Mohamed Solah: Globalising Maldivian talent
By Shamman Zahir
Prior to being the Cluster General Manager for Zaya Hospitality in Dubai, Mohamed Solah has held notable positions, climbing the career ladder in the industry to be where he is at today. Maldives Insider sits down with Solah to look back on his illustrious career of 20 years.
Getting into the industry was unlike what it is today. Professional career guidance was rare or information being readily available as it is today. Soon after completing school at EPS with ambitions to pursue higher education, the choice was between Accounting and Hotel Management. Hotel Management emerged as the clear choice given that it was more affordable to his parents at the time.
Having completed his studies at Faculty of Hospitality and Tourism Studies (FHTS), Solah began his exposure to the industry starting as a telephone operator at Meeru Island Resort and Spa in 2002. Being promoted a little over a year later, he remarks that the managers and stakeholders were very supportive of developing staff and those willing to venture out of their comfort zones which encouraged him to complete his Higher Diploma from Taylor’s University in Malaysia and returning to work as the Assistant Front Office Manager. Recalling how the time abroad was an eye-opening experience to multicultural work environments, the infrastructure of bigger countries as well as working with global name brands, Solah encourages more people to do the same.
After completing his Bachelor’s Degree, he also worked and underwent training in Langkawi, Malaysia, and Seychelles. He became the Front Office Manager at the age of just 25 and went on to being appointed the General Manager of Komandoo Island Resort in 2018.
Fast track today, he is arguably one of the very first Maldivian General Managers abroad.
Being a General Manager is not simply a job, it’s a responsibility. The tourism industry is a people-oriented job every way you look at it and requires an enhanced level of people-skills to excel at it. As a General Manager, his job from start to finish would be ensuring the customer expectations are met, maintaining a good relationship with his staff, and coordinating with many more stakeholders. In every aspect, it is a people-oriented field. Working on one’s people skills to constantly improve which would reflect in the work within the industry as well as personal growth.
For the younger generation following in the footsteps of seasoned hoteliers like Solah, he highlighted the importance of getting the proper guidance. Solah advises working on people skills to constantly improve which would reflect in the work within the industry as well as personal growth.
“A common misconception is that working at a resort is enjoyable and always pays well. It is, but also requires hard work. While there’s a certain degree of truth to it, it is also true that you have to earn it with sheer hard work and determination. The mindset and the lifestyle need to be understood; that it is not a typically easy job. You work outside fixed hours to make sure the job gets done, to keep operations running smoothly every day, be it a weekend or public holiday because the hotels never stop,” he says.
For the Maldives to maintain its position as a dream destination, Solah highlights the importance of giving more opportunities to locals.
“We have always been blessed with beautiful beaches and amazing nature, but immaculate hospitality is what sets us apart. To keep those customs alive, our youth need the training to reach those levels. It is sad to note that with so many global brands in the Maldives, only a selective few offer apprenticeships to develop and help those progress and interested in breaking into the field.
Solah shared a quote by one of his mentors, “You’ll have a million reasons to be upset if you depend on others to motivate you, you must motivate yourself instead.” He also pointed out that a lot of effective changes and support by the authorities were needed to keep up with the ever-changing world of tourism.
“For such a premium destination, we largely lack the infrastructure at our entry point to cater to such demand and we must not let up when the Maldives has always been the benchmark of tourism globally. Anywhere you go in the world, people would advertise as the Maldives of Vietnam or the Maldives of Middle East, etc. We don’t grasp how massive the Maldives is as a brand, it is iconic just as people speak of New York and Paris. It is the responsibility of the stakeholders to keep the Maldives as a premium destination,” he says.
“It is important to note the majority of our markets are coming from long distances, so those improvements to our infrastructure and better logistics are key to keeping up a good first impression. Ten hours of flying to reach, only to have to wait two hours before being able to get to the hotel can be a daunting and disappointing experience. We do see improvement with more resorts being catered by domestic flights.”
Solah also reflects on his experience working in the Maldives and abroad. For him, the detail and service quality is much higher in the Maldives and guests also expect a lot more from hotels and resorts in Maldives.
“In Dubai it is fast track and intensity is high but the authorities are very hands-on as well as quick in finding solutions to obstacles we face in an effective manner. The Maldives is a once-in-a-lifetime destination for a lot of people. A considerable portion of guests are repeaters as well. Seeing this, relationship marketing approach is just as key. If you were to go to a place, you are more than likely to ask a person who has already been there how his experience was and what things to do. With every client, you are building on what you already have,” he explains.
For the Maldives to secure the future of its tourism industry, Solah notes that a step forward would be a forum for seasoned professionals in the industry to express and contribute to the industry’s development, starting with the tourism curriculum taught in the country’s schools. Solah suggests a consultation process with industry stakeholders to update what is more relevant to cater to the evolving needs of the industry.
“Speed of global tourism is very fast paced, We cannot sit back on our laurels and take it easy in an ever changing industry. We should be stepping up. Our teams need to be exposed to outside the Maldives for them to understand to appreciate the working and living condition in majority of our industry. The pioneers of this industry are ready to hand over the reins to the next generation and they require support and effective partnerships with the authorities to make it a success,” he says.