From Belize to South Africa, meet the trailblazing female hoteliers working to empower women and redefine the future of hospitality. To mark this year’s International Women’s Day, Regenerative Travel has been catching up with ten of our member’s trailblazing female hoteliers working to empower women and define the future of hospitality.
Whether it’s taking steps to combat domestic violence in Belize, supporting local female artists in Washington D.C., or providing key pathways to women’s economic empowerment in the communities across their respective destinations, get to know our inspiring female hoteliers and the important steps they are taking to reverse gender inequalities across our globe.
Sarah and Isabelle Tompkins – Samara Karoo
Meet the mother and daughter powerhouse, Sarah and Isabelle Tompkins, behind South Africa’s heart-stoppingly beautiful Samara Karoo. On a mission to rejuvenate 67,000 acres of the historically exploited grasslands of the Eastern Cape, the Tompkins dream to restore the Great Karoo has reigned on for almost a quarter of a century, positioning their private game reserve as a true poster child for the regenerative travel movement.
When catching up with Sarah and Isabelle about the challenges faced by women in their local town of Graaff-Reinet, the pair highlighted the multiple struggles of poverty, unemployment and gender-based violence that persist there. Not so dissimilar to the inequalities that continue to be experienced across South Africa more widely, the two explain that the 40,000 local residents of Graaff-Reinet remain beset by lingering patriarchal attitudes, due mainly to the heavy reliance on conventional agriculture for their livelihoods. With local unemployment at a staggering 40% and only 20% having completed formal schooling, Sarah and Isabelle highlight that the women of their local town “disproportionately shoulder the burden of child-rearing and home-making, while many contend the ills of substance abuse, domestic violence and unequal access to education”.
When asking the pair to highlight the steps that Samara has taken to reverse local gender inequities, Sarah and Isabelle explain that by taking on a leading voice in the region’s land-use transition from farming to eco-tourism, Samara has been able to play an instrumental role in female’s economic empowerment. By creating employment opportunities in tourism for local women, which tend to be typically better paid, permanent rather than seasonal, and accompanied by more substantial benefits (including food, lodging transport, life cover and retirement savings) than farming jobs, Sarah and Isabelle are proud to say that Samara has been able to provide a critical pathway to women’s empowerment, that was all but absent before the establishment of their reserve.
Kat Lo – Eaton D.C.
Say hello to Kat Lo, the forward-thinking founder and president of Washington D.C.’s Eaton Workshop. A Hong Kong-born Asian-American, Kat began her career working in the film industry, but describes how she combined a love for environmental and social justice with a sense of always feeling on the outside to create a hotel that reflected the rapidly changing modern world. Feeling a strong urge to support marginalized groups, Kat remains passionate about working towards equal representation amongst those in leadership and creating affirmative action quotas for hiring at any level.
When discussing the steps Eaton DC has taken to empower its local females, Kat affirms that being in a position of power has allowed her and her team to commit years of intentionality into cultural practices and their hiring and training of women. Feeling proud to share that leadership at Eaton DC currently stands at 82% women or LGBTQ+, Kat explains that her workforce is incredibly diverse, while yearly investments into staff courses like the Collective Action for Safe Spaces has helped bring team awareness to issues concerning race and gender.
Aside from spearheading these avenues to reversing gender inequalities through training and hiring, Kat also shares that through Eaton DC’s rich art, culture and music programming and residencies, the hotel has been able to support, incubate and exhibit the work of local women artists. Musicians and DJs in particular, Kat highlights how the Eaton House artist residencies, Eaton radio shows, live music performances and rotating art spaces has enabled the hotel to empower women and bring female creativity into the spotlight.
Portia Hart – Blue Apple Beach House
Meet the young, fierce and incredibly ambitious female hotelier, Portia Hart. Recently becoming RT’s first member property to achieve B-Corp status, Portia’s Blue Apple Beach, which lies off the shores of Cartagena, Colombia has become a regenerative beacon for us all and an inclusive space for the often vulnerable LGBTQ+ community in Cartagena.
After travelling through South America with friends a few years ago, Hart fell in love with the pace of Colombia and is not ashamed to tell the story of how she stumbled on the spot for Blue Apple. Whilst partying and dining with friends one night, Portia jokes that she lost a rosé-induced bet to set up a beach club and staying strong to her word, decided to do so. Having spent more time on the small island of Isla Tierra Bomba, Portia reveals that she became saddened by the insurmountable plastic and glass trash that would be left by tourists along its coastline.
Inspired to tackle the island’s problem of pollution, Hart decided to set up the “Green Apple Foundation”, a not-for-profit designed to facilitate waste collection and recycling on Tierra Bomba and nearby Cartagena. In particular, after raising funds through Blue Apple and her newly established foundation, Portia was able to purchase a glass recycling machine which crushes glass bottles to be later reused as construction and building materials. Providing an additional source of employment to the local community, as well as jobs for local female artisans to curate glass products, Portia has created a pathway to women’s economic empowerment and become a role model for the island.
Renee Kimball – Tranquillo Bay
Renee Kimball is one of the trailblazing team of owners and operators of Tranquilo Bay Panama. Setting up their birding and adventure lodge to empower local communities and protect their tropical corner of the earth, Renee cares deeply about the surrounding land and everything its people have to offer.
As we conversed about this year’s International Women’s Day, Renee recounted some of the key issues that continue to barricade progress to gender equality in Tranquilo Bay’s region of Bocas del Toro. In particular, Renee explained that because the majority of her employees come from small island and rural communities, they continue to face core systemic and physical infrastructure challenges, including a lack of access to basic educational resources and communication skills.
Understanding that education is key to a more equitable world for women and girls, Renee considered the devastating effect that had been brought on local women due the pandemic. Despite steps taken to improve local schooling in recent years, including all children being entitled to free education if living in a community of over 30 children, the pandemic had acted to reverse much of this progress, requiring parents to educate their children at home – using paper modules and limited assistance from teachers via WhatsApp. Renee highlighted that the majority of this homeschooling also fell predominantly on the children’s mothers, while the schools persistent lack of access to running water and electricity will continue to be an obstacle to equality as the children return to school this year.
Striving to reverse these structural barriers to women’s equality, Renee and her team make significant efforts to help their female employees continue with education. From hosting women’s health and human services seminars at Tranquilo Bay to supporting their workers as they continue to acquire an education, Renee and her team have already helped to put some of their female employees through local college, and she ensures that they will continue to support the women of Bocas del Toro who wish to follow their path.
Khin Omar Win – Gangtey Lodge
Khin Omar Win is one of half of the husband-wife partnership that created Gangtey Lodge in Bhutan. A luxurious but authentic hotel designed to honour the traditional Bhutanese farmhouses of the Phobjikha (Gangtey) Valley, Gangtey Lodge was set up to protect the unique way of life and incredible Bhuddist culture that the two discovered when they arrived there. Burmese by nationality, Khin Omar started her career working in Myanmar’s human development sector, explaining that she had always felt a calling to use her being for good and empower the locals of the community she might have found herself in.
When asking about the challenges faced by women local to Gangtey Lodge, Omar was quick to reassure that women in Bhutan “actually enjoy far more freedom and equality than women in many other countries in the region”. Having undergone significant progress in recent history due to the focus of Bhutanese Kings, Omar recounts that women’s empowerment obtained a key position in the Kingdom’s development goals, including appointing women to positions of leadership in governing bodies, establishing the National Commission for Women and Children and enshrining women’s equal economic and political rights by constitution. Unlike many regions of the world, Omar explains that Bhutan is actually a matriarchal society where it is the women that inherit their parent’s property, and husbands often move into their wives’ homes after marriage.
Despite the existence of a matriarchal society in Bhutan, Omar informs that gaps still exist due to traditional cultural stereotypes. To address these gaps, Omar explains that Gangtey Lodge’s remote location uniquely positions them to empower local women through economic and training opportunities. Aware of the extra responsibilities placed on women, such as supporting elderly parents, nursing children or overseeing households, Omar ensures that Gangtey Lodge offers full flexibility through various types of leave to enable both women and men to fulfil their social responsibilities. Today, the hotel’s General Manager, Executive Chef and key Heads of Department are women, whom, Omar ensures, were hired based on their qualifications and continue to act as role models to those around them.
Sara Gardiner – Matetsi Victoria Falls
Meet Sara Gardiner, the impressive, Zimbabwean born co-founder and owner of Matetsi Victoria Falls. In love with everything her beautiful country has to offer, Sara is passionate about showcasing the most exceptional from her country, and in doing so making a strong positive impact for the region.
When considering the biggest concerns for women in the twenty-first century, Sara mentioned the lack of safety and freedom, extreme social pressures and a lack of access to basic resources. When reflecting on the challenges for women in Zimbabwe, Sara spoke of the persisting, yet antiquated, belief that women’s value is held in their ability to bear and raise children. She explains, “women must prove their worth through caring for their families, through taking care of the homes and satisfying their husbands… with access to little education and reduced resources, women have even less chance of securing jobs compared to their male counterparts, leaving them financially insecure and vulnerable outside of a relationship with a man”.
According to Sara, the root of her country’s gender challenges stem largely from the way that the rural communities of Zimbabwe function. As a chief-based society, Sara explains that the chief has typically been a man, and that role has typically been passed down through the male line. She says, “as a result the child boy is given much priority when there are resources for education”. However, in more recent years, she highlights that a female “headman” had been appointed in the Victoria Falls area, signalling the women are starting to take on more prominent roles within their households and villages.
In regards to the work that Matetsi Victoria Falls has been doing to help reverse local gender inequities, Sara talks fondly of the support they give to the Greenline Africa Trust, a local community based organisation working with youth, women and children in and around Victoria Falls and Livingstone. From supporting the ‘Gogo Project” which engages local grandmothers to identify vulnerable homesteads and take care of orphaned children, to helping the women behind “Mummy’s Angels Zimbabwe”, a small organisation that provides low-income mothers with essential baby items, Sara assures that Matetsi Victoria Falls strives to empower its local females through active hiring and a variety of support channels.
Zita Cobb – Fogo Island Inn
Zita Cobb remains infamous for her direction and philanthropic actions that resuscitated the economy and cultural landscape of Newfoundland’s remote Fogo Island Inn. After growing up on Fogo Island in the 1950s and 1960s, Zita left to pursue her career which saw her become a senior finance professional in the hi-tech fibre optics industry before rising to Senior Vice President at the American manufacturer JDS Uniphase. Having been fortunate in stocks, Zita then left the industry with an intention to pursue her own philanthropy. Learning that her childhood island of Fogo was slowly dying due to declining fish stocks and a weakening economy, Zita chose to create the Shorefast Foundation, a registered Canadian charity dedicated to building economic and cultural resiliency on Fogo Island.
Assembling a board of directors that primarily include leading community members, fishermen and politicians, the Shorefast Foundation set up its flagship Fogo Island Inn, a luxury and futuristic-looking hotel that’s surpluses would be reinvested into the local community with no private benefit. Providing a source of employment, income and abundant creative activities for the locals, Zita’s incredible action has demonstrated that reviving small communities through hospitality is possible and presents a key solution for the grand challenges of our twenty-first century.
Kirsten Dixon – Within the Wild
Introducing Kirsten Dixon, the chef, founder and pioneering owner of Alaska’s Within the Wild. Together with her husband Carl, the two left their medical careers and life in Anchorage behind to live close to the Alaska natural world, a decision they both came – and continue – to love.
When asking Kirsten to consider the most important persisting gender inequalities in the twenty-first century, Kirsten shared that despite the grim outlook of the modern world, “we must find the tools to face the future of our modern times with grace, home and dignity, finding the bandwidth for good self-care and the ability to nurture and support our families”.
Asking Kirsten to reflect on the cultural history of gender equality challenges for the women of Alaska, Kirsten went deep into the past to highlight that “Alaska’s native women have had a long history of survival against the impossible, holding the power of family, finding beauty and magic within nature, and displaying grace in the face of challenge”. Telling us that she learns from the indigenous women of Alaska’s past to inform her present day, Kirsten explains that she often imagines the strength of all the women who had been at this place before her to give her her own strength every day.
Dana Krauskopf – Hamanasi
Meet Dana Krauskopf, who together with her husband David, are the founders and owners of Hamanasi Adventure & Dive Resort in Belize. After falling in love with travel, the duo quit their professional jobs and took on their dream of creating a high-end sustainable hotel. Since opening, they have worked to develop their 31 acres of coastal forest with both the marine environment and local people in mind.
For Dana, the most pressing challenges for women in the twenty-first century include violence, climate change, equal pay and access to senior positions while balancing work and family. In general, Dana explains that Belize and Central America are very patriarchal societies, “women must do the majority of childcare and household chores while men often do not contribute adequately financially”. Because women tend to have children at a young age, Dana also explains that their ability to seek higher education and career opportunities is limited, setting up a cycle of poverty or low income positions. Especially for Dana, the issue of domestic abuse and the country’s poor access to mental health services continues to be a salient issue – and one she remains passionate about resolving.
Aside from supporting local women through training and employment, the resort also runs its own monthly Wellness Program in partnership with the Belize Family Life Association. Hosting a lively discussion and free clinic for all employees to have their basic health markers checked, Dana recalls that topics have included HIV/Aids, family planning, mental health and breast cancer. Hamanasi also has a mental health expert available for employees each month, creating a confidential space for women to seek the health support and information that they need.
Each year, Hamanasi also holds its own International Women’s Day conference, with this year’s theme as “Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow”. Exploring how this topic plays out at work, Dana and her team will consider how they can support each other as women in the workplace and how they can each become better leaders.
Karolin Troubetzkoy – Jade Mountain
After spending most of her life in the Caribbean, Karolin Troubetzkoy co-founder of Jade Mountain Resort currently holds the privilege of directing the marketing and operations for Saint Lucia’s most iconic hotelJade Mountain Resort, having spent her previous years in the region with the island’s local community through the Hospitality and Tourism Association, National Conservation Fund and the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) Education Foundation.
Whilst working at the CHTA – and becoming the second only woman to be appointed to its presidency over the association’s 50+ year history – several hurricanes affected the Caribbean. From raising funds for the reconstruction of schools in Dominica after Hurricane Erica to spearheading fundraising efforts for Haiti and The Bahamas, Karolin has become an instrumental female figure when it comes to the region’s crisis response and emergency relief.
In terms of the current challenges faced by women in Saint Lucia, Karolin informs us that despite having some very strong female leaders in the local business community, the gender pay gap persists to be an issue. Telling us that she “would also like to see more women in politics and elected to serve in ministerial positions”, in addition to seeing more reliable mechanisms for women to report cases of sexual harrassment and domestic violence, Karolin suggests that there is still much to be done when it comes to closing the island’s gender equality gap.