Distinguished women leaders within the Canadian hotel sector

To commemorate International Women’s Day 2024, Choice Hotels Canada presents the remarkable journeys of four distinguished women leaders within the Canadian hotel sector. Their stories of resilience, innovation, and leadership illuminate the evolving landscape for women in business, hotels, and society—highlighting their significant contributions to the industry, their leadership insights and the challenges they’ve overcome.

The stories of Geneviève Milot, Karen Tam, Sharon Joo, and Nimfa Bautista serve as powerful reminders of the progress made and the path ahead for women in hospitality and beyond. Choice Hotels Canada is honoured to highlight these inspiring journeys, reaffirming its commitment to fostering diversity, empowerment, and excellence within the industry.


As these women share insights into their personal journeys, the evolution of the hospitality industry for women, and the challenges they faced—their advice to future women in business is a testament to experience, boldness, resilience, and the joy of hospitality. Each leader, in her unique way, contributes to a more inclusive, dynamic, and compassionate hospitality industry.

Geneviève Milot


Owner, Quality Suites Drummondville (2022 Choice Hotels Canada Hotel of the Year) & Quality Inn & Suites Lévis

Geneviève Milot, the owner of Quality Suites Drummondville & Quality Inn & Suites Lévis, is a third-generation hotelier whose passion for hospitality was ignited in her childhood. Milot’s journey in the hotel industry begins with an anecdote about her first shift where an accident involving spilling wine on a guest turned into a lesson in perseverance and belonging thanks to encouragement from a seasoned colleague. Raised in the environment of hotels, Milot’s formative years were spent absorbing the business through direct experiences and interactions with their family and hotel staff.

A key lesson learned over the years emphasizes the importance of valuing and consulting with the team, understanding that a well-cared-for staff creates a positive atmosphere that enhances guest experiences. This approach is coupled with a realistic attitude towards guest satisfaction, acknowledging that while striving to treat guests as kings, it’s also vital to recognize that not all dissatisfaction can be taken personally.

Milot acknowledges the evolving role of women in the hospitality industry, noting a significant increase in female representation in management roles and attributing this change to bringing a more human touch and better listening skills to the industry.

Challenges faced include the difficulties of being a young, female hotel owner in a male-dominated construction environment during the building of her hotel, highlighting issues of not being taken seriously and the rarity of her position at the time.

Milot draws inspiration from Oprah Winfrey, admired for her strength, determination, and positive influence on others, spanning across her talk show, network, and philanthropic efforts.

Her advice to future women in business: “Do not hesitate to take your place! Be bold, be curious and enjoy every day in the nicest industry there is! What a blessing to be welcoming people from around the world and showing them our beautiful establishments. Stand and shine, and if it disturbs people… offer them sunglasses but, always keep shining.”

Karen Tam


Chief Financial Officer, Choice Hotels Canada

Karen Tam’s path to Choice Hotels Canada was initiated by a fortuitous recruitment call while she held the position of CFO/COO in the financial services sector, prompted by her extensive background in the hospitality industry, which included stints in KPMG’s hospitality practice and pivotal roles at Four Seasons Hotels in corporate finance and investor relations. The timing was fortunate, coinciding with the retirement of Choice Hotels’ former CFO. Tam’s enduring passion for hospitality and the opportunity to return to the industry were decisive factors in her acceptance of the position. She focuses on operational finance and the corporate side of the business, overseeing legal, HR, ESG, procurement, IT and some commercial functions. All while striking a balance between the needs of franchisees and guests, and ensuring Choice Hotels Canada operates efficiently and effectively.

Throughout her career, Tam has gained valuable insights, particularly the importance of being prepared for unforeseen circumstances. Her experiences working at Four Seasons during the SARS outbreak and navigating the challenges brought on by COVID-19 shortly after joining Choice Hotels Canada reinforced this lesson, having to immediately modify cashflows and labour requirements, in particular, while also trying to guide and assist franchisees during the worst time in the industry’s history. These experiences reinforced to her the importance of resilience in the face of the hospitality industry’s inherent volatility. Tam believes in the power of learning from both positive and negative experiences, emphasizing the value of treating people respectfully regardless of the situation.

When discussing the advancement of women in the industry, Tam acknowledges progress while highlighting the ongoing journey toward substantial change. She emphasizes resilience and tenacity as being crucial for overcoming challenges, especially in male-dominated fields, without compromising one’s integrity.

When asked who inspires her, Tam draws particular inspiration from her parents—a father who immigrated from Hong Kong and became a doctor, and a mother from Charlottetown, P.E.I., who was a nurse. Despite lacking business backgrounds, they instilled in her a strong work ethic and essential skills such as curiosity, critical thinking, relationship management, and compassion.

Tam emphasizes she is continually inspired by the remarkable individuals in her life, including colleagues, friends, and family, who embody intelligence, strength, kindness, and the importance of laughter! This includes the individuals she encounters in various roles within the hotels, from owners and general managers to those in front desk, housekeeping, and breakfast service roles, who excel in their positions with positivity, while managing life’s other demands. She feels extremely lucky to be surrounded by such incredible people and believes in the importance of seeking guidance and support from them when needed.

As a lifelong volunteer, Tam deeply values continuous learning and growth, asserting that discomfort often accompanies growth. She has lived abroad in Australia and Scotland, challenging herself by relocating to these countries without knowing anyone there. Additionally, she was a competitive ballroom and Latin dancer for many years, confronting discomfort and learning to manage stress while performing in front of judges and audiences.

Sharon Joo


Owner, Comfort Inn & Suites Terrace, B.C. (2023 Choice Hotels Canada Hotel of the Year)

Sharon Joo’s professional journey commenced with her tenure as an Account Manager at RBC after graduating from Simon Fraser University, followed by a significant hiatus devoted to nurturing her two children. The trajectory of her career took a dramatic turn in the summer of 2018 when the family’s investment in the Comfort Inn & Suites Terrace faced the threat of receivership. With determination, Joo and her family relocated to Terrace on two weeks’ notice, embarking on a new venture. She rapidly acclimated to the diverse demands of hotel management, encompassing oversight of front desk operations, housekeeping, sales, accounts receivable and staff training, among other responsibilities.

One of the most valuable lessons Joo has absorbed in the business is the paramount importance of cultivating and sustaining positive relationships and experiences with all stakeholders, including customers, employees, contractors, and delivery personnel. She strives to ensure that everyone receives the finest hospitality and support, aiming to leave a lasting, positive impression.

Joo firmly believes in equal opportunities within the hospitality industry, asserting that success hinges on hard work, dedication, and perseverance. She views the industry as a competitive field where survival depends on possessing traits that are highly valued in hospitality.

The journey has not been without its challenges, particularly in the face of the pandemic, labour shortages, and market shifts. Despite these hurdles, Joo takes pride in her ability to adapt, innovate, and most importantly, retain and support her staff through tumultuous times.

Inspiration for Joo comes from Kathleen King, the founder of Tate’s, a beloved cookie brand known for its crispy and buttery cookies. King’s journey from baking at her family’s farm stand at age 12 to overcoming adversity and establishing a nationally recognized brand exemplifies the focus, business acumen, and perseverance that Joo admires.

Joo’s advice to future women in business is to have confidence in their abilities and value. She highlights the hospitality industry’s accessibility for women, noting the long and unconventional hours but also pointing out the natural advantages women have, such as higher emotional intelligence and a knack for anticipating guests’ needs with a feminine touch.

Nimfa Bautista


General Manager | Director of Sales (2021 Choice Hotels Canada Leader of the Year APEX Award Winner) Halifax Tower Hotel & Conference Centre Comfort Hotel Bayer’s Lake (2020 Choice Hotels Canada Hotel of the Year)

Nimfa Bautista’s foray into the hospitality industry was marked by a cooperative training program in Human Resources at the Ramada Hotel Manila, Philippines, which she started before completing her AB Psychology degree. Transitioning to a Psychometrician role within the same hotel, Bautista’s fascination with the front office’s elegance led her to pivot toward guest-facing roles, igniting a lifelong passion. Her career trajectory saw her refining her craft at prestigious organizations and hotels like Millennium & Copthorne and Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila, under the mentorship of a General Manager at Sofitel who helped her cultivate a profound passion for exceptional customer service. This journey of cross-departmental roles enriched her understanding of hotel operations.

Upon relocating to Nova Scotia, Bautista seized the opportunity to continue her passion in the hotel industry, starting at Comfort Hotel Bayer’s Lake as one of the first guest services associates and eventually ascending to General Manager. Today, she oversees sales and operations at both Comfort Hotel Bayer’s Lake and the Halifax Tower Hotel & Conference Centre, Ascend Hotel Collection, a testament to her dedication and the empowering influence of hotel owner Stephanie Giannoulis, who champions women in leadership roles.

For Bautista, the essence of her role in the hospitality industry lies in the profound value of outstanding customer service. She cherishes creating genuine connections with guests, aiming to transform each interaction into a warm, memorable experience that fosters loyalty and satisfaction.

Observing the hospitality landscape, Bautista notes a significant advancement in female leadership, attributing this to a cultural shift towards inclusivity and gender equality. This evolution not only acknowledges women’s invaluable contributions but also opens unprecedented opportunities for growth and leadership within the industry.

The challenges Bautista has navigated, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, highlight the complexities of managing staffing transitions and maintaining service excellence amidst adversity. These experiences underscore the importance of a supportive work environment and strategies to retain and nurture talent.

Inspirational figures like Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama resonate with Bautista, who admires their empathy, empowerment, and advocacy, which have influenced a generation of women to pursue positive change in their communities and beyond.

Bautista’s advice to future women in business underscores the importance of passion, continuous growth, and valuing employees. She advocates for a company culture that embraces diversity, creativity, and innovation, principles she believes are essential for thriving in business and inspiring others to achieve their potential.

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Choice Hotels Canada is one of the largest and most successful lodging franchisors in the country with more than 330 properties currently open. The Choice™ family of hotel brands provide business and leisure travellers with a range of high-quality lodging options, including limited to full-service hotels in the upscale, mid-scale, extended stay and economy segments.