Historic female thought leaders and changemakers often aren’t acknowledged until their story ends. In honor of Women’s History Month, we wanted to feature a woman who has made a historic move. Deidre Mathis is the first Black woman to own a hostel in the United States. Wanderstay Hospitality Group is a hybrid hospitality brand. The first location, Wanderstay Houston Hostel, opened in summer 2018 in Houston, Texas. Her second location, a boutique hotel, will open in 2022.
Deidre is in the elite company of the 5% of hotel owners that are women of color. And although her experience as a woman of color breaking into the hospitality industry has been nothing short of amazing, “I find it odd that there aren’t more people of color at ownership level in hospitality because travel is such an all-inclusive thing.” Mathis has traveled to over 44 countries on all 7 continents. She wrote the book on being a broke, travel-loving professional called Wanderlust: For the Young, Broke Professional.
While taking a post-graduation gap year abroad Deidre fell in love with the community and cultural diversity boutique accommodations offer. During that trip, she made $12,000 last nearly 18 months through budgeting and embracing budget accommodations. Deidre decided to bring that experience stateside opening Wanderstay in 2018, which didn’t come to fruition without both external and internal pressures.
Barriers like access to funding and access to education are tough to overcome. Luckily, Deidre received a lot of community support from the start. Her initial Indiegogo campaign brought in more than $5,000 in 31 days. Since then she’s won over $85,000 in business pitch competitions. $10,000 of which came from Queen Bey herself. Mathis was one of Beyoncés BeyGOOD/NAACP Minority Small Business Grant Recipients.
“The year before we opened through the first year of being open there was tremendous pressure. Wondering how it would measure up to other hostels. When I first started I didn’t feel like I belonged because of impostor syndrome. Three years in and I know I belong. I’m looking forward to the journey of growing my company.”
A Broadcast Journalism major with a master’s degree in Corporate Communications, Deidre had no formal training in hospitality before launching her business. “Although I’d never even worked in a hotel I knew that getting into the industry was merging my passions- travel, and people. There are still some things I have to learn and much that I have to improve on, but hospitality is the best industry for me. I feel lucky to have figured that out.” Deidre feels strong as an owner and knows this is where she belongs, now she believes it.
However, the real barometer of success lies in the ratings. Wanderstay Hostel has been rated number one for specialty accommodations on Trip Advisor for 2 years straight. Offering bright themed private and shared accommodations along with coworking spaces for busy travelers. After hosting over 5000 guests from across the globe they’ve proven themselves to be a great brand and a great place to stay.
The Covid pandemic has brought on major changes in the industry and Deidre is learning to navigate this new terrain and keeping a positive perspective. “In our second year of business Covid happened, so I’m not sure I have a complete understanding of what hospitality ownership is in a normal world. As an entrepreneur, I’m just happy I’ve been able to sustain my business three years in. Most entrepreneurial businesses shut down in the first five years. I’m trying to maintain these last two years in the midst of Covid.”The pandemic isn’t the only thing that’s contributed to some of the changes happening in hospitality. “I’ve seen more people get into specialty accommodation like Airbnb and multi-unit family homes which is exciting to see. The changes in the next five years need to include more diversity, more access to capital, and more access to information. These changes will give more people an opportunity to break into the industry. There’s no reason why this industry isn’t as diverse as it should be.”
Personally, Deidre is expecting her first child with her partner. Professionally she’s looking forward to opening doors for more people that look like her. “There’s just so much that I’m proud of. As the company grows, as I become a new mom, now is the time to start hiring and expanding and bringing more people on board. I look forward to that, although it makes me a little uncomfortable to know that I won’t be as involved in the day-to-day of my business. I’m happy that I’ve made it to the point where I can hire someone to help me grow the brand.”
Along with being the owner of Wanderstay Hospitality Group, a published author, and a mother-to-be, Deidre is the Director for the Wander Abroad Foundation, a 501 (c) (3) organization that provides passports and short-term study abroad programs to college students. “I hope to continue to grow my brand so that it’s a 50,60, 70-year-old company. There is so much in store for us in the future.”