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Celebrating International Women’s Day Within The Luxury Hotel Industry

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We celebrate eight of the world’s most inspiring women working within the luxury hotel industry globally, for International Women’s Day.

Story by Luca Bateman and Sharon Chamboko.

Any woman who pursues a long term career within the luxury hotel industry, works hard and has a focussed work ethic and makes significant life sacrifices.

These inspirational and ambitious woman have managed to achieve success in various parts of the world, within their working and personal lives.

On this International Women’s Day we celebrate all women in luxury hospitality.

Ruby Garcia

General Manager at COMO Metropolitan, Singapore

Ruby’s career in luxury hotels began unexpectedly at the age of 21. She was a single mother in need of a job close to home, and after submitting resumes to various companies in her local area, she found herself entering the hospitality industry. Mandarin Oriental Hotel Manila became her first stepping stone, offering her a chance to support herself and her one year old baby.

Leaving her son in the care of her mother, who is also a single mother, was a heart-wrenching sacrifice. However, it was a sacrifice she had to make to provide for her family. Working overseas added another layer of difficulty, especially in a traditionally male-dominated field. She was challenged with overcoming ingrained prejudices and societal expectations. Yet, Ruby’s determination only grew stronger with each hurdle she faced. 

A significant career milestone for Ruby was becoming the General Manager of the first Ritz-Carlton Reserve in the world, in 2018. This was a groundbreaking achievement as she was the first Asian female General Manager since it opened, until today.

Reflecting on her journey, Ruby wishes she’d known earlier the sacrifices of time and effort required to make it in this industry. Ruby finds fulfilment and purpose in the memories of her career progression, the letters from her family, and the words of encouragement from colleagues.

Looking back at photos from the early stages of her career and reading the letters from her mother and son gives Ruby the drive to continue when faced with adversity. She is incredibly grateful for the progression she’s made and her ability to inspire those around her. She says “my career brought me to places that I never knew I could get to”.

Ruby has been greatly influenced by other strong women in her life. She says “I have been fortunate to have worked with strong women right above, below and alongside me. They have taught me how to lead and be led. Resilience with grace was my take away from them and that I live by”.

To her past self and to aspiring professionals, Ruby’s advice is simple yet profound: “believe in yourself, stay true to your values, and never stop pursuing your dreams”.

Rachael Harding

Club Med CEO East and South Asia & Pacific (ESAP) Markets, Singapore

Rachael’s journey has seen her navigate numerous personal and professional challenges. In 2015 she found herself facing one of her greatest challenges yet: balancing her career aspirations with the arrival of her baby boy James. Wrestling with doubts about managing both aspects of her life, she mastered the skills of multitasking, organisation, and prioritisation on a new level. 

Rachael is based in Singapore and has over 25 years of experience in the luxury travel sapce. Currently she is in charge of Club Med South East Asia. Having a deep understanding and knowledge of tourism systems and effective people management skills, Rachael has positioned Club Med as a leader in Asia-Pacific for premium all-inclusive holidays.

She says to future mothers that “there is no good time but trust me, you will be a better you at work on the other side!”. For Rachael, her biggest success has been the joy of welcoming her son into the world. Balancing the demands of family with the high-pressure environment of the luxury hotel industry remains an ongoing challenge for her. However, she strives to be present with her family while embracing the opportunities to travel and create memorable experiences together due to her working life.

She is highly respected in the tourism industry and was recognised as the top 10 “Most Influential Women in Travel” in the 2019 Travel Awards. She was also awarded as one of “Asia’s Most Inspiring Executives” at the Asia Corporate Excellence & Sustainability Awards in 2023.

To maintain fulfilment and purpose amidst challenges outside of her working and family life, Rachael finds solace in personal fitness goals. She is currently training for the Singapore Marathon which will be held at the end of November this year. She says this motivates her and helps her work-life balance, as she must designate time daily for exercise. 

Looking ahead, Rachael envisions the hospitality industry evolving through tech adoption, especially AI chatbots and apps to provide personalised experiences for clients. She believes that qualities of high level communication, attention to detail, adaptability and emotional intelligence are timeless, and will continue to be valuable for professionals in this field. Reflecting on her journey, Rachael says embracing failure as a learning experience is key.

Paola Iemmallo

Area Human Resources Director at Principe di Savoia, Hotel Eden (Dorchester Collection) Italy.

Paola describes her early days working in the luxury hotel industry as “love at first sight”, falling in love with an environment where she is involved and is constantly discovering new things. She started working for the Dorchester Collection in 2010, where she was introduced to the world of luxury and gained a deeper understanding of the significance of the company’s vision and values, as well as its role within the local community.  

Based in Milan Italy, Paola Iemmallo, 55 is a passionate and driven woman who has now been working in Human Resources within hotels for 25 years.

One of Paola’s most memorable moments of life success has been adopting her two children with her husband. She has been married for 25 years and is a mother to a 6 year old boy and 14 year old girl. The journey of adoption was far from easy. In Italy, the adoption process is extremely complex, taking Paola and her husband five years to adopt their daughter and nearly six years for their son. 

Reflecting on the obstacles they had to overcome during this process, Paola says that “only our great desire to become mother and father and our determination helped us to stay on track and not to derail”. She feels blessed for her children and they are her everything. Her children help her remain fit, and having to keep up with her energetic son who loves to play football and basketball.

Paola acknowledges the influence that other women, particularly her mother, sister, and a pivotal mentor have had on her life. Her mother and sister always supported her ambitions and offered support to her family. At 34, Paola received invaluable advice from the only female general manager she had encountered.

Her manager emphasised that while Paola could achieve targets quickly due to her competence, true leadership involves prioritising the well-being of the team. This advice profoundly impacted her approach to leadership. Paola would advise her past self to have more courage and embrace imperfection. 

Jill Goh

General Manager of Mandarin Oriental, Singapore

Jill Goh has an incredible reputation within the luxury hotel industry in South East Asia. “Working in the hospitality industry always enriches our lives with many colourful and breathtaking moments. I often joked with my friends and guests that I will write a book of my hotelier’s life when I retire one day.

The most memorable moment that I will remember the rest of my life is that on my third day of work at Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London there was the pre-wedding cocktail reception hosted by Queen for her grandson, Prince William.

There were countless head of states for the evening, and there was a moment when I stood right in front of Queen Elizabeth and caught her attention.

Funny enough while I had practiced my curtsy prior to the event, I almost tripped doing that in front of her. The aura exuded from The Queen during that few minutes is the feeling that I want to keep and be reminded of for the rest of my life.

A moment that had a huge impact on my life was when at the age of 15, I lost my Mum to a stroke. I lost the will to live as being the youngest in the family, I was deeply attached to her.  Thanks to the love, care and support from my Dad and siblings, I pulled through this phase of my life and it made me a stronger and independent person I am today.

If there was anything I wish I had have known earlier, it was that there are so many exciting opportunities around the world and that I should not limit my interest to countries that I am comfortable with.

My assignment to London during my early career was an evident unorthodox path for many Asians. From my years of working outside of Asia, one common trait to carry with you is international professionalism. The other important point is to be able to embrace the culture of the city you work in.

I believe genuine care and attention are the long-lasting recipes in managing a luxury brand. I am a strong advocate in believing that it’s the smallest details in our business that set us apart.

Especially in today’s whim and fancy world, most of our c-suite guests are not short of many of the luxuries on offer in the hotel. Their homes and villas may in many ways be even greater and more luxurious than ours.

Why and how they find comfort in making us their home when they travel is how we care for their wellbeing, comfort, and safety. There is no one style fits all for every guest, every experience needs to be curated according to the individual’s needs and likings.”

Made Yogiartini (Mayo)

Resort Manager for Sudamala Resort, Komodo, Lubuan Bajo

Made Yoguiartini isIndonesian and passionate about luxury hotels. “A pivotal moment in my journey towards luxury hotels occurred aged 25 when I secured my first position at an international luxury hotel, The Ritz-Carlton Bali. It was during this time that I was introduced to the mission and vision of the company, which profoundly influenced its culture. This experience marked the beginning of my immersion into the world of luxury hospitality, shaping the trajectory of my career in profound ways.

.Four years later I experienced the devastating loss of my beloved father, who had been my guiding light and role model. Shortly thereafter, one year later , I was confronted with the heartbreaking loss of my fiancé. These losses left me reeling, and navigating through 2007 was an incredibly difficult time for me.

Seeking solace and a way to heal, I made the decision to go to a Vipassana meditation program, with my sister, where we embarked on a ten-day journey of self-discovery and introspection. Throughout the program, I disconnected from the outside world, including my family and friends, and adhered to a regimen of simple sustenance, consuming only plain water and white rice.

The Vipassana meditation experience was transformative. I learned the profound art of letting go and embracing acceptance. Despite the initial challenges and discomfort, I emerged from the program feeling remarkably rejuvenated and resilient. The experience instilled within me a newfound sense of inner peace and strength.

Upon returning to work, I joined the pre-opening team at the St. Regis Bali, embarking on a new chapter in my professional journey with renewed vigor and passion. Since then, I’ve approached life with a newfound sense of resilience and gratitude, embracing each challenge as an opportunity for growth and learning.”

Mayo says mentors have been invaluable to her career success, and counts her mum as one of the most significant in her life. “Since the beginning of my career, I’ve had the privilege of encountering numerous mentors who have generously shared their wisdom and support, propelling me to where I am today.

Numerous remarkable women have had a profound influence on my life. Foremost among them is my mother, whose tenacity and determination shaped her journey from being initially forbidden from attending school to becoming a teacher. Despite facing obstacles, she stole moments to study and eventually persuaded her parents to allow her to pursue an education. Her story of perseverance inspires me daily. Additionally, my sister’s unwavering commitment to her studies led her to become a professor at a prestigious university in Bali.”

Audrey Lim

Hotel Manager at The Ritz-Carlton Jakarta, Indonesia

Indonesian Audrey Lim has always been motivated by her strong desire to make her parents, Jenny 72 and Richard 70,  proud. Hard work and determination are family values that were instilled in Audrey throughout her upbringing, with her parents being food and beverage entrepreneurs. Their preference was for her to pursue a career in the police force in Singapore, however, she was drawn to the fast-paced and dynamic nature of the high end hotel industry. 

Audrey’s journey to becoming a successful hotelier is testament to her unwavering drive and passion. She grew up in Singapore, but moved to Melbourne at 18 to attend RMIT University. She graduated in 2004 with a Bachelor of Arts in Professional Communications.

Audrey has over a decade of experience at esteemed establishments in Southeast Asia. Her positions at the Shangri-La Singapore, Mandarin Oriental Jakarta and the Ritz-Carlton Jakarta are pivotal roles which guided her pursuit of a career in luxury hotels.

Being appointed as the Hotel Manager at Mandarin Oriental Jakarta, at 41 years of age, is Audrey’s most memorable moment of success that she cherishes deeply. Audrey became the Hotel Manager at The Ritz-Carlton Jakarta in May 2022. It was within The Ritz-Carlton that Audrey encountered a brand that not only matched her personal values but also deeply connected with her professional goals. 

Juggling the responsibilities of both work and motherhood has posed a considerable challenge for Audrey, particularly during her stressful pregnancies. Today, being a mother of two teenage boys, the challenge of maintaining a work life balance still persists as Audrey’s time is largely dedicated to the hotel. However, she ensures that when she is with her family she prioritises quality time and gives them her undivided attention.

Audrey acknowledges that there is still a strong male dominant mindset in the world of luxury hotels, with owners and visitors alike continuing to believe that men are more capable. Fortunately, throughout her career, she has been surrounded by a supportive network of women who provided guidance and encouragement.

Reflecting on her journey thus far, Audrey’s advice to aspiring hoteliers and professionals entering the hospitality industry stresses the importance of passion and dedication. Audrey advises newcomers to love their job, ensuring that work never feels like a burden but rather a fulfilling pursuit.

Vu Huong Giang

Resort Manager at Alma Resort Cam Ranh, Vietnam

Giang’s journey from a young waitress at Six Senses Ninh Van Bay to a respected resort manager is nothing short of inspiring. Her determination to pursue her passion for hospitality despite initial scepticism from her family showcases her resilience and her commitment to her dreams. 

Vu Huong Giang was born and raised in coastal Nha Trang, Vietnam. She graduated from Nha Trang University in 2004, majoring in food processing. Later that year she entered the hospitality industry, at age 24, as a waitress at Six Senses Ninh Van Bay. 

Giang says “I graduated from school to become a waitress and my parents were so unhappy they didn’t tell my relatives but hospitality was what I wanted to do and I was hungry to learn”. She progressed to Food and Beverage manager and moved to Vinpearl Nha Trang in 2013. Life took an unexpected turn with the sudden loss of Giang’s husband in 2013 when she was 35. This loss came just two weeks after beginning her new role at Vinpearl.

Raising her two small children, Harry, 8 and Emily, 6. Despite the heartbreaking tragedy, she found strength in her children and persevered, balancing the roles of both mother and father while excelling in her career. 

Giang explains that managing the conflict between demanding work schedules and personal commitments is a major obstacle in the hospitality field, particularly for women.

She has observed that some women choose less demanding roles to focus on family, while others refrain from seeking career progression due to insufficient support from their spouses, who may be reluctant to see them prioritise professional roles over family duties. 

Memorable moments like being part of the task force opening Vinpearl Land Phu Quoc and The Alma Resort project showcased her resilience and adaptability.

Her advice to aspiring hoteliers highlights the significance of passion, continuous learning, and embracing change. Looking back, Giang would advise her younger self to prioritise travel, as it fosters personal growth and enhances cultural understanding – an essential asset in the diverse world of hospitality.

Lucia Montanelli

Bar Manager of The Vesper Bar, The Dorchester, London UK

Lucia is at the helm of one of London’s most fabulous bars, the newly renovated Vesper Bar at The Dorchester Hotel. “At the age of fourteen, I chose to study Hospitality. My high school program was diverse and allowed me to study three different subjects: front of house, kitchen, and bar/restaurant.

I started working early, around 15 years old, because I wanted to understand from the beginning what my aspiration was and what career would be more suitable for my persona since at school I was feeling pretty confident with all of them. I carried on working in both, independent bars and restaurants in luxury hotels for years. Around 22, I figured out that luxury hospitality was my cup of tea.”            

She says her family have both influenced and inspierd her life: “My mum and my sister are the two women they influence my career and my personality. My mum is a force of nature. She raised me and my sister alone, jobless when she was in her 30s. She taught me my work ethic, the importance of taking care of yourself, being independent, working hard, and listening to people, because you can learn a lot from the experience of others.

My sister is Wonder Woman. Married with two children, she works full time and she is a professor in math and science. Passionate about theatre, in her free time she acts in a company she founded with her group of best friends. I look up to her a lot. I have no idea how she can handle all of this, whilst sometimes I complain because I have 4 meetings in a day “.

She taught me the importance of respecting other people’s opinions. Not to judge someone from the way they look or seem. And she also taught me the important of education.”

Lucia also says being self motivated is important within her job: ” I believe that your ability to evolve, and to push yourself to learn, and constantly grow your expertise not only in your field, which for me is the food and beverage field but to also expand your knowledge into collateral field like finance, and human resources is key.”

In terms of hospitality, she says supporting your staff and being a team is the key to success: “Team building, and working together, is absolutely fundamental to reach any goal. Without a strong, collaborative, team we are nothing. Especially in the hospitality field we cannot reach anything if we are on our own. As manager I see the only way to deliver the best product it’s to base everything on a pyramid.

At the base you have the staff, you take care of them, teach them, help them grow, inspire them, give them purpose, make them feel free to express their feeling and thoughts. Create around them a comfy environment and they will perform at their best.

Second it’s the costumer. The staff will provide them best service ever, making them feel at home and surrounded by welcoming and knowledgeable people. Guests will leave happy and will also return again.

The peak of the pyramid is the company, guests returning means more income, satisfied guest means good feedback and more potential guests entering the door. Because at the end of the day hospitality industry it’s a business.”

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