It might surprise people to know that tourism generates more money for Arizona than aerospace, agriculture, microelectronics and mining.
And leading that $20-billion-a-year economic juggernaut are a bunch of women.
Debbie Johnson is president and CEO of the Arizona Lodging & Tourism Association, Sherry Henry is executive director of the Arizona Office of Tourism and Jay Parry is CEO of the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee. In addition, women lead three of the state most important and influential convention and visitors bureaus — Rachel Sacco in Scottsdale, Heidi Hansen in Flagstaff and Lorraine Pino in Glendale. On top of that, Cristin Barr of the Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain is president of the Arizona Sunbelt Chapter of Meeting Professionals International; and Lynn Casebere, director of Catering at The Clubhouse at Tonto Verde, is president of the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International Arizona Chapter.
“HSMAI’s leaders have broken though the glass ceiling,” Casebere says. “There are 30 chapters in the Americas Region and 24 of them have female presidents, which is something to be proud of.”
Casebere expects to see even more women take leadership roles in the hospitality industry because female enrollment is increasing in hospitality schools around the country.
“We have a lot of strong female leaders in our state and think the tourism industry falls in line with what else is going on in our state,” Johnson says. “Arizona has some great examples of strong female leaders on both the political and business arenas. I think the tourism industry emulates that.”
But how did it happen? How did women come to dominate what was once a male-dominated industry in Arizona?
“Tourism offers a variety of tremendous opportunities such as flexibility, rapid career growth, continuing education opportunities and community involvement, all of which make this industry attractive for women,” Henry says. “Because of the career range of this industry, there are myriad opportunities for upward mobility. Most of the women in today’s tourism leadership began their careers either at an entry level position or in mid-level management. It was their dedication, passion, collaborative skills and the genuine focus on the customers’ needs, both externally and internally, that brought these women into leadership roles.”
Pino said one thing that has helped women get a leg up in the industry has been education. Seeing the value of tourism as one of the state’s biggest revenue generators, many Arizona colleges now offer degrees in hospitality, opening the door for stronger career opportunities.
“What the tourism industry really offers is transferable skills,” Johnson says. “If you’re willing to work hard, learn all aspects of the industry, you will be able to use those accumulated skills as you work your way up the ladder.”
Despite the differences between the genders, industry leaders says the qualities that make women effective leaders are not unlike the characteristics that make many men effective leaders.
“If you’re passionate about what this industry means to Arizona and want to see it succeed, then you’ll be an effective leader within it,” Henry says. “Women do have the added bonus of being nurturers by nature. Tourism is an industry where we take care of guests, offer industry comforts and provide the ultimate travel experience. It’s very similar to what women already do for families and friends, so this industry seems to be a very natural fit for many women.”
The professional growth opportunities, as well as the flexibility of the industry that contributes to work-life balance, makes this industry a solid career path for women, Henry says. Additionally, there is essentially a place in the hierarchy for every skill set available, which is also very appealing for women.
“The anecdotal stories about someone starting their career as a room attendant and working their way up to general manager are true,” Henry says. “Even my own story begins with me starting out as a carhop and working my way up to becoming the director of the Arizona Office of Tourism. If you have the passion for the industry there are virtually no limitations to what you can achieve.”
As tourism continues to be an economic engine for Arizona, today’s leaders say there will be event more opportunities for women to take on leadership roles in the industry.
“We are fortunate to have dedicated tourism leaders work together to deliver the passionate and caring spirit of the hospitality industry,” Pino says. “The women who have risen to key positions have set the bar and also opened doors for the next generation.”