Ally of the Month, Mr. March, Curtis Crimmins, Co-Founder & CEO of Roomza
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.
Curtis Crimmins is a lifelong hotelier who got his first taste of the business by following his mom to work while she was a hotel housekeeper. Though these visits sparked his love of hotels, the reason his mom brought him to work has darker roots, it was to keep Curtis safe from her abusive partner. These formative experiences led Curtis to not only become a leader in the hotel industry but also an innovator. After working his way up starting as a front desk clerk, then concierge, sales manager, general manager, and finally as chief of staff at OYO building their brand in the US, he was inspired to start Roomza, a new tech-driven hotel brand.
Based on his experiences and consumer data, Curtis realized there was an unserved market for guests who just care about having a safe, comfortable, customized hotel room that is easy to access, without excess amenities. Using technology he has been able to create this with Roomza offering some of the social aspects of travel via virtual reality while getting rid of big expenses related to public spaces and amenities people don’t care about. Instead, he is putting that money towards his team, creating a people-first culture with higher wages, insurance, equity, and a host of perks and benefits designed to make life for Roomza employees better.
“Roomza was started because we believe the best way to create stellar hotel stays is by making hotels better places to work,” which sounds like something the ultimate ally would say! With that, meet our Male Ally of the Month, Mr. March, Curtis Crimmins.
Tell us a little about what inspired you to start Roomza, with this employee-first ethos?
I started Roomza to fill what I saw as a few voids in the market. When we take a macro look at the travel landscape, we see that almost everything is built for cis-gendered white, straight men. But then when you really do the math, you find that they are the minority of travelers. They really are. They're more of the gays, the theys, the shes, the thems right. There are more of us than there are of them, and I say this as a gay man. So, the whole idea behind Roomza is broadening the definition of us and narrowing the definition of them.
This is true of the hospitality workforce as well, one of the things that I love about hospitality, is we have one of the most diverse workforces that you'll find anywhere. And that is true the world over. That's not anything new. DEI is buzzy and trending now, but this has been true in the hospitality industry for my whole life, and I'm sure for the lives of many people, much older than me.
People are in hospitality because of their passion for it, because of the drive for it. They certainly don't do it for money, notoriety, or for prestige. With Roomza, our mission is to recognize the importance of what they do, and how they contribute to our business. By putting the front-line employees first, and all our team members, we believe we can create a better consumer experience. My mom is the reason I started Roomza. My mom made $5.15 an hour as a hotel housekeeper, it wasn’t enough. Housekeepers still don’t make enough, so our plan is to disrupt the system, pay better, and offer equity, and other incentives that will put dignity back into service.
We didn’t invent employee-centric operations, it goes back to the origins of the modern hospitality industry. Mr. Bill Marriott used to have a “three-legged stool philosophy” where you put your people first, they put the guest first, and the business thrives, but you need all three. So, I think Roomza is really just a reset. A back to basics of how we behave like a service industry. One of the things that I say a lot, and people seem to agree, is that for hotels to be able to survive, they have to stop behaving like a utility, and they have to start behaving like a service again. And how we do that is we reengage that passion in people and make them feel inspired to want to provide service.
What makes you so passionate about helping women and other underrepresented groups?
Again, as a gay man, I think that there are more of us “underrepresented groups” than them. It makes sense to advocate, lift up, and try to empower and help women and underrepresented groups whenever possible. Because I think it's good for our species. I think it's good for humanity. I think it's how we survive. I can't think of any example in the history of humankind where isolation was helpful to the propagation of the human race. I actually don't understand why other people don't believe the same way. And, so for me, it just comes from a deeply intrinsic place where I just have always felt that way. Also, I was raised by my mom and my grandmother. Every door in my life that has led to a successful outcome was opened for me and held open by a woman or by somebody from one of those underrepresented groups. And I think it's important to dance with the ones who brung you.
How do you think women can best advocate for themselves?
I don't know that I'm qualified to answer how women could advocate better for themselves. My only advice would be don't ask men that question! Do what you think is right. Nobody has ever asked me, “How can men best advocate for themselves?” Men just do what centers them and their power. And I would say women should do the same thing, and do it unapologetically.
How can other men be more supportive of women?
Men need to check their bias. An example, Sam (Samantha), my female co-founder, and I were in a city where we are developing a hotel. We were meeting with a potential vendor for signage for the hotel. He says hello to me and Sam, and after some small talk, he says to Sam “You would be prettier if you smiled more.” Even if he thought he was being nice, that was totally inappropriate. I observe exchanges like this with Sam more often than you can imagine. I told that company I wouldn’t use their signs even if they were free!
So, here is how men can be more supportive. First, be quiet and let women tell you what their experiences are. Second, do everything you can to address that experience directly. Not what you think about that experience. I'm not here to opine about women's experiences. Just listen, internalize, and then do something. Because if you can't do something, then you're just taking up space. And everybody can do something in their sphere of influence.
What do you think it will truly take to reach gender equality, and when?
I believe in inevitability, that things will happen. What I'm inspired by right now, is that you can feel that the tide is turning, right? I think that the world is smaller. It comes down to how expressive we've become through the internet and social media, which helps to show that we're not alone in our experiences. To borrow a quote from Martin Luther King, “no one is free until we are all free.” There is momentum, women are building communities, and this is really powerful. Exposing things like the #MeToo movement helps to recenter the power.
When there are so many voices saying the same thing in unison, that it can no longer be ignored, then things start to get better. People are out there telling us exactly what's wrong. It was true in 1998 when my mom was working for $5.15 an hour, and it's true in 2023 when the average hotel housekeeper only earns $13.75 cents an hour, people are telling us exactly what's wrong. But it goes right back to doing something. And that's the most important part.
Thank you for your inspiring words, Curtis. Before we let you go, congrats again on starting Roomza! Give us the inside scoop––where will they be located, when is the first one slated to open, and for anyone (everyone?) interested to work at Roomza, how do they apply?
Yes, Roomza, we are super excited! The first one will open this year in New York City. We are also looking at properties in Chicago, Seattle, and Miami. For anyone interested to join our team and become a host, please check out https://www.roomza.com/company/careers.