Born in Saudi Arabia to Egyptian parents, Amal Gaafar grew up between the GCC countries and Egypt. After a BA in mass communication at Cairo University, she quickly embarked on a career in the hospitality industry. In spite of her youth, she’s held a number of senior positions with local and international hotel chains.
Last year, she fulfilled a career dream by joining the team at the iconic Huvafen Fushi. We’ve known each other for about a year now, and in that time, she’s jumped at every opportunity to promote the property. We catch up at the resort after a busy festive season and have a chat about her career, her experiences in the Land of the Nile, and find out what makes her tick.
Hotel Insider: You’re a graduate of Cairo University where you studied mass comm and PR, which seems a popular course of study with young people. Did you do it with a sense of purpose; did you have an idea of where you’d want to end up afterwards?
Amal: Yeah definitely. I’ve always had a real passion for marketing and everything that revolves around it. Ever since high school, it was my dream to study the subject. So yes, I knew I’d end up in marketing somewhere. My passion for it only grew with time and that was a big reason why I did my MBA in digital marketing right after I completed my undergraduate degree.
Hotel Insider: All right. How did you start your journey in hospitality? Where did you think you’d end up working?
Amal: Well, I first started at Baron Hotels & Resorts [in Egypt]. That was my first taste of hospitality. They have hotels in different cities back home. It was such a great experience, to be honest and my passion for marketing and hospitality deepened. In a few years, I got promoted to regional marketing manager of the hotel group. After that, as I moved from one hotel chain to the other in Egypt – I worked with Jaz Hotel Group, and Steigneberger Hotels and Resorts – there was a voice at the back of my head that went ‘when will you take this to the next level?’
Hotel Insider: And then you came here.
Amal: I’ve always heard that Asian hospitality is on a whole new level and that was something I really had to explore to grow professionally. So, when I got the chance to work at Huvafen Fushi, I didn’t think twice. It was like a dream come true for me.
Hotel Insider: Dreams come true in Huvafen Fushi.
Amal: Indeed, they do on the Dream Island. And now, I clearly see that hospitality standards are on a whole new level here. Seriously, Huvafen Fushi’s philosophy in treating its guests is very impressive. We’re very detail oriented, and we emphasise the personal experiences, the small touches because those are what guests will remember. We focus on the highest quality and there are no shortcuts; service has to be personalised and tailormade for every single guest. And that’s what Huvafen Fushi is all about: ‘A Luxurious, Memorable, and Personalised Experience.
Hotel Insider: Did you feel that university had prepared you for something like this?
Amal: Absolutely, it did. But I will tell you this: you will never stop learning when you work. Something new crops up every day, which will hopefully add to your understanding. You can’t just depend on what you’ve learnt at university. What you will benefit from the most is real-life experience, and while university gave me a good understanding of what was required of a person in my role, real-life experiences in the industry itself were more ‘powerful’ than anything I’d learnt from a book.
Hotel Insider: And how was the work environment like in Egypt? When people say Egypt, I sort of have this very conservative place in mind. But that can’t be right because you were a leader, heading marketing at a hotel chain. And I’m guessing it’s not uncommon for women to lead.
Amal: It’s all about dedication, really, and not about men or women in Egypt. As long as you’re a hard worker and you’re dedicated, you will get what you deserve.
Hotel Insider: I see. You’ve been here almost a year now. What do you make of the Maldives as a destination so far?
Amal: It’s heaven. For you, as a local, you can’t see this because you’re used to it. But for us outsiders it’s really something else.
Hotel Insider: [laughs] Do you have any other places in Asia that you’d like to check out?
Amal: Yes, of course. Malaysia is a place I really want to go. And Singapore and definitely Bali. They’re on the top of my list for now.
Hotel Insider: So where do you see yourself in say, ten years from now?
Amal: I can’t tell you where but I can tell you how I see myself. I see my future self as more successful, more independent and closer to my dreams.
Hotel Insider: And before we part, do you have anything to say to young girls and women who want to make it big in hospitality?
Amal: I always say “Behind every successful woman is herself” so it’s a very simple recipe: believe in yourself, do what makes you happy, take risks and give as much as you get.
Hotel Insider: Thanks Amal. It’s been a treat.