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Estela Martinez-Stuart: Wrangling Wanderlusts to Fort Worth

An inherent desire to travel ultimately led Estela Martinez-Stuart to Fort Worth. Now, it’s key to luring wanderlusts to the city.

 As director of tourism at Visit Fort Worth, Martinez-Stuart is devoted to creating unforgettable experiences for news media and tour operator agencies from around the world. Her team arranges seamless series of tours to showcase Fort Worth, aiming for reporters to relay its charm to Latin Americans and for tour operators to make it an overnight destination in packages they create for travelers from the United States, Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom, Australia, China and Germany. When not on the ground welcoming visitors, she’s catching a plane to engage the next group of industry professionals who can lead more tourists the “city of cowboys and culture.”

“I get paid to travel around the world and the U.S. to sell my destination,” Martinez-Stuart told Infórmate DFW over lunch at ranch-themed Reata Restaurant in Sundance Square. “I’m super happy I get to do this, but there’s a lot of challenges in figuring out how to bring people here. It’s a puzzle.”

Wrangling travel trade and media to Fort Worth is a feat in itself, considering it’s not a well-known destination. Once they accept Martinez-Stuart’s invitation, the pressure is on to hook ‘em with a customized familiarization tour that will earn the city visit-worthy, stay over status. Capturing their interest in attractions such as the Stockyards longhorn cattle drive, the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing money factory and Whiskey Ranch’s whiskey tastings translate to future business for surrounding hotels, restaurants and shops.

Nineteen years ago, the Mexico City native was getting familiarized with “Cowtown” herself when she joined the formerly named Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau as head of Latin American tourism. Since then, it’s become her home, livelihood and delight. “I love our Western heritage, but I also love that we have the museums, the arts,” she said in her distinctive accent.

Beyond economic activity, the tourism guru influences the city’s inclusiveness. Martinez-Stuart was instrumental in putting Fort Worth on the map as a convention destination for Latino organizations such as the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and the Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting. Her first big win was with recently renamed Prospanica. The group’s annual convention exposed Fort Worth to thousands of Hispanics with master’s degrees in business administration and vice versa, an achievement she continues to pride because it also introduced many local Latino students to role models who look and talk like them.

Her professional involvement includes membership with the Student and Youth Travel Association, National Tour
Association, Dallas-Fort Worth Area Tourism Council and Fort Worth Sister Cities International. She has also volunteered with numerous community organizations,boards and committees throughout the years. The Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth Opera, Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo and Fort Worth Herd, to name a few.

Her service has positively impacted Hispanic foot traffic to local attractions and influenced city symbols such as the Kimbell’s Wari Man. The friendly-looking mascot, inspired by a 4-inch-tall, ancient Peruvian figure in the Kimbell’s permanent collection, was originally rugged in appearance and came across as royalty. “As I learned at Disney, you need that cute face to make it welcoming,” she said. “I like that I see that little guy everywhere because I had a little grain of pushing them in the right direction.”

The Wanderlust Effect

 Working for Walt Disney Co. in Orlando, Flo., after graduating college is among the career-defining experiences Martinez-Stuart’s fascination with travel has shaped.

She began traveling with friends at age 15, taking weekend trips to different cities in Mexico. When it was time for college, she yearned to be a National Geographic photographer or an oceanographer. “I wanted to travel around the world; meet people from all over,” she said.

 Considering Martinez-Stuart is the only daughter of four children, her father was overprotective of her. Thus, instead of studying oceanography in Ensenada, Calif., she stayed in Mexico City to pursue a bachelor’s in business tourism administration at Anahuac University but persevered in her desire for global travel.

She joined a travel agency and spent two entire summers in Canada working as a children’s camp counselor. Her last two years of college, she worked for an operator of children’s international programs, leading one-month summer camps in Romania and Germany.

 Disney recruited her shortly after for minimum-wage, customer service work, but Martinez-Stuart saw it as a golden opportunity to attend Disney University for free and apply her learnings toward her goal of opening a travel agency. “That was one of the best trainings,” she said. “They engrain in you that the most important person is the customer.”

Martinez-Stuart continued solidifying her hospitality experience through a trainee program at Stouffer Orlando Resort (now a Renaissance hotel). From serving drinks at the bar and decorating plates at the gourmet restaurant to cleaning rooms and eventually being promoted to handle sales, she learned the ins and outs of a hotel operation.

 Focused on her goal, Martinez-Stuart returned to Mexico to work for a travel agency and become familiar with the best tour operators in the country. She helped create family packages of tours and charter flights to Orlando, managing the land operation, including hotel stays, transportation and tour guides. Her summer camp days of arranging recreational and leisure activities for children came in handy to keep families continuously entertained.

Redirecting her career to the hotel industry opened the door to her coveted role at Visit Fort Worth. After a sales stint with Stouffer where she was responsible for leading Mexican tourists to its Houston and Dallas hotels, she was hired by Presidente Inter-Continental Hotels & Resorts to send U.S.conventions, meeting planners and business
groups to its Mexico hotels. This led her to a tradeshow where she impressed a Fort Worth CVB member who recommended her as a strategic hire.

Her wanderlust and zealous career drive are only part of the recipe for success. “You have to love meeting people and put yourself in others’ shoes to treat them how you’d like to be treated,” Martinez-Stuart advised to those interested in a hospitality career. “Service is not feeling less because you’re taking care of people. The more you do for people and from what is expected — people keep those things in mind.”

 She also acknowledges mentors and supporters along the way, from her husband of 20 years and parents to the executives who’ve helmed Visit Fort Worth during her tenure and the community organizations who’ve welcomed her. Perhaps as important is making the best of her journey as a Mexican who now sells a U.S. destination to the world.

“We all have challenges, so don’t make your accent or that you don’t look like the rest a deficiency,” she said. “Make it a benefit and always support other people because the more they rise, the more you rise with them.”

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