them engaged, regardless of gender, colour, race or creed. I think everybody deserves that opportunity.”


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