Women in hospitality : Does gender really matter?

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As a third generation hotelier, from a family of entrepreneurs, the idea of creating a hospitality brand for the next generation of travellers was always a dream. I have been blessed to have hoteliers as parents (both attended the Hotel School at Cornell University) and my grandfather was a true entrepreneur who believed in taking risks.

My generation believes in being independent, taking risks and being proud of their roots and our brand Aiana Hotels & Resorts is about being authentic, intuitive with a strong Indian service ethos.

I believe that being a woman facilitated my entrepreneurial journey from India to the Middle East as I was given a lot of support from my family, business partners and the hospitality industry to follow my dreams of launching what I like to call Hospitality 2.0!

The last two years as chief executive of Aiana Hotels & Resorts has taught me to have self belief because if you are convinced, the universe will rally behind you to help you succeed. In both India and the GCC, I have found that people like to support women entrepreneurs who are determined, persistent and passionate about what they do. Building a support group that shared my passion helped me take that leap into entrepreneurship.

My inspiration to create a new hospitality brand came from my grandfather Captain Krishnan Nair who was the founder of The Leela Group of hotels in India. In the five years that I worked in the family business in India, I had the fortunate opportunity to work alongside my grandfather and witness his energy and passion for creation. He was often asked why he kept working even after he crossed the age of 90 and his response was always “for the joy of it”. Everyone who met him was impressed by his courage and optimism. I believe I have inherited his appetite for risk as an entrepreneur and am inspired by his vision for India and its future.

In her book Lean in, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, with reference to women in the workplace, says: “We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self confidence, by not raising our hands and by pulling back when we should be leaning in.” If there was one thing I would like to share with women professionals, it is that in a work environment, you must never hesitate to grab an opportunity. Raise your hand, ask for what you want, share an idea or like Sheryl Sandberg says in her book, “take a seat at the table”.

Even when I worked outside the family business – whether it was with the Mandarin Oriental in New York or a real estate firm in Singapore – the common denominator was always hospitality and I have never felt that being a woman was a disadvantage. If a female professional is qualified, experienced and confident, there is no reason for her to be not treated as an equal.

While I have worked in multiple jurisdictions in varied hospitality fields across the globe – from New York, South East Asia, India and now the Middle East – starting up a company in the Middle East has been a rewarding learning experience.

My greatest strength has always been to never let go of an opportunity and my success so far has been in identifying a gap in the lifestyle hotels space and tying up with the right partner. Having a well-established, local partner certainly helped me adapt to a new geography. By aiming for steady growth and introducing the company incrementally, we have been able to overcome the challenges of setting up a new brand.

I believe that entrepreneurship is all about opportunity, timing, the ability to take risks and most importantly surrounding yourself with the right people.

I would have never taken my step into entrepreneurship without the unwavering support and encouragement from my mother Lakshmi. She is my biggest inspiration as she seems to know intuitively what I am capable of and is always there to nudge me along. Everyone needs a champion and I would recommend that every woman professional should find a mentor. Hillary Clinton in her first campaign speech for President of the United States said that her mother would always tell her: “Never back down bullies or barriers.” I think it is the soundest advice and it is not surprising that I came from a woman to her daughter.

In the business of service, whether in the luxury or lifestyle space, one needs to be able to deal with people and circumstances with grace, composure and kindness. At Aiana, we aspire for each interaction to be authentic, transparent and intuitive.

Our service philosophy is guided by our Indian ethos and that is reflected in our behaviour. This does not change from person to person or situation to situation. My biggest challenge has been to create a brand that is India-inspired, yet a company that is global in every way.

Source: Khaleej Times

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