Tourism Talanoa: Commemorating Businesswomen’s Day

Tourism Talanoa: Commemorating Businesswomen’s Day

FHTA, 1 October 2020

This past weekend saw the world, through the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, celebrating World Tourism Day on September 27. Another special day celebrated in the United States last week was the Business Women’s Day on September 22. Not least because it was mostly ignored as being anything of importance to celebrate in the Pacific given our COVID related economic situations, but more so to appreciate and give recognition to one of the largest groups represented in the industry, women.

It is now well recognised that the tourism industry is one of the largest employers in Fiji. This is also true of most Pacific Island countries that rely on tourism. There are more women and young people employed in tourism than in any other sector of Fiji’s economy.

While tourism’s overall gender balance leans in favour of women, there is still a relatively lethargic imbalance of gender representation in management positions throughout the country in most industries.

But tourism is not alone in the reasons behind this, and coupled with the often 7 days a week job requirements, long hours and industry-related usual challenges; local women have had a more difficult time moving up the proverbial ladder.

So, what does it take for a local woman to succeed in tourism? The Tourism Association checked in with two of them to share their experiences.

Ogina Lata, currently General Manager of locally owned The Palms Denarau, has spent 33 years working in the tourism sector. As a single parent, she found balancing her demanding work and a frenetic personal life to be tremendously challenging.

“When I was first promoted as General Manager at a previous workplace, I took over from a male manager which made it so much more difficult because the staff weren’t used to having a woman in the position, so I was tested by the more experienced staff” she shares.

With nearly all the General Managers on Denarau and the Nadi area at the time of her promotion being male, earning their respect and getting their cooperation was also challenging.

She adds that “eventually sharing experiences, consulting with them and exchanging information made it possible to work together and resolve issues and finally for them to accept her as another experienced colleague in the industry.”

As a businesswoman, she attributes her success to her tenacity as a single mother having to show consistent strength even when you are at your lowest and firmly believes in providing other women with as much support and encouragement as possible.

In an industry that can be brutally demanding of time and consistent reinforcement for best practices and competitive service, she has personally mentored and assisted many young women to stay on track with their goals while remaining passionate about their jobs.

“It is easy to get side-tracked, so young women need the motivation to remain focused”.

Ogina has been the GM at The Palms, located on Denarau Island opposite the Denarau Marina, and catering to the local corporate as well as the international market for the last 5 years. She continues to counsel and mentor young women in the industry and is extremely proud of those who have now moved into senior roles.

She is also really pleased to see more empowered women emerging, leading to many more being recognised for their confidence and professionalism in what used to be an almost all-male area.

“As females, we are proof that we can also adapt to other cultures, new technology, be creative, as well as be good leaders that can manage businesses and be in competition with our male colleagues,” she states.

Resort Manager at Maqai Beach Eco Surf Resort Catherine Bukayaro agrees with these sentiments. The Resort is located on exquisite Qamea Island (Taveuni) and has won multiple awards for excellence and sustainability. The majority of their employees are from the nearby community of landowners (mataqali).

Cultural and traditional expectations form our next set of challenges for female leaders in business.

“In the beginning, it was extremely difficult for the staff to accept me – being a female leader, as well as not being from their Mataqali.”

Catherine shares that she had to earn their eventual respect by meeting them at their level and play a mothering role in motivating the staff and that this helped them to accept the inevitable changes.

“We now have an awesome team culture, almost like a family, so that now makes my role easier. Happy staff serving happy guests gives us awesome online reviews!” she believes. And rave reviews kept the guests coming.

Catherine also shares that women face harder choices between professional success and personal fulfilment.

She believes women’s leadership in an organisation can increase productivity and profitability. And lives by her belief to “Look like a girl, act like a lady, think like a man and work like a boss.”

When asked for advice to other businesswomen and young women entering the tourism workforce and considering it as a long-term career; Catherine insists that they ‘create their impact.’

“There will be people along the way who will help support you, but it is ultimately up to you. You control your own destiny. Do not wait for someone else to create a path for you,” she extols.

Ogina’s advice to the younger generation of women is ‘Nothing is impossible.’

It has been said often enough before, that we should hire for attitude and train for skill. To develop the tourism industry into a workforce of more inspiring local leaders, our ambitious youth must be encouraged to embrace positive, “can do” attitudes if they are serious about being in an industry that can throw the most experienced, or highly qualified manager unexpected curveballs, with a crisis seemingly always just around the corner.

It is, after all, an industry that works in paradise-like conditions but has seen almost all manner of challenges. Floods that removed roads, cyclones that flattened roofs and removed beaches, political upheavals that frightened guests, cancelled flights and boats, or union strikes and landowner blockades, high seasons with insufficient inventory and low seasons with far too much inventory, tidal surges that removed kilometres of sea walls, guests emergencies and staff not turning up for important events and conferences where managers have had to double as receptionist and dishwasher.

A measure of one’s passion for the work is often simply staying in the industry to see each challenge through.

And yes, even the most unwelcome and unexpected pandemic crisis keeps the diehard industry people ready to leap this challenge with the same persistence.

That includes these two inspiring women doing what they know best. Persevering, supporting and ready to make any changes needed once the pandemic dust settles.

Onwards and upwards, ladies. The industry acknowledges you and everyone else that is hanging in there doing the best they can to preserve and prepare our piece of paradise.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 1 October 2020)