Hawwa Ajfan Ajwad (Ajja)

10 mins read

Florist at The Ritz-Carlton Maldives, Fari Islands

Ajja is fearless in the pursuit of her passions even in the face of adversity. She went against the wishes of her family to follow her heart in hospitality. After stints at prominent local and international chains, she is now in a pivotal position at one of the most luxurious brands in the world – The Ritz-Carlton Maldives, Fari Islands. We have a chat about her career, her time as a radio host, and how her role at the Ritz informs the hotel’s sense of place.

Hotel Insider: You were in media before hospitality, you did voiceovers and at one point you were a radio host. It’s an interesting line of work. Could you talk about the experience and what led you to it?

Ajja: Originally, I wanted to be a surgeon so I chose the science stream when I did my O’Levels. I didn’t really feel too connected to what I was learning though and it didn’t really go too well for me. I come from an artistic background, my uncle is Naushad Waheed. So, I guess I have a creative streak somewhere in me. 

I listened to a lot of radio back then, FM especially. So, I told my parents I wanted to be a radio host. And after I had finished school, I got a chance to do a voiceover for an English audio drama for an FM channel. It was my first and Shimry gave me the chance. Then we had a little explosion of radio stations, Dhi FM, the country’s first private radio station and Capital Radio. I got a chance to do a request show during lunch time, in English language. We had a website where the listeners could chat and it was not only Maldivians living here, but from everywhere in the world. 

Hotel Insider: What did you like most about it?

Ajja: I loved the fact that I could sit behind a mic, unknown, and send my voice out to a huge audience. People are so much less judgmental when it’s just a voice. And sometimes, I’d get comments about my show from people who don’t know it’s me! That was thrilling. 

Hotel Insider: Then you embarked on a career in hospitality. How did you make that decision, and what’s made you stick with it?

Ajja: I never thought I’d end up working in a resort or in tourism. It was quite by chance. We didn’t have the freedom to explore our interests much back then and I was 21 when I started out in hospitality. My job as a hostess was in Vilamendhoo in Ari Atoll and it took me six months to convince my parents to let me go for a year. And I never went back [laughs]! 

It was a bit scary initially, because I was working with a lot of older people. It took me a while to adapt to my role. But I was able to do so many things because of my line of work. I explored local islands, I went to my mum’s island Dhigu Rah for the first time too. And I learned to swim and swam with a whale shark, I was afraid at first. Plus, I don’t think I could ever get bored of sunsets, I’m that kind of person. All these reasons I guess, and many more, including getting to meet new people from different places and walks of life. 

Hotel Insider: You were handling front office operations not too long after. What was the most challenging part of it?

Ajja: Dealing with guest complaints. I know it’s very trite but it’s all about listening. And you don’t have to take a complaint as just a complaint. It’s an opportunity to turn an experience around for your guest.

Let me give you an example. I got a complaint from a guest once, there was an insect in her room. So, I took special note, and I tried to make it up to her. I got to know her a little and found out that she wanted to stargaze. So, one night we turned off the lights of all the villas near her and she had a perfect view of the night sky. I also helped her find great snorkelling spots. So, at the end of the stay, she was really ecstatic and actually cried. 

Hotel Insider: That’s really impressive. We also see that you’ve had quite a bit of experience with pre-openings. Would you recommend it to someone passionate about hospitality?

Ajja: It’s a must because it is a completely different, and I’d say life-altering experience. You’re not doing just your job, you need to be completely devoted to the project because you will be wanted in different departments. I don’t think I learned as much as quickly anywhere else. 

It’s also a very emotional, and emotionally rewarding, experience when the project is done. Opening days were full of emotion for me and the teams I’ve worked with. 

Hotel Insider: Also, you’ve been a butler at several properties. Maybe you could tell us a bit about that.

 Ajja: Well, let me put it this way. It’s like making someone close to you smile. You are the point of contact for a group of people. You do everything for them. You want them to feel good throughout their stay and you have a huge say in that. Like, most of the time, guests have very little understanding about the Maldives, and they ask me what life is like here. I let them know what life is like in the city and on the islands, I tell them stories that I heard from my grandma. I make them little gifts to take home. It’s about knowing people really intimately, you know? And I loved the experience.

 Hotel Insider: And here you are now, at the Ritz-Carlton Maldives Fari Islands as a florist. How did you end up here, and how does the work you do inform the sense of place at the Ritz-Carlton?

Ajja: My leader at JW Marriott actually told me I should apply for it. She was extremely supportive. I also want to note the encouragement I received from the artist-brothers Shaff and Shammu Oceans and I really appreciate them pushing me to study and grow. I did a lot of research, delved into Ikibana [Japanese art]. 

So, I got the mood board of the late Kerry Hill [Ritz-Carlton Fari Islands architect] and while I was in quarantine, I studied it a lot, and found out how to fit in to my art not only the moods but also the ethos of the Ritz-Carlton, which is about simplicity and sustainability.

Fresh flowers are very important at the property, at any Ritz-Carlton hotel or resort, and it’s not just about placing some nice flowers in a vase. It is deeper, informed not only by aesthetics but also by the values of the hotel. And they loved my take on it.

Hotel Insider: Thank you, Ajja. It was a real pleasure.