By Blithe Wiley | Photography by David Teran
According to the San Antonio Hotel & Lodging Association, hospitality is the third largest industry in San Antonio, representing $16.2 billion annually in economic impact to San Antonio. One of every eight individuals in San Antonio is employed in the hotel industry.
Historically, women have filled the bulk of hourly positions in the hospitality industry, while leadership roles have been traditionally male-dominated. Those trends are starting to change, as evidenced by a May 2023 study conducted by The Penn State School of Hospitality Management, the 2023 Women in Hospitality research report. The report assesses the state of women’s representation in leadership in the hotel industry. Findings show women’s advancement to executive-level roles in 2022 was steady, yet slow.
The study’s key findings include:
- Representation of women at the top levels of hospitality leadership continues to increase, with women making modest gains at the CEO and president levels.
- Women now hold one in four of all chief-level positions at hotel companies, concentrated primarily in human resources and sales/marketing roles.
- At the director level, women and men now occupy an equal number of positions.
The San Antonio hospitality industry reflects these findings, with women continuing to advance into management roles. Read on to meet four of these dynamic local hotel leaders.
Director of Sales and Marketing, Hotel Valencia Riverwalk
Hotel Valencia Riverwalk Sales and Marketing Director Stacy Seaborn’s original career goal was to become an architect. Then, at the last minute, during her senior year in high school, she decided to go to culinary school and was accepted into the program at Johnson & Wales in Rhode Island. While there, she gained experience working in the hotel industry, as the school owned two hotels and several restaurants where students were required to work as part of their practicum.
After graduation, she began her hospitality career in catering management, working for several hotels for over a decade. Seaborn was hired eight years ago by Hotel Valencia Riverwalk as Director of Catering but soon moved into her present position.
Seaborn noted several trends in the hospitality industry that have emerged post-COVID. “I think the industry is starting to change,” Seaborn said. “More hotels and their managements are becoming aware that they are running their people ragged with 14-hour days. This had to change to get people to come back to work in hospitality post-COVID. There’s more awareness of the importance of family time for their employees.”
Seaborn also noted that people are traveling differently today. “I see Gen Z leading the trend of valuing experiences over things,” she said. “They are looking at, ‘What is the experience of the travel, of the stay?’ Overall, more travel is taking place in the leisure market, with people taking more trips and emphasizing the total experience. We are seeing our room packages with add-ons like River Barge Tours and Breakfast in Bed becoming increasingly popular.”
Another hospitality trend Seaborn has seen in 2023 is a huge uptick in group travel. Companies and organizations are holding destination meetings and conferences at nearly pre-COVID levels. “At Hotel Valencia Riverwalk, our group travel is way up,” Seaborn noted. “What’s interesting is these attendees are traveling more like our leisure guests. It’s no longer sitting in meetings for three days – people are also wrapping around personal experiences during their stay at a destination.”
Seaborn said that her passion for working in hospitality stems from her love of working with people and getting to be part of their special experiences, be it a trip, an event, or a wedding. “I also love going to a place I enjoy being at every day,” she said. “And, I like to problem solve. As an independent property, we don’t have the huge corporate name behind us, so we have to be very grassroots and intentional about resolving our issues.”
Director of Catering & Conference Services, Omni La Mansión del Rio and Mokara Hotel & Spa
Yojainna Otero began her career in the hospitality industry in 1998 when she graduated from UTSA with a business management degree with a concentration in tourism management. “My degree program required 700 hours in three different hospitality internships, so I interned at Six Flags Fiesta Texas, the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, and at the Omni La Mansión del Rio hotel,” Otero said. “When I graduated, the Omni La Mansión del Rio General Manager created a management trainee position for me where I had the opportunity to work in all hotel operations departments.”
After working at the Omni La Mansión de Rio for ten years, Otero worked as Director of Catering & Conference Services at the Westin Riverwalk for 14 years. She returned to the Omni La Mansión and Mokara Hotel & Spa in January of this year as Director of Catering & Conference Services.
“I think that it’s crucial for the hotel industry to promote diversity and gender equity,” she said. “It’s important to have women in leadership in our business because we lead with emotional intelligence, which is essential for working with employees and guests.”
When asked about some of the trends in hospitality she is seeing, Otero noted that social media and other online platforms play an increasingly important role in promoting a property and finding new business opportunities. “Reputation management is huge for us in this industry,” she said. “Positive online reviews are valued now more than ever.”
Otero said that one of her favorite aspects of her job is making memories for clients and guests with her team. “I am blessed to have such a fabulous team of employees,” she said. “We have a group of young and very talented women in our Catering & Conference Services Department. I’m honored to help my team members develop in their careers and professional growth. In fact, the best part of my job is to be able to mentor employees and share what I’ve learned over 25 years in the business.”
For young women who are considering a career in the hospitality industry, Otero has some advice. She emphasized that the number one priority is to develop a strong and professional relationship with everyone they interact with. “As big as the hospitality industry is, it’s also really small, and your reputation is so important.”
Director of Sales and Marketing, AC and Element Hotels
Crystal Resto was in her early 20s when she began working as a front desk clerk at a hotel in her hometown of El Paso. She quickly became intrigued by the creativity the sales team brought to the weddings, parties, and other events held at the property, and she soon moved into the sales department. After moving to San Antonio in 2014, Resto continued her career in hotel sales and marketing and has served as the Director of Sales and Marketing for AC and Element Hotels for the past two years.
Resto noted that she is encouraged to see more women moving into leadership roles in the hospitality industry. “Today, it is becoming more common to see women as general managers, directors of food and beverage, and in other leadership positions,” she said. “We are the next generation of leaders in the hospitality industry, and we are proving that you can excel in a leadership role and still have a family.”
Resto is passionate about all things related to travel and tourism. “I love to travel, and I love meeting people who are traveling here from all over the world,” she said. “Every day is different in my job, and I get to meet people from all walks of life.
“I also love being able to create experiences for our guests. In our hotel, we can create anything imaginable for our guests and make it a memorable and special experience. Since the beginning of my hospitality career, I’ve hosted everything from a rodeo beauty pageant to a barbershop haircutting competition to a three-day Indian wedding event. At the AC and Element, I’m having a great time planning private parties for my customers at our breathtaking rooftop bar, 1Watson.”
According to Resto, the travel industry has definitely changed in the post-pandemic era. “We are seeing a lot more travelers who are focused on mixing business with pleasure,” she explained. “Our guests want to continue living their life with their routines when they aren’t home. To meet their needs, we offer more healthy dining options, top-notch workout facilities, and pet-friendly accommodations. Guests also want to be able to work from anywhere, so we have USB charging ports throughout our properties.”
Resto also noted that one of the best aspects of her job is being able to motivate her team. “I always tell them that I want them to be winners in life, not just at their job. There is nothing better than hiring someone and seeing them grow and get promoted.”
Rooms Director, Hotel Havana
El Paso native Amaris Brinks moved to San Antonio in 2019 to be closer to family. After graduating from high school, she began working for a chain restaurant as a hostess. The company quickly recognized her passion for people and providing outstanding customer service and offered her the opportunity to travel to different states and locations to train its newest team members and prepare them for grand openings. Eventually, she moved up within the company to the corporate office, overseeing four separate locations.
“As much as I loved this role, it was time for me to move on, which is where my journey with Hotel Havana began,” Brinks explained. “While I’m still relatively new to the hotel industry, by sharing my energy and passion with our guests, I was able to work my way up to the position of Rooms Director. In this role, I oversee the front desk agents and housekeeping departments and ensure that operations run smoothly and efficiently. Each day at Havana, I strive to go above and beyond by inspecting rooms, minibars, and resolving issues if any arise to ensure complete guest satisfaction.”
Brinks noted that she believes it is so important to have women well represented in the hospitality industry, particularly in leadership roles. “Having women in leadership positions brings a diverse set of skills, unique perspectives, and innovative ideas that contribute to improved decision-making for the hospitality industry,” she said. “Female leaders can inspire and encourage other women to pursue their goals, leading to greater gender equality in the workplace.”
Brinks shared the reasons she loves working in the hospitality industry. “For one, I thrive on the everyday interaction with people – I love meeting all kinds of guests and hearing their stories, she said. “My most important reason, however, is the happiness and comfort we bring to our guests. Knowing that we provide exceptional service, making our hotel a home away from home, is such a warm reward. Last, I love the numerous opportunities for growth in this industry, and the hands-on experience that I have gained at Hotel Havana is priceless.”
Her advice for young women considering a career in hospitality? “Always remain confident in yourself,” she said. “Develop your skills by utilizing available resources, take every opportunity that will help you grow, and go that extra mile. The hospitality industry is always changing, so just be adaptable like a chameleon, by adjusting to any circumstances that arise.”