Ally of the Month: Calvin Tilokee, Revpar Media
New this year, “Male Ally of the Month,” a column that focuses on the men going out of their way to support women in the hospitality industry. While we all know they don’t have to help, these guys want to help, and this new column will take the time to find out how and why they are determined to help us reach gender equality.
You probably know Calvin Tilokee from his popular Instagram meme page Revparblems, which literally has me in tears (of laughter) every time he posts. What you may not know is that Calvin draws his humorous takes on the hotel biz from a 20+ year hotel career spanning multiple brands, markets, and property types, including Hilton, Marriott, IHG, Starwood, and independents, from New York City to Los Angeles.
His abundance of creativity, paired with the analytical skills developed as an experienced Director of Revenue, led Calvin to create Revpar Media in 2020. Revpar Media focuses on helping hospitality businesses take a strategic approach to their social media.
Calvin credits the women in his life with not only advancing his career but also shaping his willingness to take a risk in setting up his own business, investing in women-owned hotels, and remaining open to new challenges.
Meet our Mr. April, Calvin Tilokee!
Calvin, what drew you to the hotel business and what was your first hotel job?
As a child of immigrants, travel has always been a big part of my life. I have had a passport since before the age of one! We would spend our summers in Trinidad with family, immersing me in the culture. Learning new cultures has always been the most interesting part of travel for me and that is what made me gravitate to hospitality. When I was about 12, we were at a resort in St. Maarten. At 12, I’m not old enough to join my parents in the casino, but old enough to babysit my brother (or at least that’s what my parents told me!) Anyway, when my parents came back I mentioned that there wasn’t anything for kids to do. My dad asked me what I would do differently, and that single question changed my entire perspective. Ever since then, I started looking at ways to improve the hotels we traveled to and this is what sparked my interest in the hotel industry.
My first job was as a reservations manager at the Hilton Rye Town in Rye, NY. I worked at the front desk at this hotel while I was in college, so it was one of the first “hybrid” roles. Meaning they got a res manager and a FD supervisor while only paying for one role. Brilliant 🤣
Why did you gravitate towards the Revenue Management area of the biz and how did you work your way up?
This is where the impact of women first started to shape my career. In my first role, my male DORM was not much of a teacher. He was also constantly miserable. The experience with him led me to say to myself “I’d never want that job.” After a brief stint in F&B (with Gordon Ramsay), I made my way back to hotels and this time was paired up with a female DORM who took an interest in developing people. She presented Revenue Management to me as “a puzzle, who’s pieces we need to put together.” This triggered the strategic part of me and I became fascinated with the various ways that we can achieve goals. It was up the Revenue Management ladder from there!
I have found that women are more open to teaching. This is a big thing for me as I feel that true leaders ensure that their teams are prepared to replace them when the time comes.
Did you have women as bosses, what did you like about working for them?
I have been fortunate to work mostly for women, which I know is a rarity in our industry. I have found that women are more open to teaching. This is a big thing for me as I feel that true leaders ensure that their teams are prepared to replace them when the time comes. Equally, being close enough to see the challenges that women are presented with daily and the various ways my leaders dealt with them was inspiring. It taught me patience and courage.
You're a data guy, so you know that the numbers show there are few women in hotel leadership and even fewer people of color despite many men and women of color in entry-level roles. How has being Black impacted your career?
This is always a tough question to answer. I went from a reservations manager to a Director of Revenue for one of the largest companies in the country in one of the largest markets in the world. I don’t believe that my skin color impacted my career in an overt manner. Were there microaggressions? Absolutely. Did people treat me in ways that were due to my skin color? Maybe. But I always took responsibility for the pitfalls (I got laid off 3 times in one year, which HAS to be some kind of record!)
However, I was always conscious of the fact that I was one of a few people that looked like me in boardrooms and executive meetings. I took pride in that and did my best to represent myself, my family, and my community in the best way possible.
Humor can be a way to deflect microaggressions in the workplace, is that where it started for you?
Haha no way, but it definitely helps to have a sense of humor when dealing with ignorant comments. A well-timed sarcastic retort always leaves them stunned. No, my sense of humor was instilled from a young age. I come from a family and culture of hanging out and talking smack. I was always very perceptive and I learned to listen to the adult jokes and laugh internally without giving away the fact that I understood what was going on! (Sorry, Mom)
Your memes are so funny and on point, how do you come up with them?
First of all, thank you!! It always feels good knowing that people appreciate what you do 😊 I honestly don’t have a predetermined process. Most times I see a funny photo or video and I start to think about how I can put it in a hospitality context. I do try to keep them timely however. For example, making jokes about checking out guests on a Sunday when most of my audience is dealing with that. Or STR report jokes on a Tuesday/Wednesday when they come out. There’s nothing better than getting comments from people asking me if I work at their hotel because they just went through the situation that day. Having 20 years of situations to pull from definitely helps to relate to my audience!
My favorite comedians are Chris Rock, Eddie Murphy, Dave Chappelle, and Robin Williams.
Which has been your most popular meme of all time? (Have any gone really viral?)
Probably my most popular meme of all time is one I made about the Expedia conference experience. I did a joke about what it felt like before and after the conference using Michael Jackson pictures. One normal and one from Thriller 🤣
I’m still waiting on my viral moment, let’s make it happen people!!
Columnist Nancy Mendelson wrote, How Humor Can Be a Superpower at Work (and in Life), and Harvard Business Review recently posted an article, Being Funny Can Pay Off More for Women Than Men, what are your tips for women that want to be funnier at work?
Humor is a great tool to have in your arsenal for many reasons! It’s a great way to cut through the tension and deliver messages in a way that people can relate to. My advice for women specifically in this arena, would be don’t be afraid!! There are plenty of unfunny men who crack jokes in the workplace. No way you could do worse than them!
Beyond humor, and taking a broader look at women in hospitality, how do you think women can better advocate for themselves?
Easier said than done, but be fearless and know your worth. It is extremely rare to find someone that will advocate on your behalf. You will have to do it yourself. Make a list of things you have achieved. Do your research on what others are being paid for similar roles. Be prepared to speak to why you deserve the same. Be prepared to walk away if you don’t get what you deserve. Stepping out of your comfort zone isn’t easy, but it will be necessary.
How can other men be more supportive of women?
Speak up!!!! I could really stop after that statement. There are so many microaggressions that take place on a daily basis. In fairness, many people don’t realize they are doing anything wrong. Speak up when you see something that is wrong. Advocate for qualified women in the workplace. Change takes all of us. Men who are allies have a crucial role to play in educating those of us who have yet to realize (or choose to ignore) the inequality that exists In the workplace.
If you had to predict, what comes first, gender equality or racial equality?
Probably the toughest forecast I’ve ever had to do! My personal opinion is probably racial equality. We have had a qualified black male as President of the US. An even more qualified white female wasn’t able to achieve the same position. We still have a lot of work to do in both areas.
Back to your area of expertise, social media, what trends do you see coming down the pike and how can hoteliers best leverage social media to either create a personal brand or for their property?
People will utilize social media to book their favorite hotels in the very near future. Hotels that are present on social media will be able to take advantage. Those that aren’t will be left behind. It’s that simple. Understand who your audience is and create content that will resonate with them. Use social as an extension of your hotel and service. People will view these pages as a reflection of what to expect when they arrive. Put your best foot forward!
Last question, what are the funniest TV shows/Netflix/books you are into right now?
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is my favorite show on TV right now! It is a brilliant show not only about comedy but also stepping out of your comfort zone and learning something new. It is brilliantly written and I’ve watched it 3 times already. I keep learning new things and seeing different perspectives. A must-watch for everyone, but especially women!
Thank you for making us smile, Calvin! We appreciate you and your support for women in hospitality.