Voices of Tomorrow: How Hyatt’s global leader of luxury and lifestyle brands does it all

Hospitality veteran Crystal Vinisse Thomas on overseeing an array of brands and being a woman of color in the industry.
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· 4 min read

Voices of Tomorrow is a recurring feature highlighting PoC who are reshaping the retail industry.

As the VP and global leader of luxury and lifestyle brands at Hyatt, Crystal Vinisse Thomas oversees a bit of everything from brand to retail partnerships.

The hospitality veteran—who has previously led strategy at both other luxury hotels like W and brands like Beats by Dre, where she oversaw the company’s NBA partnership—today is responsible for a number of hotels under the Hyatt umbrella including Park Hyatt, Thompson, Andaz, and more recently, Dream Hotels.

In a recent conversation with Retail Brew, Vinisse Thomas discusses rebranding strategies and the changes she’d like to see in the industry as a woman of color.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

What aspects of rebranding and retail partnerships do you oversee at Hyatt?

It can be everything. From a restaurant perspective, those are often handled, depending on the agreement with the hotel that can be independent of the hotel brand. When you go to a restaurant, sometimes it doesn’t necessarily have to feel like the hotel itself versus having its own identity. That said, the alignment should be something that has great synergy with the hotel, So what I’d say is probably an outcome from a brand refinement is partnerships. If we were to do a brand refinement, and for example, Andaz is all about self-expression and creativity and imagination, that then gives our properties and partners an idea of our properties and like our partnership teams, an idea of the type of partners that they should engage with for us. So knowing what’s on and off brand, right? So maybe for Andaz, we’d want to have a big partner that’s focused on art and creativity. Whereas for Thompson, we may want more cultural collaborations rooted in the gallery next door…So we want the brand to be used as a lens to identify those partners in those types of moments.

What are some of your biggest personal challenges?

I remember telling my former boss, who’s Austrian, and the idea of race, and, and the differences within that, particularly within one country, was always puzzling to her.

And she’s like, “I don’t get it.”...And the easiest way for me to break it down to her was, “Hey, when I walk into a room, and I don’t see anyone who looks like me, I’m very well aware of it.” And she’s like, “What? I don’t understand that.” I was like, “Yes, you don’t understand that because when you walk into a room, there’s nothing you need to think about because everyone in the room—they look like you, so to speak. So you don’t stand out.” That’s been a challenge for some time. Especially as you continue to grow, you become one voice and in a smaller and smaller room sometimes. In the early part of my career, I’d say not seeing that reflected in leadership—or at least that diversity or myself reflected in leadership—made me question, “Okay, is this a place I want to be? Or does it motivate me to champion creating more opportunities for that?”

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What needs to change?

The biggest thing is education. Knowledge is power. That’s what fuels a lot of interest, makes doors open.

One of the most important efforts that we should make as an industry is to educate a wider group of people about the many different opportunities that exist within hospitality. Hospitality is known to be egregiously nepotistic. You have companies named after a family; it goes from line to line, and its leadership. You have people even at the hotel school—legacy hoteliers, who've gone to the hotel school, their entire family…multiple generations.

And we’re not the only industry that this applies to, certainly, but has a much smaller pool of people who grow up within it, and then ultimately need it. When you talk to people who aren’t exposed to it, in the professional sense, especially people of color, that the idea of going [into] hospitality is often the thought that it’s only relegated to like service, like “Oh, I don’t want to work in hospitality; I have to be a server or bellman and something.” And those are great roles as well, but there’s so much more beyond that. You can be a CFO; you can be a lawyer, a chief general counsel; you can be a brand leader.

I just would love for us to be more intentional and proactive about going into communities that maybe aren’t the biggest donors to an educational system…We could do a better job of reaching out to a wider breadth of communities to say, “Hey, here are the opportunities that exist within our industry that go above and beyond what you might see on a surface level

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.