In this issue of The islandchief, we sat with Ms. Mariya Shareef, Resort Manager at Summer Island Maldives. She comes across someone who is determined and driven. She’s a strong lady who thrives on meeting her goals. It’s obvious that her heart is embedded in the hotel business, most probably for life. She shares with us the challenges, the turing points, and her passion for environmental sustainability.
Q1. Tell us about how you found interest in the industry and your incredible journey?
My interest in the tourism industry started when I was still in school. Back then I was interested in cooking and spent my free time in the kitchen. I wanted to do something that would allow me to indulge in my passion for cooking. Resorts were a natural fit.
My first job in the industry was as a Kitchen Assistant. I spent most of my time in the pastry department doing prep work for the chefs. It was exactly what I wanted to be doing.
I took a break from work to get my diploma and I wanted to go back into the kitchen after graduation. Unfortunately, there were no openings – kitchen jobs were hard to come by then. I settled on a front office job. To my surprise, I enjoyed working in the frontline as I got to meet new people and every day was different.
After completing my Masters I worked in marketing and public relations before joining Kaimoo in 2013 as their Business Development Manager. At Kaimoo I was closely involved with the pre-opening of Summer Island Maldives. I really enjoyed the frantic energy that goes with setting up a resort.
I started as the Resort Manager at Summer Island Maldives in 2016. Looking back, it seems like a natural progression, having been so closely involved with the resort’s pre-opening.
Like all journeys, mine had its ups and downs. I took risks, explored, and challenged myself. I have always tried to maintain a positive outlook and learn from any setbacks.
Q2. Having started your career at a time when only a handful of women worked in the industry, tell us about the challenges you faced and how you overcame them?
When I started, few women worked in tourism. We had to bare discrimination, harassment and bullying by the men. It was considered normal, unfortunately, and we thought we had to tolerate it in order to be able to work. We had to be ‘stronger’. It was normal to be catcalled, or labeled, and there was no way to complain or get any assistance to make it stop. Unfortunately it is still common but there are now better policies in most resorts to tackle it. For me, I could not do anything to stop it back then, so I just tolerated it. However, I believe I am in a better position now to tackle these issues and make sure that women do not have to go through such horrible experiences.
Q3. Who would be your role model that has inspired and helped you in your journey?
I have had more than one role model. My sister has inspired me throughout my life. She’s the constant in my life, my rock, my confidante and the person who pushes me to reach beyond my comfort zone.
I’ve also had mentors who have guided me through my work and career goals. I have met strong men and women, especially women who I had as bosses, who have had great careers and personal journeys, for example the Chairperson of Kaimoo, Moomina, who made me realize that it is possible to achieve great things. Men like Kaimoo’s Managing Director, Manih, pushed me and trusted me when I didn’t realize I was good enough to take on big roles, and constantly encouraged me to be exceptional.
Q4. As of recently, women working in the industry has increased. However, those in decision-making roles are still in the minority compared to the vast majority of men. Do you think there should be affirmative action to improve this? Such as establishing policies for equal percentage of female and male leadership roles?
Of course, and there has to be a shift in mindset as a community as well. Most of the differences are because of our cultural beliefs. I have also noticed that the questions women are asked in job interviews differs from those asked of men. The hiring process needs to change. Candidates should be selected on merit not gender. Policies and processes need to change to encourage and give equal opportunities to everyone, irrespective of their gender. We also need to give more opportunities to younger people, and be open to their ideas.
Q5. As the Resort Manager, what would you say is a unique aspect of Summer Island Resort compared to the many other luxury resorts in the Maldives?
The relaxed environment we offer. For example, the staff are more down to earth and more willing to be flexible. We have managed to create the traditional Maldivian resort atmosphere, where the guests can relax and enjoy doing nothing, compared to many new luxury properties.
Q6. What are some of the actions taken by the brand to increase locals working in the resort?
We always prioritize locals for all the positions in the resort – 60% of our managers are locals, and we encourage locals to take up roles at every level in every department. We organize lots of entertainment for the staff, and enjoy local celebrations such as Eid.
Q7. We see that Summer Island keeps sustainability close to its heart. What are some of the notable actions taken by the resort for the betterment of the environment?
Our sustainability practices are a journey. Initially we changed little things that we could easily do ourselves, such as getting rid of plastic straws, bags, and water bottles. Our objective was to create an eco-aware community, not just at the resort but when staff go home. We then implemented more ambitious projects, such as creating a 3-D printed coral reef and introducing a new method of trapping mosquitoes that does not require fogging with pesticides, and is therefore much more environmentally friendly.
Many of our sustainability initiatives come from the staff, which makes me proud. We have taken many small steps, and I believe the biggest impact we manage to make is the change in the mindset – to not throw rubbish everywhere, or buy plastic bottles or use plastic bags unnecessarily.
Q8. What do you think of the perception of guests for the island resort, what are some of the best compliments received from guests?
Most of our guests are impressed with the environment-friendly initiatives we have taken. They constantly compliment the staff, their friendliness and easy going approach we have at the resort. We have a repeater base of about 30%, and some guests have visited us more than 30 times. They have become a part of our family.
Q9. We are celebrating the Golden Jubilee of the Tourism industry this year. How has the resort prepared for the event? Are there any special activities planned for the occasion?
We are going to start our celebration on World Tourism Day and continue them until 3rd October, National Tourism Day, when we will have a staff party and a cocktail party for guests with live music. We also have daily staff celebrations and activities during the week.
Q10. What is your advice to the younger generation emerging in the tourism industry and women interested to pursue their career in hospitality?
For the younger generation, my advice would be to join the industry. There are plenty of opportunities available across various fields in the tourism sector of the Maldives- there is something for everyone.
For all the women considering a career in hospitality, my advice would be to take the first step. Work hard, stay committed and focused, and I am sure we can lead the industry alongside men. Don’t be afraid to fail. Unless you try you will never know what you are capable of.
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