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Career Ascent: Andrea Foster, SVP, Development, Marcus Hotels & Resorts

Admired as one of the top women in lodging, Andrea Foster began her career in the front office and has moved through operations, consulting, marketing, and business development in hotels, wellness resorts, advisory firms, and now, a hotel management company. Building her career with exposure to so many areas, it makes sense she's ended up working in development. Nearly seven years ago, Andrea joined Marcus Hotels & Resorts, where she is responsible for marketing the company’s management capabilities and seeking potential acquisition, joint venture, and third-party management opportunities. During her tenure, she has raised awareness of Marcus Hotels & Resorts, which has 17 properties in its portfolio and most recently acquired the Kimpton Monaco Pittsburgh hotel with a capital partner. Here's herstory:

Andrea Foster Marcus Hotels & Resorts

Where did you grow up and what was your first job in hospitality?

I grew up in a suburban town in Maine and my first job in hospitality was at age 11, working in the ice cream shop that my parents owned and my mom ran. A teacher by trade, this business was my mom’s way to give my younger sister and me – and several of our friends and other teens in town – work experience and to teach us increasing levels of responsibility to prepare us for our futures. I found it so rewarding to make people happy (the ice cream helped, too!), which planted an initial seed for my future career.

Do you think hospitality is a gene or it can be taught?

I believe hospitality can be taught – it is a skill set. Caring for others is something that I believe people are born with, and this is the foundation on which the hospitality skillset is developed – anticipating people’s needs, and putting yourself in their shoes so you can “meet them where they are” in their guest experience journey.

You went on to study hotel management at Cornell, how has your education shaped your career?

I chose Cornell for my hotel degree because it is known as the best in the world. Part of that is the knowledge, skills, and experience that I gained during my college years – but the Cornell and industry network that it gave me is equally powerful. We are an inclusive group of alumni with such a strong support system, which has certainly helped me navigate and rise throughout my career.

From Cornell, you moved around a bit working various rooms division roles, then took a brief step into hotel technology before going into consulting. Other women we’ve interviewed who’ve worked in consulting credit it as a great training in many disciplines, was that your experience? Consulting – as an Associate, then VP with PKF Consulting – was an exceptional way to understand the industry landscape, ranging from the ”50,000-foot view” of market performance, economic factors that impact it, and forecasting, to the on-the-ground involvement in market and feasibility studies, appraisals, and operational analyses. Consulting was a perfect next step for me, at the time, building upon the years of experience I had in operations.

What are the key skills you learned working in consulting?

  • Honing my analytical skills.

  • Leading people through projects, from start to completion.

  • And seeing the “whole forest”, and not just the trees. Nothing and no one operates in a vacuum.

From there you pivoted and applied the experience you had developed in consulting to the spa and wellness area, moving to work in business development and marketing for Miraval. Then you returned to PKF Consulting (now CBRE Hotels) to lead the New England practice, which included appraisals, market & feasibility studies, and spa & wellness consulting. What drew you to the wellness aspect of the business?

If we aren’t taking care of ourselves from an individual standpoint, how can we contribute to our families, organizations/companies, communities, and our world? We can only be as healthy together as we are individually, and our world is not healthy. So, not only is health and wellness an important individual goal, but it is an enormous opportunity that translates to big business and has created a revenue opportunity for the hospitality industry that extends far beyond just a “spa”.

Do you live a super healthy lifestyle after working in wellness for so long?

Overall, the answer is yes – surrounding myself with positive influences, getting quality sleep, managing stress, fresh air, eating well (we’ll say 80% healthy and 20% chocolate/cookies/pizza/wine), and incorporating fitness into my routine. But over the last couple of years, my intensity has relaxed – I moved and my home life and routine changed. Oh…and a pandemic. Giving ourselves grace is also part of living a healthy lifestyle.

Giving ourselves grace is also part of living a healthy lifestyle.

After CBRE, you’ve spent the last six years working with Marcus Hotels & Resorts which operates an exciting mixture of hotels, resorts, spas, and restaurants in the US––mostly full-service and both branded and independent, and also has a separate operating division, Marcus Theatres, that owns and operates 90 movie theatres. What drew you to join Marcus and what three accomplishments are you most proud of during your tenure?

Marcus Hotels & Resorts, a division of The Marcus Corporation, is an 87-year-old company in its third-generation of leadership that is focused on quality, longevity, and providing exceptional experiences. I was drawn to the company because of its people, and saw the opportunity to contribute to expanding the reach of this exceptional team of leaders and associates who are committed to service and excellence.

I am most proud of the evolution we have achieved as a company, shifting our portfolio even further upscale and expanding both investment and employment opportunities; increasing our awareness within the hospitality industry; and I am regularly told that I bring a positive energy force to all we do as a team, which is a very nice thing to hear.

What did you do during the pandemic?

In addition to continuing my current work, I also moved twice. The first move was planned pre-pandemic, and my second move was from Milwaukee to DC, embracing remote work full-time.

We did a lot of healthy cooking…and I did a bit of baking, as I think everyone did!

I frequently guest lectured for hospitality schools and Castell@College, and hosted webinars for AHLA’s ForWard.

And I really leaned into a lifelong knowledge journey via books, documentaries, and very candid and open conversations on social injustice, race, and how to be a better ally, advocate, and anti-racist.

The Garland Hotel in LA, part of Marcus Hotels & Resorts
The Garland Hotel in LA, part of Marcus Hotels & Resorts

What big changes have you seen over the last two years in hotel operations and the real estate aspect of the biz?

On the operations side, the flexibility and creativity of sales, marketing, and operations teams. We had to truly zero-base our budgets. We had to find new sources of demand and cater to a different pattern of guest travel and needs. The muscle flex we have gone through over the past two-plus years has made us more agile in preparation for challenges as we move forward.

On the real estate side, hotel valuations, seller expectations, and development costs are currently out of sync with economic and financial trends (which include inflation and interest rate increases). There are headwinds in cost and availability of labor, property tax and insurance expense increases, supply chain challenges, and changes in some market demand segment patterns that all impact hotels’ profitability. In general, asset pricing is too high to generate expected investment returns, when considering all the factors at hand, which makes acquisitions particularly challenging at the current time.

You’ve been active with Cornell, Boston University, AHLA, and the Castell Project to help develop programs to support women in the industry, was this inspired by facing barriers in your own career?

Actually, on most occasions, it has been the opposite for me. I have been blessed throughout my career with mentors and sponsors––both men and women––who have recognized my talents and supported my development and advancement. I also recognize that I am not shy and am comfortable advocating for myself, and have had the good fortune of working with and for exceptional leaders who paid it forward. But I know this is not everyone’s experience, so I feel compelled to help create pathways and support structures that help women, people of color, and others who are underrepresented in leadership in our industry.

The vibe at AHLA ForWard in Chicago 2022
The vibe at AHLA ForWard in Chicago 2022

You attended the AHLA ForWard convention in Chicago in May, how was that and what more can the industry be doing to attract and support women?

I am so proud of the evolution of ForWard since it was founded by the AHLA Foundation in early 2018, and I am honored to be an advisory committee member and past Chair. This year, there were 500 people in attendance, a number that has grown notably each year––even through a pandemic––and several companies really stepped up and sent 10, 15, or even 30 people. Companies only do this when they see value in the investment.

The industry overall – from AHLAF/ForWard/Castell (which are under the same umbrella today) to She Has a Deal to the Women in Hospitality Leadership Alliance to the hotel brands’ initiatives to support women in hotel ownership with capital – is making strides in the right direction. The key is to accelerate this momentum and for each of us, every day, to bring women into the rooms where learning and coaching are taking place, networking is happening, and decisions are being made.

You’ve recently joined the board of EVPassport, how did that come about?

I have always tried to focus my time on ways that make people’s lives better (hence me choosing hospitality as a career) and to leave everything better than how I found it. This includes our environment. It is for both my personal desire to help protect our planet and be an active advocate for sustainability and my business desire to help our industry prepare for a wave of electric vehicles to enter our garages and parking lots. The hospitality industry isn’t prepared for this, and it needs to be.

EVPassport reached out to me to help them navigate the hospitality network and decision-makers after they found start-up success and scale in multi-family, office, and industrial. The CMO of EVPassport is an industry friend of mine from 15 years back, and he suggested me as the perfect connector. Again, the power of a strong network pays off––time and time again.

What is next for you?

The important choices I am making at this time in my life often have to do with legacy. I ask myself, what is the positive impact I am able to have on those in my circle and beyond? What action can I take today that will truly matter? How will I be remembered when I am gone? I run my choices through this legacy lens, so I am confident any future news I share will reflect this in some way.

What do you think are the key traits or skills that help helped you to move up in your career?

  • My ongoing desire to step out of my comfort zone, learn, stumble along the way, and press forward.

  • My natural aptitude for networking and connecting people with one another.

  • Between these two, they cover a) what you know, and b) who you know – two key factors in success.

Don’t be afraid to fail. If you aren’t failing along the way, you aren’t stretching yourself enough, and thus, you are limiting your growth potential. The goal is to “fail forward”, which is to derive the lesson from the failure and apply that new learning to your ongoing efforts.

What advice would you give to women just starting their careers?

Don’t be afraid to fail. If you aren’t failing along the way, you aren’t stretching yourself enough, and thus, you are limiting your growth potential. The goal is to “fail forward”, which is to derive the lesson from the failure and apply that new learning to your ongoing efforts.

Wow, love that advice!! Andrea, thank you so much for sharing your career journey with hertelier!

Andrea Foster Marcus Hotels


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