Worldwide: In honour of International Women’s Day 2021, we highlight four women who are making headway for female leadership and empowerment in the global short-term rental industry.
These four 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.
Rocio Lane, 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.
Lane is also an alumnus of Chicago-based WiSTEM, the 1871 accelerator programme for female entrepreneurs. The rigorous 12-week programme includes curated programming, mentorship, and facilitated introductions to key corporate and venture partners, culminating in a community showcase event open to Chicago’s tech leaders, supporters and potential investors at 1871.
At the start of the pandemic in Spring 2020, Lane experienced many of the same difficulties as other professionals. However, her strategy to work through these difficulties involved the improvement of Cleancio’s technology and procedures, as well as the development of Lane’s own leadership qualities. She credits her team for their strength and calmness during the pandemic.
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.
Lane said: “It’s part of our mission to help other women get involved in the vacation rental industry. We can help by raising our hands and standing for other women.
“Let’s amplify each other’s message, participate and invite fellow sisters to be part of industry related events. Help with introductions, provide mentorship, develop genuine relationships of collaboration and empowerment,” she added.
Yaa Priscilla Birago, 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.
During the pandemic, Birago has grown the Femmebnb network to over 11,000 people, connecting with key players in the industry and planning for the future of her company. This future, she believes, is tied closely to the advancement of gender diversity in the industry as a whole.
In observance of International Women’s Day, Birago said: “We need to create more dialogues to amplify the importance of gender-inclusive culture in the short-term rental industry. In addition, we need programs that will focus on providing equitable opportunities, resources, mentorship that will promote women into senior leadership roles.”
Heather Bayer, Vacation Rental Formula
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. This passion spurred the use of a flexible cancellation policy and free cancellations, which appeared to pay off: within two weeks, Bayer saw a 95 per cent booking rate and a waiting list of 1000 families eager to escape.
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.
Bayer says: “Women are particularly suited to this industry not just because of the empathy they bring but because there are so many opportunities. It is great to see more of them in the data and technical fields as well as the people-facing positions.
“Personally, I’d like to create more environments where women leaders come together to build a strong community that embraces those coming in at different levels and supports them through mentoring and coaching,” she added.
Merilee Karr, UnderTheDoormat, STAA
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.
A visible commentator in the media and at industry events, Karr is committed to raising awareness for the short-term rental sector through podcasts, interviews and writing open letters calling on the UK Government to support hospitality, appearing in media brands such as ShortTermRentalz, The Telegraph and The Guardian.
She played a crucial role in the launch of the STAA’s NHS Homes initiative, and later Trusted Stays scheme, through which member companies pivoted their business to offer empty homes to NHS guests and key workers for free. To date, more than £20 million worth of accommodation has been donated to NHS workers during the pandemic.
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, not least because 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.