Female leadership driving city's robust tourism industry

Casandra Matej is only female tourism director in state's largest cities

SAN ANTONIO – If the San Antonio economy were a car, its engine would be the $13.4 billion tourism industry, and the driver would be Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Casandra Matej.

"I'm very proud to be a leader of our industry, of our Convention and Visitors Bureau, and be an example for my own daughter," said Matej as she stood on a bridge overlooking the city's crown jewel of tourism: the River Walk.

When she took over the bureau in 2011, Matej did not think her hiring was special.

"It was once I took the seat that I realized that it meant something because I received a lot of phone calls from people in our industry nationwide," she said.

The calls came because Matej's hiring bucked an ongoing trend in the hospitality and tourism industry. While women make up a majority of the hospitality and tourism workforce, they rarely find themselves in leadership roles.

Matej is the only female in the state's four largest cities to lead a convention and visitors bureau.

"Overall there's a lot of women in the hospitality industry, but when you start looking at No. 2s or No. 1s within convention and visitors bureaus, there's more No. 2s that are female versus No. 1s," she said.

Matej said one of the most effective ways to curb that trend is to empower more young women to enter the industry.

When asked what obstacles she encountered as a woman in the industry, Matej said, "some of the obstacles for me are very minimal because if there were opportunities I decided to put my foot through the door."

If there's one job Matej likes more than being the bureau's executive director it's being a mother to her 6-year-old daughter. She said the notion that there is a perfect balance between motherhood and a career is a myth.

"My family is my No. 1 priority followed by my job. The advice that I would give is just go for it because the opportunities are endless. Just do it. Don't wait until you have children. Do it now and it will all work out," she said.

Despite the lack of women in leadership roles within the industry, Matej said women in San Antonio have her and other female role models they can look to for inspiration.

"There are trailblazers that have paved the way in my industry as well as throughout the city," she said. "That makes it a lot easier being a female leader in San Antonio."