Aimy: from Cambridge University’s Brilliance in Maldives to disrupting hospitality marketing

Maldives has made significant progress on gender equity and equality in recent years. But there is still a lot has to be done; limited opportunities and information for women, and cultural barriers, restrict the choices available to them. In addition, limited resources, cultural barriers and in some cases conservative religious groups combine to restrict the participation and leadership of women in society and business.

A 2010 study found that Maldivian women are the least employed demographic in the resort industry, accounting for only three per cent of the total eight per cent of female workers at resorts in 2010. Local and foreign men constitute 92 per cent of the industry. According to the study’s findings, “culture, religion, and women’s role in the family, the role of the family, safety, geographical spread, transportation, education and awareness” were the main factors preventing women from seeking resort employment at the time.

It was true for Aminath ‘Aimy’ Rausha Haadhee when she decided to join the hospitality industry right after high school. The social stigma of women working in resorts got in the way, with some amongst her family and friends suggesting her to look elsewhere for her career prospect. Some even thought she was making a mistake by moving to an island from capital Male — where most Maldivians go looking for better opportunities. They thought as a straight A student, she could do much better by choosing a career like business management.

But Aimy knew what she wanted to do. So, moving back to her native atoll of Addu after A-Levels and taking up a job at the neighbouring Shangri-La’s Villingi Resort & Spa was a natural start to her dream career. Her dislike of living in the busy, stressful capital city made it easier!

Maldives Insider sits with Aimy, the Public Relations Manager at LUX* North Male Atoll, to find out about her rewarding career, and to gain an insight into the opportunities and challenges faced by locals, especially women in the hospitality industry.

Maldives Insider: How did you get your start in the industry?

Aimy: I actually wanted to study tourism management but my dad and I had to always disagree on it. He thought I should study business management because I was amongst the first Maldivians to get Cambridge Brilliance Award in Commerce in my O-Levels.

MI: How would you describe your first few years in the industry?

A: I finished my A-Levels in 2009 and joined Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort in 2010 as a reservations agent. I spent one and a half years there before going to Malaysia to do my Bachelors Degree in International Business Management. I did an internship in front office at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island during my summer break in 2012. I graduated on August 16, 2014. On August 22, I was already in Cheval Blanc Randheli.

MI: What made you shift your career to sales and marketing?

Even though I was in reservations at Randheli, I was really interested in sales. And I was already doing PR and social media marketing as a hobby. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. If you’re in reservations, you’re very much linked to the agents. It’s up to you to develop your skills in sales. I wanted to learn both marketing and sales. Marketing is more interesting to me because I’m really fascinated by digital and social media marketing, which were my favourite modules at university.

I found an opportunity at Gili Lankafushi for a sales and marketing executive. It was a tempting opportunity because I could do both sales and marketing. So I took the job in 2017. The work environment at Gili Lankanfushi was very open; you could play with your creativity. My Marketing Communications Manager, Tammy Gan, was a very experienced and strong marketing and communication professional, and she pushed me every single time to do better. She’d always ask me, “Why don’t you do it a little differently?” We had a fantastic relationship, so she delegated a lot of tasks to me. That’s how I learned a lot so quickly.

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to make the shift from reservations and sales to marketing, but it all just came to me when I got into the field. It’s the best fit for me.

MI: How has your career advanced over the years?

A: In December 2018, I got the chance to move to LUX* Resorts. I didn’t think I would leave Gili because the people and work environment there were just non-existent elsewhere. But since LUX* North Male is in development and I’ve never had pre-opening experience, I took the chance.

I joined LUX* North Male Atoll in December. From the very first moment I took up the job, I was neck deep in a variety of things. We were doing sales, all the while getting ready for our #Firstontheisland campaign. That campaign was a wonderful experience. We had a team of about 25 influencers and journalists on the island for four nights. I was managing all of our official social media handles. I’d be getting 40 messages on Instagram alone. That’s on top of taking care of the itineraries, hosting people, doing the admin work and handling sales.

I consider the PR and marketing side of LUX* North Male Atoll as my baby. I remember the first time I came to the island. Since it was in construction stage there were cranes and all sorts of machineries on the island. A lot of people in the industry were betting against us too; they were saying that the resort wouldn’t open and that it wouldn’t be a ‘wow’ property. But the moment I stepped foot inside a villa, I knew I could market it and sell it very easily. Our Instagram reach is proof of that; in a short period of time, we’ve been able to achieve one of the highest levels of following and engagement amongst Maldivian resorts.

MI: What would you say is the secret behind your success?

A: I’ve been giving a lot of commitment and dedication to my work. My work day runs easily to 13-15 hours. There was this one time during my first few weeks at Randheli when a lot of my colleagues in reservations were leaving. I was left alone to handle everything related to reservations for almost five months. I had to handle all agent bookings, special requests and seaplane movements.

When I see the results of what I do — when I stay up for 12 hours to finish my work and it looks perfect — it gives me a great deal of satisfaction. There was this one time during last Ramadan when we did a photoshoot and I had to wake up at 4am and stay with the photographer until 6pm every single day for four days straight. But I loved it!

MI: Has the situation improved for locals, especially women, working in the industry?

A: It’s really difficult for locals to get jobs in the industry, especially when I joined. For me, it took about six months and countless applications to land a job.

It’s improved a little because we can see more and more locals, especially women in the industry. Then again it’s still not easy. I think a lot of international companies see Maldives as a small country and assume that the people will be narrow-minded. But if you really look at it, our literacy rate is one of the best in the world and we’ve more degree holders than most of our neighbours and similar island nations.

MI: What should be done to improve the situation?

A: It’s a work in progress. Things are improving but a lot more needs to be done. A lot of resorts still prefer foreigners over locals, especially for managerial positions. Many qualified people are being rejected countless times, only to find out that someone who isn’t even qualified and has lesser experience has been hired for the post. So, even with experience and education, it’s still difficult for Maldivians to get jobs.

Hospitality jobs used to be a blue collar job, but it’s no longer the same. I notice a lot of youngsters in the industry who work hard — even those that don’t have to work because they get rental income from their houses in Male — but they get a limited number of opportunities to grow their career. So, leaders in the industry need to let the young generation take lead. They need to create opportunities for Maldivians to take up managerial positions.

For me, what I’ve noticed is that if you didn’t move, you’d be in the same place.

MI: What would you say to young Maldivians, especially women who want to join the industry?

A: If you want to do it, just go for it. It opens a lot of doors for you. Working a desk job in Male maybe simple with less challenges, but if you go into the tourism industry it lets you explore yourself and the world around you.

MI: What do you plan on doing in your future?

A: I live by the words of Walt Disney, ‘It’s always fun to do the impossible’.

For me, most of the ideas come from people and the stories they share. I want to tell the untold stories of the ordinary people making it all possible. I’m currently working on a series of stories that showcases the talent of our team members. I think everyone has a story to tell and focusing on their soft side and their experiences will make the guests’ holiday experience more personal.

From a young age, my dream has been to disrupt the industry; t0 do something nobody in the industry has ever done. I don’t know how I’m gonna do it, but I know I will someday.

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