INTERVIEW: The first lady

by Sophia Soltani | Published 3 years ago

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According to a study conducted by Mercer, a quarter of Middle Eastern organisations have no female leadership in their 100 most senior roles. Meanwhile, women leaders hold more than 30% of senior positions in only 4% of organisations. Here, Rania Bawalsa, hotel manager, Mövenpick Resort Petra and Mövenpick Nabatean Castle Hotel discusses women in leadership roles across Jordan and what needs to be done to change workplace perceptionsrania-bawalsa

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has captivated travellers from across the world for centuries. From the melancholy, primeval starkness of Wadi Rum, the teeming centre of urban Amman, the majestic ruins of bygone civilizations to the timeless grandeur of the Dead Sea. But as rich as Jordan is in culture and history, it has also been busy reviving the interest of next generation travellers through a vibrant new stream of luxury hotels emerging in Amman, Petra, Aqaba and the Dead Sea, all home to a fresh display of modern meeting facilities and stay venues.
Working towards reinvigorating the tourism offering in Jordan, authorities launched its first ever summer campaign: “Yes, it’s Jordan”, with a series of catchy adverts targeting the GCC and Jordanian expatriates. The campaign, which started in Dubai, promotes the Kingdom as home to a variety of tourism products such archaeological sites, adventure tours, natural attractions and modern living.
This exciting new campaign has two pillars — the first targeting Jordanians living in the Gulf region as it seeks to encourage them to spend their annual holidays in the Kingdom and the second pillar, is aimed at targeting nationals of Gulf Arab states by running advertisements for three types of tourism products available in Jordan. Adverts and TV commercials have been launched focusing on historical and archaeological sites, such as Wadi Rum and Dana. While the third part is to market Jordan as a modern destination for shoppers and leisure vacationers.

Women in Jordan

Despite the modern day tourism push, there is still a significantly lower female to male ratio working within the hospitality industry across Jordan. Women employed in the tourism sector in Jordan currently accounts for just 10% of the sector’s entire work force. Although the percentage of women employed in tourism and hospitality has been growing in recent years, especially in the restaurant sector, with most female employees in the tourism sector working in the accommodation sector – in particular in 4- and-5–star hotels according to the European Trading Report. A credit to the changing times is Rania Bawalsa, hotel manager, Mövenpick Resort Petra and Mövenpick Nabatean Castle Hotel. A veteran in the industry, Bawalsa started her career within the hospitality industry in 1996, where she worked as a housekeeping coordinator for two years at the Le Meridian Amman, thereafter working her way up the career ladder to various senior management roles for a variety of well know hotel brands until she wound up with Mövenpick six years ago as the PR and communication manager where she remained until her recent promotion in 2015 to become one of the only Jordanian female hotel managers in the region.

“Women aspiring to achieve leadership roles in the hotel business must follow their instincts and believe in themselves and their capabilities. The best advice I can give is: make every fall a lesson for success.”

As education and training in hospitality is offered at various levels, in both public private establishments, it should be noted that less than half the personnel in the tourism sector have formal training, and the general awareness of the role and the supply of formal education and training is low across the industry in Jordan. The challenge is greater because the modern tourism sector offers jobs in working environments that are very different to those which many young females – especially those from more traditional families making hospitality studies and training courses much less popular among women in Jordan, as jobs in the tourism sector are considered to be somewhat “inappropriate, with woman often underestimated and considered weak across the hospitality industry in Jordan”, says Bawalsa.

Yet, irrespective of the common challenges, Bawalsa is the only Jordanian hotel manager in the region, she explains: “I first became attracted to the hospitality industry when I saw my cousin starting up within the industry back in the late 80’s. To this day she is still a hotelier alongside my uncle’s. Once you start working in the hotel business you become addicted to the industry, and like any habit it’s a hard one to kick! It is my determination that makes me want to be a name that is remembered within this remarkable field.”

The next generation

In recent decades, public and private sector organisations across the GCC states have achieved important milestones in enabling women to reach leadership positions, with many government bodies and industry-leading companies appointing or promoting highly talented women to senior leadership positions for the first time. These outstanding “first women” have demonstrated profound capabilities and commitment, and have contributed to transforming social attitudes towards women in leadership while serving as role models for the younger generation. The achievements of these women reflect a strong and encouragingly positive trajectory in the GCC states. Yet more work must be done to reach a new status quo in which building diverse leadership teams featuring multiple highly qualified women becomes standard practice insists Bawalsa. “Women aspiring to achieve leadership roles in the hotel business must follow their instincts and believe in themselves and their capabilities. The best advice I can give is: make every fall a lesson for success. As the saying goes, ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ – this couldn’t be truer for women within the industry.”

Vision for success  

Tasked with spearheading operations and future growth plans at the Mövenpick Resort Petra, Bawalsa insists that it is personalisation and a healthy working environment at the heart of the property’s future success. “At Mövenpick Resort Petra, the team and I make it our personal mission to make every visit, every experience and every second of a guest’s stay truly remarkable”, she explains.  With the hotel located directly at the entrance to the historic Jordanian city of Petra, the resort encompasses an oriental flair with a combination of natural stone, handcrafted wood and Middle Eastern fabrics and textures alongside 183 recently renovated rooms and suites, all which Bawalsa and her team are responsible for maintaining. “The resort is in many ways the shining jewel in Petra being situated so close to the historical sites of Petra, and I do believe that my team is the main key to our success, and that’s why we invest in them by providing continuous training and a healthy working environment.”

Using its prime location as a key revenue driver for the hotel, Bawalsa adds: “Petra has a lot to offer, great landscape, countless historical areas to visit and discover and the geographical nature of the city is breathtaking. The hotel proximity to Petra site is our USP, which is only two-minute walk from the visitor centre, a great team who is always ready to cater to our guests need and an early breakfast buffet that enable the traveller to get ready for their journey are some of the key elements to our continued success.”

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