Meet our Women Leaders
Born and raised in the Dominican Republic, Patricia began her journey in Hospitality working for the Ministry of Tourism of the Dominican Republic in Santo Domingo. It was during this time that she had a taste of the MICE Industry working as a Diplomatic Liaison during the Ibero-American Summit of Heads of State and Governments in 2002.
Patricia moved to the US right after college to further advance her career and become fully independent in her early twenties. She had limited resources and an unpaid internship to get started, but she was fortunate to come across many people in her life who enabled her to fulfill her dreams of living abroad.
An expert in Destination Marketing and Hospitality Sales, Patricia has been a top performer and influencer in a variety of roles within the travel Industry giving her a very broad perspective with a focus on meetings and incentives. She has been in leadership positions for Destination Marketing Organizations, Hotel Group Sales and Global Destination Management Companies.
An entrepreneur at heart, she created a unique concept for sales & marketing representation and founded Synergy-Connect in 2017 along with Maura Zhang. Most recently, she launched LatinPlus DMC Group, a collection of Destination Management Companies specialized in Latin America’s Top Destinations for Meetings & Incentives.
What did you want to be when you were a little girl?
I wanted to be a TV Host. Ironically, since COVID-19 I've never been closer to fulfilling this dream I had as a little girl as we find ourselves producing virtual events and I am normally the host!
When did you start working?
When I was 18 years old. I became a model, a Telemarketer and then a Bank teller while going to college at the same time. I have not stop working since then…
Why did you move to the US?
I knew I would live abroad since I was a teenager. I had a very open mind and sometimes I felt like foreigner in my own country. My dream was to pursue a post-graduate degree in Europe, but I first needed to be fluent in English, so it occurred to me to do an internship in the US for about a year. During this time many doors opened up for me, and eventually this country became my home. I believe the US is still the country of opportunities.
Did you have family in the US?
Not at the time. Unlike many immigrants who come here with their families in search of a better life, I came alone and my life became more uncomfortable at the beginning to put it lightly, but I enjoyed my freedom so much that I didn’t care about all the sacrifices that I had to make. I believe sometimes you need to step back to move forward, and at the end of the day I always knew that in the worst case my family will welcome me back with open arms.
What is the most uncomfortable job you ever had?
Selling water coolers door to door for a multi-level marketing company was not fun, but at the same time it helped building my character and improving my English for sure. I also met one of my best friend in the process, so I have no regrets.
What has been the most risky difficult career decision you ever made?
There have been many times where I had to choose between what “makes more sense” vs what would make me happier, and when you are an immigrant that is not always an easy decision.
For instance, when I finished my MBA in 2007, I had a year before my student visa expired. The University offered me a great job as Project Manager working for the Leadership at their School of Education and they would sponsor me for H-1B visa, which is tough one to get and a path to become a permanent resident.
At the same time, the Dominican Government was offering me the opportunity to return as Director of the Dominican Republic Tourism Board in Chicago, which is normally a political position.
I was already in love with the travel industry, and the idea to be an “Ambassador” for my country made my heart beat faster. I knew that I could lose this job for no reason and hence my career in the US. I first played it safe and took the job at the University, but six months later when I had to travel to Santo Domingo to pick up my passport with the new Visa, something didn’t feel right. So I took the risk of following my heart and for many years, I lived with the agony of knowing that they could send me back home anytime. It was also the best career decision I ever made.
How did you start your business?
I wanted to start my business long time ago, but when you are ready you just know. I started my business in 2017 and sure enough I got recruited right after getting the first client. Thanks to Maura Zhang, our business survived this test, she was the one who quit her job to take over the leadership of the company when I was still hesitant to let go. A year later I rejoined the company and realized having a strong partner was the piece that I was missing to begin with. Maura is a very wise woman she brings balance to our company with her inner strength and her ability to listen and analyze situations from a very thoughtful and sensitive perspective.
How did you end up representing DMC’s?
We started representing DMCs when we were hired by Pacific World to represent them in the US East Coast, and that was the beginning of our journey in the DMC business. This was a slight change in the direction of our business, I never though I will be selling DMCs, but it turned out to be the perfect fit specially for me. I need a certain degree of complexity in my life and every opportunity in the DMC business is a good challenge. It seems like every job I had in the past at some point was a bore, and I don’t think that will ever happen with my DMCs.
Why just Latin America now?
It first happened naturally because Pacific World was not strong in Latin America, and most of our clients were sourcing Mexico, The Caribbean & Latin America. But then I realized, that it was best for us to specialize in LATAM so that we could effectively position and sell our DMC partners in the US Market. We also became more valuable to our clients because of our Destination expertise, our own heritage and hence our ability to be an effective bridge on behalf of our Latin American partners.
In times of uncertainty. How do you feel about the future?
LatinPlus DMC Group was officially launched in February of 2020, and in spite of Covid-19 we were able to grow to new Destinations and bring value to our clients and DMC partners. After surviving 2020, we can survive anything. Our group can only be a strong as our people and our partners. Therefore, I feel extremely confident about our capabilities, our competitive advantages and our future.
Are there any industry ladies you may call for advice?
When I need advice I tend to contact wise and strong women friends who I know will give me honest advice, even if they need to say the things I may not wish to hear.
Besides my business partner Maura Zhang, I tend to call my friends all around the world including Mary Paz-Ramirez, Selina Sinclair, Cherryl Brazier, Bich-Lien Kaldahl, Jane Scaletta, Marina Parra, Alla Kossik and Vielka Deguidi. thanks for all the consulting ladies..... you are all an inspiration.
What do you do to relax?
Traveling is the answer to all my problems, which means I am in trouble right now. Thankfully, I enjoy cooking, and that helps me disconnect from work and focus entirely on my craft. I am also currently taking piano lessons.
Contact Patricia Sahin at email@example.com
Maura Zhang was born in the Dominican Republic and moved to the US in 1989. Amidst economic uncertainty and political turmoil in the DR in the 80’s, her father (a neurologist) and her mother (a doctor in pharmacy who had been a stay at home mom since Maura was little), made the decision to uproot the family (with her 2 sisters) and move to Miami.
Maura has over 20+ years in luxury-tier hospitality sales and marketing, hotel operations and travel industry sales. She has a bachelor’s degree in Hospitality Management from Florida International University and she maintains active roles in SITE, MPI and FICP. Earned both CIS & CITP, and is past President of SITE FL & Caribbean chapter.
In 2017, Maura helped launch Synergy-Connect along with Patricia Sahin, a boutique representation firm for emerging destinations. She is managing partner at Synergy-Connect which currently represents Naples, Marco Island, Everglades CVB and Curacao Tourist Board, as well as DMCs in Latin America's top destinations through their brand LatinPlus DMC Group
What did you want to be when you were a little girl?
When I was a little girl I wanted to be an astronaut and I also wanted to be a doctor like my father, but that dream slowly faded, as I realized I had a huge aversion to needles and blood, and I did not like hospitals! But I think most of all I wanted to be independent and be able to have all the tools I need to make it on my own.
What adversity did you face as a young immigrant?
When I arrived in Miami I was enrolled in Middle High School in the 8th grade. I faced many challenges, including not speaking the language, so I started off in ESOL classes (English for Speakers of Other Languages) with all the other young immigrants in the school. I was also much younger than my “peers” at 11 years old, which was 2 years younger than most of the students in my classes. In the beginning I experienced some pretty harsh treatment from students who looked down on the immigrant kids in the school and also from other Hispanic students who pretended not to speak Spanish when I asked for help or directions to a classroom for instance.
How did you overcome these challenges?
Needless to say, this made it hard for me to adjust to this new culture and new way of life. But I eventually made friends and being such a young, curious and determined kid, I picked up the language rather quickly. Over that Christmas break I was able to advance my language skills significantly through a gift a family friend gave me, which was a box set of cassette tapes and workbooks called "Ingles Sin Barreras". I literally spent my entire vacations studying these tapes and taking quizzes. When I went back to school after Christmas break it was like a miracle - I spoke English! The following year I started high school at 12 years old, so again, much, much younger than the rest of the school, and although I began the school year in ESOL classes, I was quickly advanced to “regular” classes with all the English speaking students. I kept advancing into Honors and AP (advanced placement) classes throughout high school and graduated in the top 10% in a class of almost 800 students. I was fortunate to have my older sister at the same school, so we found support and protection in each other. I also found a community in joining Clubs which had members with common interests, such as the Spanish Club where we would go on competitions and study literature and important history of my own culture. I was also an activist for many causes and became a member of SEAC (Student Environmental Action Club) and Amnesty International, where we would discuss issues impacting the environment, human and animal rights and social justice, organized beach cleanups and boycotts of companies that tested on animals and more. So my network and community kept growing. Although I was not happy with my parents for moving us to a new place and making us leave our friends behind, I am now so grateful that they opened my world and opened my mind. I have had the opportunity to have many experiences and get to know so many cultures and understand differences that perhaps I may not have otherwise.
How did you end up in the Hospitality and MICE industry?
When I started college at Florida International University I was 16 years old and my undeclared major was Print / Photo Journalism. I loved photography, music, sports and I was somewhat of a free spirit - and in addition to photography classes, I also studied Medieval literature, writing, astronomy, sociology and theology. When it came time for me to enter the journalism curriculum, my confidence was shaken. I was the youngest in a group of mostly professionals, who were so worldly and read the newspaper every morning (most of whom were working in the field already) and I doubted myself. I didn’t believe that I was cut-out to be in the field since I didn’t know as much as the rest of the class. I was shook! But by a fortunate stroke of serendipity, the School of Journalism was located right next to the School of Hospitality. And for some reason I decided to look into it. Well, as they say, the rest is history. I enrolled in the hospitality program and loved how fun and social this career was. And I also loved travel, making people happy (as cheesy as that sounds) and exploring the world and new cultures! Perfect fit! Once I graduated from college, after a 9 month internship as a front desk agent at La Quinta Hotels, I was not so in love with my career choice (kudos to front desk agents - that is a tough job), so I opted to join a travel agency where I was really immersed in the world of travel and learned about new destinations and the world opened up for me! This was in 1999 around the time when OTAs were becoming prevalent in the travel industry. So I learned a lot about working with these entities and online travel marketing as well. However, for the same reason classic brick and mortar travel agencies were starting to become extinct. So I had to re-evaluate my choices, and again serendipity stepped in. I happened to see a flyer in the mailroom of the building where the travel agency was located; the Ritz-Carlton which had their regional sales offices in the same building was looking for a Sales Assistant at their new hotel opening in Key Biscayne in March 2001. I applied, I got the job, I opened the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne as a sales assistant in the Group Sales department and that was the birth of my MICE career!
How did you become an entrepreneur?
I couldn’t have asked for a better foundation than the training of the ladies and gentlemen at the Ritz-Carlton. But my career from then on would take me to more independent hotels with a more contemporary structure and independent spirit. I realized a very structured “corporate environment” wasn’t for me. I wanted more freedom and empowerment to make decisions, which ultimately led me to starting a representation company in 2013, which I put on pause when I took the job with Benchmark hotels, and later I joined Patricia Sahin in 2017 to launch our current consulting and representation business Synergy-Connect.
How did you change or adapt in 2020?
How did I not change? I will never be the same. Businesswise, when the pandemic and lockdowns hit us in March 2020, Patricia and I quickly adapted to virtual mode. We began creating virtual events and building community to continue to support our DMCs and CVBs. We were able to still bring some value to our clients by enhancing our marketing services while travel events have been on pause. We have been fortunate to have amazing clients that see the value of continuity in the market and were able to grow our company as a result. I also took an introspective trip and began taking a more holistic approach to work and life. In August 2020, I completed the 200HR YTT and I am now a certified yoga teacher (RYT) and a Reiki Master. Yoga has made me stronger in body, mind and soul to believe in my own power to heal and overcome obstacles, fear and anxiety and is helping me through the grief of losing my father as a result of Covid last year. This transformative experience has given me a new perspective and purpose, and I am sharing this love and light with friends and family (including my husband Chuck and fur baby Stormi), as well as my MICE and travel industry family. I am excited to transcend boundaries and see where this takes me, as I merge my passions of travel, wellness and events into future workshops, retreats and more.
Who is your female idol and why?
There are many women I admire, but I’ll only mention a few here.
First and foremost, my mother. Along with my father, my mother instilled in me a sense of independence, the importance of education, self-respect and appreciation for our elders, humility, honesty, self love as well as service and consideration for others. I am in awe of my mother’s strength and ability to persevere through the biggest obstacles one can face. I almost lost her last year to Covid and she hasn’t been the same since mainly due to losing my father to Covid, but her resilience, strength and determination continue to amaze me. She is also like MacGyver…she can fix anything and can create some ingenious tools from whatever’s around at the moment in order to solve a situation. I now appreciate her more than ever. She is full of amazing knowledge. Her advice, her love and her stories of lived experiences are the best book I can learn from. She has overcome adversity many times before including moving to the US and starting a new life at almost 50 years old. I have the utmost respect, love and admiration for her and my father’s sacrifices to ensure that my sisters and I had every resource available to succeed and have a fulfilling life with purpose.
My sisters are also a huge source of inspiration for me. They are super creative, fun and so chic and we always support one another. I am the middle sister and we are very close in age, so we have always shared almost everything together. They each bring something different into my life and I could not imagine growing up without them or living without them now.
My father was the biggest champion of women and always encouraged me to be a free thinker, be anything I wanted to be and be independent, so I have to include him here.
And my business partner and friend, Patricia Sahin, who is a natural born leader and visionary, but has also shown me what partnership really means through her unwavering support when it really matters. Through the darkest of times, Patricia has shown me humanity, solidarity and supernatural strength. You are my idol girl!
Contact Maura Zhang at firstname.lastname@example.org