America didn’t quite go for its only female chief executive, but in a land known more for its glass floors, Mariya Shareef is breaking a few glass ceilings with her appointment as General Manager of Summer Island – the only female GM in the Maldives at present. Maldives Complete had a chance to catch up with her for an exclusive interview about her career and views on tourism in her country…
- What was your first ever job?
The first job I ever had was helping a friend’s mom sell school uniform badges just before the school season started – I must have been around 14 – 15 years old. As a reward for this work, we were treated to a nice meal. I took it seriously, I was always there, punctual, and I memorised the prices of all the badges. I worked alongside a friend, who remains close to me now, and we would sit and chat as we waited for clients. It was such fun!
- What was your first job in hospitality?
I worked in Bandos island resort as a pastry assistant. I always thought I would become a pastry chef someday, but my career has taken me into management.
- What has been your favourite sighting on the Summer Island house reef?
The little ‘Nemo’ clown fish and anemones near the jetty. It is the first thing you see when you arrive on the island. I never tire of looking at them – they are such pretty little ones.
- What has been an idea (eg new dish, a new activity, a new offer) that completely failed?
I wish I could remember a specific idea or incident. Of course, I have failed at things. Lots of ideas have been rejected, and there has always been things I wanted to do but couldn’t, or that I started and stopped midway through. Failure, I think, goes hand in hand with success. If you never make any mistakes, it probably means you are too risk averse. As long as you always learn from your mistakes, it’s an important part of growing and developing.
- How have the guests changed over your career?
I think the clientele who holiday in the Maldives haven’t changed that much over the years. The country still has a well-preserved image as the perfect honeymoon or romantic destination. Probably, the honeymooners have overtaken the divers now, who were the first group who started coming when tourism first began. Nowadays, we also have new groups visiting such as surfers. The market keeps expanding, especially with the introduction of new tourism offers such as guesthouses on local islands, as well as cruises and safari boats that cater to surfers. There are also more family orientated resorts. I would say the country is more open now for different segments of guests and we are better able to cater to different needs, different age groups, activities and nationalities. But the honeymoon image is still the one for which the Maldives is world famous.
- How have the management challenges changed over your career?
Management style differs from company to company. I have always been happy where ever I worked and have been quite blessed with good bosses. I had the privilege of working with foreign and local management. I believe things will change, and the new generation needs to bring change. I believe locally managed companies are changing for the better. As one of the only Maldivian women to hold the post of resort manager, I hope to be a good example of such change. I am not only happy for myself, but for the positive change the company has brought – it is very motivating.
- What is your favourite dish served at Summer Island restaurants?
I love food, so everything I eat is always good! The best food I had in Summer Island was a very yummy prawn curry. And I shouldn’t forget the satay in the snack menu, which we also sometime have on the buffet – it’s so good!
- If you had $1 million to add one single feature to Summer Island, what would it be?
With $1 million I would do lots small things, predominantly to the staff areas. I would redo the football pitch with astro-turf, pave the badminton court, add one more floor to the staff lounge and bring in more snooker tables, table tennis tables, and other sports; do up the cafeteria nicely, add lots of cozy areas for staff to lounge and mingle. A Million Dollars will also go along way to “comp” offer complementary experiences.
- What’s one question I didn’t ask that you either wish I asked or were surprised that I didn’t ask (and what the answer)?
Maybe, ‘how does it feel to be in this position now?’ and my answer would be, it feels like I am finally home. I was and have always been in love with this beautiful island and its people, including the management and the owners. They are such wonderful people. Sometimes it’s a bit overwhelming – but in a very happy way. And today, when I think about all these questions, and everyone talking about me; being in the media and all that, I have never felt anything different from my people here at ‘home’. I started this new job with huge responsibilities on my shoulders but when I saw the smiles on everyone’s faces, I knew I had the support of my colleagues. I have been in this new job for about 20 days now but I know that I’m not alone and that is a great feeling. I never feel I am being treated differently because I am a woman, or because I’m young… this place simply makes me feel like I am home.