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International Women’s Day 2021: Celebrating Leading Women in Hospitality & Travel

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2021, The Executive Magazine speaks to some of the leading figures in the hospitality and travel sector.

From careers in typically male dominated sectors, such as supercars, motorsports and the aviation industry, to being appointed as the first ever female Executive Chef of large hospitality companies, we hope the below showcases the amazing achievements and insight in the industry.

Yvonne Manzi Makolo, CEO of RwandAir

Yvonne Manzi Makolo, CEO of RwandAir

Yvonne Manzi Makolo has been CEO of RwandAir since 2018. She brings over 14 years of commercial experience to her current position including as RwandAir’s Deputy CEO responsible for corporate affairs, a position she held since April 2017. Yvonne has also held senior positions at telecommunications company MTN Rwanda, including Chief Marketing Officer and acting CEO.

Women in C-suite positions in the airline industry are still rare. How can we get more women into aviation?

“Over the last few years, the airline sector has taken considerable steps to address gender imbalance, however I strongly believe a lot more work needs to be done; not only to bring more women into our industry, but also to improve the speed at which we do so. In an ideal world, the fact that I’m a female CEO, particularly in the aviation sector, should be unremarkable. Sadly, that’s not the case. I stand out as being one of the tiny four percent of airline Chief Executives who are women. I would much prefer that my being a female CEO was commonplace.

“My advice to any women already in aviation wanting to progress to a more senior level, or women in other industries looking to make the transition, is to remember that whatever you have gone through in your career so far has helped prepare you. You’re in your role because somebody believes you can do it. You also need to be ready to listen and learn because leadership positions, especially in aviation, are so multifaceted that you’ll need to do fifty million things at the same time – which you don’t necessarily have the capacity to do right away’’.

Julie Hunter, Global Operations Director of Ultimate Driving Tours

Julie Hunter, Global Operations Director of Ultimate Driving Tours

From Europe to Asia and the Americas, Julie has spent years traversing the globe with a passion for travel, adventure and finding unique experiences. As co-owner and the first full-time team member at Ultimate Driving Tours, Julie has overseen the development of all aspects of the business and the expanding team, while creating and curating UDT’s ever-increasing calendar of unforgettable events.

Have you seen a change in the travel and motorsports industry since you first started generally and also in relation to representation of women in this field?

“I have experienced a shift in both over my time. Our office team is 90% female, and it is a wonderfully talented, diverse and strong-minded team. Our events team tends to have more men than women, which is perhaps because we are a driving-oriented travel company and most professional drivers, automotive logistics personnel and automotive content creators tend to be men, but I think this will change over the coming years.

“I’m excited to say our guests are typically couples (from being mostly men when I started), and it is also not unheard of for us to have solo women drivers join tours now, which I love. For both our teams and guests we work hard to foster an inclusive and open community where everyone feels welcome.

“We continue to add strong and inspiring women to our team, and our client base has similarly shifted as our tours have been designed not to be ‘a boy’s trip’ but an experience for enthusiasts of luxury adventure travel which just happens to take place in cars. I think the same shift is slowly happening in motorsport. But we are very much still on the journey, so I hope the interest and involvement of women in both fields continues to gain momentum’’.

Executive Chef Nyoman, Pullman Maldives Maamutaa Resort

Executive Chef Nyoman, Pullman Maldives Maamutaa Resort 

With 25 years of culinary experience, Chef Nyoman is very much part of the ACCOR family, having previously been the Executive Chef of Pullman Guangzhou Baiyun Airport, China, and Executive Sous Chef of Sofitel Macau. She has a great knowledge of the Maldives already having worked for a number of resorts including Coco Boduhithi Maldives and Kurumba Maldives. She oversees all six of the resort’s unique and distinctive food and beverage outlets, including Phat Chameleon – The first organic vegan and vegetarian restaurant to open in the Maldives.

What is your greatest achievement? 

“My greatest achievement was being appointed as the first ever female Executive Chef at Pullman Guangzhou in China. Similarly, I am now the first female chef at Pullman Maldives Maamutaa Resort. I think it is so important to support balancing gender inequality in the culinary world, a notion that I am passionate about’’.

Jill Chalmers, Managing Director of Glenapp Castle

Jill Chalmers, Managing Director of Glenapp Castle

A veteran hotelier with more than 30+ years in the International Hotel & Hospitality industry, Jill leads Glenapp with passion and enthusiasm. Joining in early 2017, Jill has been instrumental in the successful growth of Glenapp whilst ensuring the hotel’s high standards are always maintained.

What is your favourite thing about the hospitality industry? 

“So many things. The eclectic gathering of people from many cultures and all walks of life, the ‘immediacy’ of the business, the 24/7 aspect of a hotel; that takes away from the mundane nature of a 9-5 lifestyle, the international client base, the absolutely lovely people you meet when they stay with you – they always have interesting stories. I think it’s a privilege to be able to stay in some of the greatest hotels in the world’’.

Vanessa Azzopardi, Communications Officer, Iniala Harbour House & Residences

Vanessa Azzopardi, Communications Officer, Iniala Harbour House & Residences

Vanessa has worked in hospitality for over 13 years in countries including the UK all the way to Australia and New Zealand. She has now gone back to her roots and settled in Malta where she is a key part of the team bringing the brand new Iniala Harbour House & Residences to life.

Is there another woman, in or out of the travel industry who you admire? 

“I really admire Oprah Winfrey. She had an extremely tough childhood yet managed to push through this to become a very well-respected self-made billionaire. However, she ensures that she uses her popularity and her success to give back to society. She has made generous contributions to charitable societies, she has raised awareness on several global issues, and through her empathy and kindness, she has helped and inspired many people around the world. I think she is one of the most inspiring and most admirable women in the world’’.

Robyn Grassanovits, Senior Director of Product at Cirium

Robyn Grassanovits, Senior Director of Product at Cirium

With more than 30 years’ experience, Robyn has spent her career pioneering innovations and has a passion for bringing ideas to life. Always watching market trends and new technology, she’s uncovered new business models and disruptive products that have become established industry norms. In her current role at Cirium, Robyn is unlocking new opportunities for the travel industry by leveraging some of the largest datasets in travel. When Robyn’s not brainstorming with partners or iterating on another innovation, you can find her gardening or reading on a Maui beach.

What would be your advice to women looking to start their career in travel/aviation or change their career path?

“Learn, learn more and don’t ever think you’ve learned it all. I’m not talking about textbook learning; I’m talking about the industry. I’ve been in this industry a long time, but every day I learn more about the same things I thought I already knew. It’s like learning shapes as a child, you learn what a square is but as time goes on, you learn more and more about that square – but from different perspectives – allowing you to eventually see the multi-dimensional cube.

“Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo. This is the core of innovation and evolution. Also, be bold and speak up. I have been in far too many meetings where I was the only woman in the room – we need more women in travel technology. Being a woman among a collection of men means we bring different life experiences and perspectives to the table. I know how uncomfortable it can be to swim upstream and voice disagreement or a different perspective. But every person in a room brings unique experiences to the table that can shape a better path. There is ‘genius’ in each of us, so speak up so a collective genius can be harnessed.”

Ruby Paxton, Director of Habitat First Group

Ruby Paxton, Director of Habitat First Group

Ruby Haines is a director at Habitat First Group, a development company that aims to have a positive impact on nature and the environment. Since joining the family business in 2007, Ruby has been instrumental in making the business accessible and sustainable. In 2008, Ruby setup Habitat Escapes, the group’s holiday rental business, which now sees over 20,000 people visit the group’s estates, Silverlake in Dorset and Lower Mill Estate in the Cotswolds, each year. Ruby has also set up Habitat Zero, the group’s pledge to become a carbon neutral business by 2030, and under her watch the estates are transferring to electric vehicles, plastic free produce and eco-friendly products. Ruby lives in Berkshire with her husband, two young sons and two dogs and would spend all of her free time skiing if she could!

What would be your advice to a woman who is looking to start a career in hospitality?

“I joined my father in our family business 13 years ago and spent five years creating and building up Habitat Escapes, Habitat First Group’s holiday letting business. My advice is to be prepared for long hours! It’s a 24/7 business with customers who have high expectations and I’ve learnt that being kind takes you a long way’’.

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