GM, Intal Group
To say Fareesha Hawwa (Fary) is successful is to say something like the sun is hot; she’s someone who’s been absorbed in and affected by hospitality to a great degree, having spent 23 years of her life in the field. This article first appeared in our print issue no. 1.
She’s one of the few female GMs in the country and has taken on bigger things after a vastly successful spell managing the Somerset in Male. She’s now with the Intal Group and oversees three properties, two in Male and one in Hulhumale. Under her management, the online ratings of Intal properties soared, much like they did when she was with the Somerset. Fary is vivacious, chatty, and seems ready to share her story with anyone who’d listen. Hotel Insider swings by to have a chat about her childhood dreams, her decision to get into hospitality despite reluctant parents, and what it’s like to be a female GM.
Hotel Insider: Hi Fary, can we start with what it was like growing up in Male. And your childhood dreams, did you have any?
Fareesha: Of course, like most children I dreamed. I wanted to be a doctor but those days we didn’t have access to scholarships or loan schemes as young people do today. My parents didn’t have the means to fund my studies so I had to have a think about what I wanted to do. And I decided to join the Hotel School in Male.
Hotel Insider: Did you feel like you’d given up on a dream and were settling for something?
Fareesha: Well, I was a bit sad for a while, but not for too long because when school started I had a lot on my plate, I was very involved in my studies. In a way it’s kind of similar, these two fields, I get to take care of people in my line of work, I make sure they have great food and drink and a fantastic experience overall.
Hotel Insider: What really made you want to pursue hospitality? I understand your parents weren’t very happy with your career choice?
Fareesha:I felt very strongly about hospitality the more I got to know about it. I really wanted to prove to my parents that it was actually an excellent choice on my part. I understood their unhappiness because they had no idea what went on in resorts and the reputation of women in this industry wasn’t very good by their standards. But my reputation was something that I would have control over. And there weren’t many women in hospitality back then so I saw it as a challenge, and I love challenges. I wanted to achieve my goals and I knew my parents would eventually be happy when I proved myself. And I did, promotions came quickly for me so bit by bit my parents started seeing the whole thing in a different light.
Hotel Insider: That’s awesome. So you finished Hotel School and joined Paradise Island Resort soon after, right? What was Paradise like back then?
Fareesha: It was a different type of luxury property, if you came for the barefoot, back-to- nature sort of thing you wouldn’t find that there. They had imported marble for their flooring [laughs]. There were a lot of staff and the rules were strict. I think I learned a lot in my time there. I learned to be punctual, to be responsible, follow procedures, and that really helped me later on in my career.
Hotel Insider: How do you think the hospitality landscape has changed in terms of being more egalitarian when it comes to gender? Do you see people becoming more accepting of women in positions of power?
Fareesha: To be honest, I’ve never encountered any issues with disobedience or disrespect from my staff at any point in my career. I’m not saying it never happens, I have heard stories from other people, but it’s never happened with me. In Soneva Fushi, I headed their largest department, which was F&B, and I have no complaints. I still get calls and gifts from my former staff members, and I consider them awards.
Hotel Insider: What’s it like being a female general manager? Are there specific challenges that you face as a woman?
Fareesha: I don’t think being female really factors into it. I think my attitude’s a bit different; I feel like I’m part of the staff and at the same time I feel they’re kind of like my children in a way. The more I take care of them, the better their service. I don’t feel that I’m above them, I try to understand them and listen to them as much as possible, and to make sure they know what is expected of them. So we have excellent communication, and that’s really the basis of our success. I know people say this a lot but we really are like a closely knit family.
Hotel Insider: Do you have any advice for young women and girls who aspire to have a career like yours?
Fareesha: I think they should try hard; there are many girls, school leavers, college leavers and they are a bit reluctant, thinking they might not be able to do it. But it’s the same as going to an office, they’ll just learn more things in this line of work, they’ll be learning something new every day. They should welcome new experiences, and meeting different people. I feel a bit letdown because when we advertise for staff, very few women apply. But if I can make it in the field, so can they. I’m ready to train school leavers, to teach them about hospitality. I’d be very happy to do that. All I expect from them is to have enthusiasm and a good mindset.