International Women’s Day: Leading the female leadership generation

Worldwide: Ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March, ShortTermRentalz speaks to nine inspirational women making their mark in the short-term rental space to hear about their reasons for entering the sector and their thoughts on how the industry can ensure more women hold senior roles in their companies.

International Women’s Day Profile One: Alice Horn, VillaKey

International Women's Day
Alice Horn
  • Please introduce yourself, which company you work for and what services it provides.

My name is Alice Horn and I am the CEO of VillaKey, a family-run property management company with a portfolio of villas spanning one of the most popular vacation destinations in the United States – Orlando, Florida. Our company welcomes all types of travellers, especially families coming to visit the amusement parks nearby. Unique to our business is that we place a strong emphasis on autism travel, catering to this largely underserved segment of travellers, by making extra efforts to offer accommodations for families with autism and other sensory issues. 

  • What made you want to be a part of the vacation rental industry and what opportunities / challenges has it presented you with?

At VillaKey, we are passionate about helping families make vacation memories in Orlando. We have discovered that families who have kids with autism have unique challenges when they travel. That’s why we go out of our way to provide them with special amenities, support and education such as a step-by-step autism-friendly travel checklist and a Vacation Rental Social Story, a digital picture book that parents can use to prepare children for the various steps of travelling. In August, VillaKey will be launching an exciting new project in partnership with travel agency, Vacation Kids to offer a fully supported Autism Family Group Trip to Walt Disney World and Aquatica.

  • Have you ever experienced any discrimination throughout your career in the sector and if so, how did you address it?

Of course! One example that comes to mind is when we were recruiting investors to support VillaKey’s growth. I was pitching our family-friendly and special-needs friendly vacation rental concept to a group of all white, male angel investors. Needless to say, the concept fell on deaf ears. Thankfully, our business started growing organically. Last year, we ended 250 per cent ahead of the previous year.

  • What can we do to ensure more women are involved within the short-term rental industry at a senior level?

One path is by committing to gender diversity in the investment community, and ensuring more women launch vacation rental companies. Women will hire other women.  Additionally, making sure the investment community supports localised and medium-sized businesses, not just high-growth unicorns in the tech sector.

For more information, visit the VillaKey website here.

 

International Women’s Day Profile Two: Sara Lini, Housy 

International Women's Day
Sara Lini
  • Please introduce yourself, which company you work for and what services it provides.

My name is Sara Lini and I am co-founder and COO of Housy [soon to be incorporated into Nativo], a vacation rental management service that offers a complete solution to owners and businesses that want to maximise the profitability of their properties in Milan and Madrid.

  • What made you want to be a part of the vacation rental industry and what opportunities / challenges has it presented you with?

Right now, there is a big challenge gaining the trust of locals and differentiation from the competitions, so I place a huge emphasis on engaging with local businesses and offer a unique experience to my guests. That may mean furnishing properties with art pieces by local artists and offering them for sale to the guests; collaborating with neighbourhood record stores to have local music in the house; working with architects and design studios to create high quality properties that reflects the “soul of the city”.

  • Have you ever experienced any discrimination throughout your career in the sector and if so, how did you address it?

Not more than other sectors, in which I experienced the standard level of discrimination every woman faces every day in every situation:  we must work harder than men in order to gain the same level of trust, we must speak louder in a room full of men in order to be heard, we need to constantly prove that we are competent because constantly underrated [in particular in fields that traditionally belong to men like business, management etc], we have to bear comments on how we look or dress.

  • What can we do to ensure more women are involved within the short-term rental industry at a senior level?

Avoid the discriminations I mentioned in the last question. I don’t think this industry is particularly negative towards women, and it’s a very young industry where old prejudice is lower in general, so by adopting general rules of non-discrimination, we have the perfect ground for having a lot of women working in this field at a senior level.  Us, as women, we must do our part by stopping doubting ourselves and go for it.

For more information, visit the Nativo website here.

 

International Women’s Day Profile Three: Mel Hignell, White Spider

International Women's Day
Mel Hignell
  • Please introduce yourself, which company you work for and what services it provides.

My name is Mel Hignell and I am the founder of White Spider. We design unique properties [renovated synagogues included] exclusively for Airbnb and run a full-service property management company throughout the United States with properties in New Orleans, Portland, Nashville, and soon Columbus, Ohio.

  • What made you want to be a part of the vacation rental industry and what opportunities / challenges has it presented you with?

It really started as a side project when my guest bedroom in San Francisco took off. It grew from there and eventually I quit my cushy job as a seafood saleswoman, and focused on White Spider full time which enabled me to marry my love for interior design with providing great guest experiences. 

  • Have you ever experienced any discrimination throughout your career in the sector and if so, how did you address it?

Yes, daily. It’s one of the reasons I hire as many women as I do, as I truly believe it’s our time to shine. One of my favourite stories of discrimination happened with my male employee. I was at a meeting with a potential client and she let me know she was about to speak to him instead of me, because she figured it was a question I wouldn’t know the answer to. It was a financial question about my own company, and other than my billing department and CPA, I’m the only person who would know the answer. We didn’t end up working with that client, but it was a good reminder that systemic sexism is so prevalent that women believe other women do not know the answers regarding their own company. 

  • What can we do to ensure more women are involved within the short-term rental industry at a senior level?

At White Spider, we have a team of almost 100 that I’m proud to say is about 95 per cent women, all of whom are spread out across the United States. Working in the short-term rental ecosystem provides ample opportunity for flexible work schedules to support those that need it – such as mothers and caretakers.

For more information, visit the White Spider website here.

 

International Women’s Day Profile Four: Emily Bruce-Watt, Air Peace of Mind

International Women's Day
Emily Bruce-Watt
  • Please introduce yourself, which company you work for and what services it provides.

My name is Emily Bruce-Watt and I am the founder and managing director of Air Peace of Mind, a property management company with a hand-picked portfolio of over 200 of the finest homes that London has to offer, welcoming more than 10,000 global guests a year.

  • What made you want to be a part of the vacation rental industry and what opportunities / challenges has it presented you with? 

I founded Air Peace of Mind having outsourced the management of my home to an agent that took a huge amount of my profit per booking. I realised that there was a gap in the market to offer a five-star service to owners at a reasonable fee, something that I was unable to find with other providers. I am passionate about hospitality and love meeting people from all walks of life so being able to host guests in beautiful homes in a global city is a real privilege.  

  • Have you ever experienced any discrimination throughout your career in the sector and if so, how did you address it

There are always going to be challenges starting and growing a company as a single female founder, particularly in the hospitality industry but no, I have not experienced any discrimination. 

  • What can we do to ensure more women are involved within the short-term rental industry at a senior level?

I am on a panel of women at the Lisbon VRMA Europe Conference discussing this exact topic: women’s leadership and the opportunities, strategies and challenges we face in building a successful property management business.  

Ultimately, we must champion women across all sectors and at Air Peace of Mind, 80 per cent of my staff are women. Two out of three of my senior leadership team at APOM are also women.

For more information, visit the Air Peace of Mind website here.

 

International Women’s Day Profile Five: Moriya Rockman, Smiling House Luxury

International Women's Day
Moriya Rockman
  • Please introduce yourself, which company you work for and what services it provides.

My name is Moriya Rockman and I am the founder and CMO of Smiling House, as well as being a media creative and PR expert. I am a specialist of the shared economy and a keynote speaker. I am playing a major role in the vacation rental industry as a pioneer busy with creating an alliance connecting the top home owners and property managers offering luxury hospitality around the globe.

Smiling House is a network of stylish, luxury private properties, conceived to connect travellers with unique chalets, villas and apartments across the globe.

  • What made you want to be a part of the vacation rental industry and what opportunities / challenges has it presented you with?

I started out hosting as a hobby in our Swiss chalet and fell in love with the idea of hospitality and the luxury world. To grow so fast into a global company active in 23 countries, this is only possible in the vacation rental industry.

And the great trust we got with our alliance members, the home owners and property managers in the luxury segment, united together in Smiling House to give the greatest hospitality experience wherever you travel to in the world.

There are many challenges, especially the one of combining family life and a global business. This taught me the real meaning of efficiency.

  • Have you ever experienced any discrimination throughout your career in the sector and if so, how did you address it?

As a woman, I always feel you have to know more and perform better in order to be considered as equal. The fact that I’m the co-founder of my own company means that I did many steps in the industry together with my co-pilot and husband, Ira. As someone who did my first steps in other industries, I must say that ours is very friendly and encouraging. Actually I got a lot of compliments for our achievements for our company and I’ll be happy to see more women leaders around since hospitality should be a place where women should play a big role.

  • What can we do to ensure more women are involved within the short-term rental industry at a senior level?

The industry should make sure to equally involve more women influencers in the important conventions taking place. After all, as a young industry we are still learning a lot from one another, and women will get mostly inspired by other women who made it. I would be happy to join other women leaders in a mentoring programme helping other women in the hospitality making their first steps to success.

Last but not least, our industry is young, but we are already hiring the next generation. Make sure that among your high level employees will have many women. Not only the brochures will look better, but you will get insights that only women can bring to a team.

For more information, visit the Smiling House Luxury website here.

 

International Women’s Day Profile Six: Kelly Donovan and Anna Lancaster Hedman, Stay & Escape

International Women's Day
Anna Lancaster Hedman and Kelly Donovan
  • Please introduce yourself, which company you work for and what services it provides.

Kelly & Anna: We are Kelly and Anna from Stay & Escape, a luxury property management company in the short-letting sector. Our primary goal is to give our homeowners and guests the ultimate, bespoke experience. Our team are dedicated to providing our guests with everything they could need for an unrivalled stay. Our homeowners have peace of mind knowing every guest in their home has been fully vetted. We offer them a fully managed service, with flexibility to suit their individual needs, whilst maximising their yield all-year round.

  • What made you want to be part of the short-term rental industry and what opportunities/ challenges has it presented you with?

Kelly: I was lucky to have been introduced to the short stay industry at relatively early market-entry point. After working for a short time alongside an independent Airbnb Superhost, I soon realised how much potential growth and opportunity the industry had and felt drawn to it! The biggest challenge I’ve discovered working in this industry are the rapidly changing laws and regulations surrounding short-term rentals, especially in London.

With ambitious growth plans, Stay & Escape is currently raising investment to roll out a franchise model across key cities in the US and Europe within the next 12 months. Our company is a compelling example of the burgeoning ‘sheconomy’ revolution and we have a shared vision to enable women everywhere to generate a side-line revenue using the Airbnb platform.

  • Have you ever experienced any discrimination throughout your career in the sector and if so, how did you address it?

Anna: Fortunately, since this is a relatively new industry, we’ve never found it to be male-dominant. We’ve both been featured as part of “Women’s Power Hour” by the Short Stay Show, been named as “savvy entrepreneurs” by the Evening Standard and 50 per cent of our homeowners are female. We also discovered a recent article in The Times which suggests that women make up 56 per cent of all Airbnb hosts. With this in mind, we feel lucky to be part of a modern and empowering industry!

  • What can we do to ensure more women are involved within the short-term rental industry at a senior level?

Kelly & Anna: We believe as long as company directors and founders are hiring based on skill, performance and industry knowledge, there should be no issue in enforcing an equal workplace.

For more information, visit the Stay & Escape website here.

International Women’s Day Profile Seven: Nina Taylor, The Suite Faith

International Women's Day
Nina Taylor
  • Please introduce yourself, which company you work for and what services it provides. 

I am Nina Taylor, the founder and CEO of The Suite Faith, which serves executives of minority owned businesses with temporary accommodations and travel assistance. All members receive a housing ambassador to assist with customised and personal details for each client’s travel needs. My services also extend into consulting businesses and speaking to the hospitality network regarding this fast-growing sector.

  • What made you want to be a part of the vacation rental industry and what opportunities / challenges has it presented you with?

As a kid, all I ever thought about doing was finding people homes and making them happy, and that has been my work for almost 20 years. The opportunities and challenges are similar. You have to constantly keep up with technology, innovations and trends while always remembering to make sure every single client feels valued and appreciated. Knowing your clients needs and how to service them provides that.

  • Have you ever experienced any discrimination throughout your career in the sector and if so, how did you address it?

Unfortunately, like most females I’ve experienced discrimination as an African-American and as a woman, which is why I chose to assist minorities and minority-owned businesses so they experience quality service. I never focus on the negative but strive to find solutions so the future doesn’t repeat itself in this industry through actions of change at every level for all entrepreneurs and employees.

  • What can we do to ensure more women are involved within the short-term rental industry at a senior level?

Engagement and promoting within women that demonstrate what it takes at a senior level is a must. There are many women in this industry that just have the fear of thinking they aren’t good enough but have everything it takes to be a leader if given the opportunity. I personally struggled with this at the beginning of my career and it took some really amazing mentors to get me to where I am today.

For more information, visit The Suite Faith website here.

 

International Women’s Day Profile Eight: Vanessa de Souza Lage, Rentals United

International Women's Day
Vanessa de Souza Lage
  • Please introduce yourself, which company you work for and what services it provides.

I am the co-founder and CMO of Rentals United. Rentals United was built upon a simple idea: making a channel management software that is easy to use and provides superior connections to large and small OTAs. Today, our business spans 160 countries, with over 250,000 vacation rentals distributed and more than 100 partners connected.

  • What made you want to be a part of the vacation rental industry and what opportunities/challenges has it presented you with?

In 2005, as a digital marketer, I got into the vacation rental world – by creating an online agency for short-term rentals. By 2012, the large OTAs, with their millions in advertising spend, cost me my agency [I couldn’t compete on a B2C level without investment]. The growth in holiday rentals opened up another opportunity – effective automatic distribution. We’re lucky that Rentals United seized this opportunity early on the road to the professionalisation of the industry.

  • Have you ever experienced any discrimination throughout your career in the sector and if so, how did you address it?

No, but since my first stage appearances at industry events, I noticed that there were very few women speaking. In fact, often I was the only one. Eventually last year, I decided that I needed to do something about this and raised awareness around this issue at the Vacation Rental World Summit. I’m happy to report that this was well received. Women all over the world now wear a tie on stage to show their support for our “gender equality on stage” movement. Our hashtag #tieonstage is trending.

  • What can we do to ensure more women are involved within the short-term rental industry at a senior level?

Quite honestly, I don’t think women are stepping up enough. I think they lack confidence. If you’re really good at what you do and you have sound leadership skills [I recommend coaching!], there is no reason why you shouldn’t be involved at a senior level. Same applies to public speaking. Get out there, speak up, share your knowledge! We want to hear your opinion!

For more information, visit the Rentals United website here.

*VillaKey, Housy, White Spider, Air Peace of Mind and Smiling House Luxury utilise Guesty as their property management software to streamline and automate business operations.