The tourism product of Barbados has blossomed over the decades, with hospitality as one of its richest fruits. What many may not know is that, at the helm of some of the island’s most alluring vacation properties, sits a female owner or manager. Female leadership in tourism in Barbados, specifically with black females can be traced back to the 18th century with Rachael Pringle Polgreen. When she became a free woman of colour, the first hotel she owned was the Royal Navy Hotel. After her death, it was found that she had amassed more property, including buildings and liquid assets.

Today, when examining the rise of women on top, the Intimate Hotels of Barbados is a primary example of women coming together to transform the sector. Since its formation in 2000, the organisation proudly boasts being led by three women, among its four Executive Directors. The small indigenous properties represented by Intimate Hotels are 51% women led or owned. 

“Women’s leadership and decision-making is not a favour to women; it is essential to peace and progress for all”

~ Antonio Guterres – Secretary-General of the United Nations

Sustainable Development Goal 5 by the United Nations highlights the need for Gender Equality, where women and girls have equal opportunities in every aspect of life. Disparities in the workplace, from wages to gender roles, have made it difficult for women across the globe to truly excel. Thus, it is of great significance that as the industry continues to grow, so does the number of women honing their leadership skills to challenge the face of ownership.

“Researchers say peace talks are more likely to succeed when women are involved” 

World Economic Forum

Executive Director of Intimate Hotels of Barbados, Davina Layne, explained, “having women owned and led businesses in an economy is critical. The diversity in the skills of women, both technical and soft skills, cannot be understated.  Women therefore need to contribute and be encouraged to be increasingly involved in leadership roles as they can add specific value.” Strides toward levelling the scale of owners and managers in the sector is evidenced by the emergence of women-operated properties within the group. 

Renée Coppin holds fast to a philosophy of uplifting others and has a passion for enhancing anything she takes on. She is the owner of Pirates Inn and Infinity on the Beach, but her journey began in 2002 when she became the first Executive Director of Intimate Hotels. 

As she worked her way through the sector, she realised she did not fit the persona perpetuated of a small business owner. She was a black woman in her 30’s with dreadlocks who had to defy the stereotype. Yet, Renée remained focused on her vision, and today works to maintain sustainable properties and promote growth among staff. She said, “I’m an average Barbadian girl, I grew up here, I went through the educational system.

“It is important to me that I give people the example that this is nothing that is unattainable.” 

Even as the presence of women in the industry continues to grow, she hopes to see more young black women aspiring to property management and ownership. 

In 2015, Shonnell Reid became the General Manager of Melbourne Inn, after taking over from her mother-in-law. Initially, she had no desire to lead the hotel, but hit the ground running after taking up the post. “You come as a guest but you leave as family,” is the mantra that propelled her to reinvent the brand of the inn and create an atmosphere that felt like home. Her drive to serve wholeheartedly was fueled by happy guests who noticed her dedication to her work.  “To see young women with families…taking up the mantle and running strong, that makes me proud as a woman,” Shonnell said, beaming with pride to be a young black woman in the sector. 

Adua Kinch entered the industry six years ago as the Owner/Manager of Dover Beach Hotel, taking over from her father. Having spent 17 years at multinational technology company IBM, she was especially delighted to meet women to guide her along the way. “ I came from IBM in the structured cabling department which is almost totally male dominated.  Coming into the Hospitality Industry with very strong female influences has been very heart warming.  I have always been able to get advice as a newbie from other females who have been in the sector for some time,” she said. Although she was forced out of her comfort zone socially to interact with people from across the world, she acknowledged the rewarding experience of entering the hotel industry. 

To young women and girls watching the success of other females in the sector, do not dilute your dreams of owning a hotel out of uncertainty. Women who had no background in management, or even changed careers, have found their place in the sector and are paving the way for the next generation. These stories show that no matter what obstacles are faced, advancing to Managing Director, Owner or CEO of your own property is possible!