Working in the hospitality industry can be a dream job, but Karen Whitt takes dreamy to another level: The transplanted Texan works with not one but three hotels – in Turks & Caicos.
As vice president of sales and marketing for The Hartling Group, she oversees sales, marketing, and branding for the company’s three properties in Turks & Caicos, including The Palms Turks & Caicos and the brand-new Shore Club. She has lived in Turks & Caicos for twelve years.
In addition to her day job, Whitt served as president of the Turks & Caicos Hotel and Tourism Association for five years and is currently vice president of the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association. She’s earned myriad awards and recognition along the way, and has graced the cover of Luxury Travel Advisor.
“I believe the key to success in our industry is communication, whether it’s with our travel partners, our owners, our guests, or our staff; you have to keep communicating,” she says.
Read on for what she loves most about her job, her packing tips, travel rituals, and more.
On why hospitality is the best industry:
“I love this industry – the people, staff, guests, the experiences, and most importantly, the relationships. Your team becomes family, you spend so much time together, and you are working to a common goal.
Each day is different, and brings a new set of challenges and opportunities. I love meeting and interacting with the people who visit us from all over the world. It’s rewarding to see the excitement of guests who are creating memories in our resorts. I honestly cannot imagine working in any other industry.
On the dreamiest parts of her job:
We create memories, and there is nothing more rewarding than a great success story. I’ve seen some of the most amazing places in the world and met incredible new friends because of my job and I know how lucky I am! I went to South Africa last year for Virtuoso’s annual Symposium, and that was truly a dream come true for me.
It’s been a dream to be recognized over the years for stellar service both personally and for the hotels I’ve managed. Some of the most discerning travelers have voted us among their favorite properties in the world, and it’s a great feeling.
On attention to detail:
I have a very critical eye and great attention to detail, which can keep me very busy! Managing the efforts for the three resorts is much like managing my own home, and I want our guests to feel like they are welcome and can do whatever makes them happy.
On a typical day in the office:
I’m working nearly every day for up to 12 hours, and every day is different.
In the morning, I usually spend time with my dog on the beach. Christopher is a rescue dog or a “potcake,” the affectionate name for mixed breed island dogs. My dog Blaze, another potcake, passed away in March. They were both cover dogs for the TCSPCA calendar. I then arrive at the office or hotels to review emails. I like to go to each of the properties, meet with the general managers, and talk through goals, challenges, and upcoming events.
In the past few months opening The Shore Club, much of my day revolved around getting that resort ready to open and welcome guests, anything from food tasting to site inspections to choosing furniture and back-of-house equipment. We often have VIP industry guests into the hotels, and I spend time getting to know them over meals and activities. I’m often packing my bag for the next trip, whether it’s sales meetings in the U.S. or Canada, Virtuoso Travel Week in Las Vegas, or a press event in New York City. On island, I am involved in many civic organizations like National Cancer Society and Community College. It’s never a dull moment!
Favorite items to pack?
- I love my Annabel Ingall leather bag and never travel without it. It’s a nice size and I can throw everything inside and still be stylish.
- I never travel without a little black dress, great shoes and a clutch – you never know when you will have the chance for a nice cocktail event or dinner.
- I carry a scarf that can be used to add fun to any outfit or tie on the bag for a pop of color.
- I always carry hydrating skin products, including lip balm, face, body, and hand cream. My current favorite is the Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing line.
Any travel rituals?
- I always leave room for shopping and try to find a treasure from every city. I collect memories from all over the world.
- When I arrive at the hotel, the first thing I do is unpack, organize, and iron my clothes. Everything is ready to go and easy to find.
- I pack a great carry-on bag, and a little beauty pouch with essentials including a nail file, gum, lip balm, lotion, Q-tips, band aids, hair ties, and aspirin.
- Charge up and backup! Always be ready for the unexpected delay, and back up everything before traveling.
- For years, I have taken a photo of the airport at every city where I arrive. One day I want to put them all together. Some cities have the most amazing welcome messages!
Tell us more about the treasures you find around the world.
I try to find local items that have specific meaning to the country or area. I am especially fascinated with local artisans and folk art. Some examples:
I was so intrigued with the African wooden warrior dolls. I went on a search to find the perfect one – there are so many different types, colors, and styles representing specific regions and powers. I finally chose four from the Namji people of Northern Cameroon, which are hand carved from wood and adorned with glass beads and metal rings. I also purchased four antique hand-woven baskets – they were used for transporting water and other valuables from village to village. The craftsmanship on these baskets is exquisite and it’s difficult to believe they are antique.
All of Asia is sensory overload, but I was particularly enchanted with Taipei and its intriguing history. While at the National Palace Museum in Taipei, I fell in love with the Lion Dogs – there are so many different colors and artistic styles. I chose a pair of Temple Guardian Lion “Foo Dogs” (replicas) from the Qing Dynasty, covered with Sancai glaze and brightly decorated. Chinese folklore indicates that Foo Dogs or Lion Dogs were the guardians of the temple or home. They are perfect for me because of my love of dogs and a constant reminder of the spiritual brilliance I felt all throughout Asia.
In China, it was all about pearls, pearls, and more pearls. I visited several pearl markets, and hand-selected individual pearls for a beautiful necklace which I watched being strung especially for me, as well as earrings and a bracelet.
I have been to Cannes many times for ILTM, and I never leave without exquisite olive oils, soaps, and balsamic vinegar. During my last visit, I ventured outside of Nice and toured an amazing blown-glass factory. I was very fortunate to meet the artist there, who had studied with the great Chihuly. He gave me a quick lesson on the art of glass blowing. It was an unforgettable experience, and I bought a stunning blown-glass tray that he made and several colorful glass balls which I use during the holidays.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
I was recently in Santa Fe, and found one of the best shops for Indian artifacts. It’s called Nambe Trading Post, and I bought two amazing antique Hopi Kachinas, these are handcrafted dolls, spirits or personification of things in the real world. These spirits are believed to visit the Hopi villages during the first half of the year, and are understood as a powerful being who can use his particular power for human good bringing rainfall, healing, fertility or protection.
Brazilians are well-known for their colorful style and flare, and I purchased several pieces of painted art in Rio and Sao Paulo.
What are your favorite destinations outside of Turks & Caicos?
Any favorite restaurants around the world?
I could list at least 50! To narrow it down, I thought of places where I looked forward to returning – that’s the true test if you visit a city again and cannot wait to return to a specific restaurant. Then, it’s truly a favorite!”
Daniel: New York City
Rodeio: São Paulo, Brazil
La Mirabelle: Cannes, France
Tomasita’s: Santa Fe, New Mexico
Parallel23: Turks and Caicos
All photos courtesy of Karen Whitt.