There’s a lovely lady at the helm of two landmark hotels on the island. Behnaz Sanjana had a candid chat with Anna-Marie Dowling and came away feeling inspired.
Anna-Marie Dowling has recently been appointed the complex general manager of The Westin Bahrain City Centre & Le Meridien Bahrain City Centre, and is delighted by the opportunity to work in Bahrain.
Bahrain’s first female hotel GM has successfully run large-scale operations for famous brands in other countries but says hospitality was not always her ambition. “I was not a very academically gifted child. I was known more for talking than concentrating on my studies back in school,” Anna says, a mischievous glint in her eye.
Armed with a basic diploma, she joined the Holiday Inn as a chambermaid. After nine months of cleaning 16 rooms a day, Anna was selected for an in-house trainee programme. “I worked at the ground level of every department of the hotel; I cleaned rooms, worked at the reception, switchboards, kitchens, restaurants and banqueting areas,” she says.
Anna did not grow up wanting to be a head honcho in hospitality. “It was once I started working at a hotel that I aspired to be in the general manager’s chair. I remember cleaning the general manager’s office as a public area attendant and thinking that this is going to be my desk someday,” she reminisces.
After years of hard work, Anna steadily climbed the rungs to her dream designation. She believes that the beauty of working in this industry is that you do not need a fancy degree to manage a successful business. “If you are determined, hard working, self-motivated and driven towards your goal, you can get to wherever you want to. My previous hotel had a turnover of around £50 million a year. Back then, if you’d asked any of my teachers if they thought I’d be running a business that size, I don’t think any of them would have signed me up for it,” she laughs.
Her strong points lie in empathy for staff at all levels, as well as a thorough understanding of the commercial aspects of the business. This especially helps in a competitive market such as Bahrain’s, where new players are entering the market continuously. “Our hotels are already well positioned in the market. What we focus on is strong sales and marketing. To keep things fresh and evolving, we introduce changes in our menus and find new ways of bringing service delights to customers in ways they have never experienced before,” she explains.
When asked about the challenges of the job, she says every day is a new challenge. “You can never rely on yesterday. It’s also a challenge to run a complex with two hotels so close to each other.”
And of her status as Bahrain’s only female hotel GM, she adds: “The world is a lot more accepting of women in higher positions these days. Dubai has female general managers in iconic hotels. I’m lucky to be the only female GM in Bahrain, but I’m sure that won’t be the case for too long.”
Her message to young women in the hotel industry is as straightforward as she is herself. “Your destiny lies in your own hands. Too often people blame their company or another person for their failure to make it there. But it’s really up to you to single-handedly get to where you want to be.”
There will, of course, be road blocks. She relates an instance when she first applied for a position as GM, and didn’t make the cut. “I understood the reason for that, giving myself two more years, learning more along the way. And then when I reapplied for the post, I was sure of being the number one candidate for it.”
One of the most prestigious accolades bestowed on Anna is leading the list of ‘UK’s Top 100 Most Influential Women in the Hospitality & Leisure Industry’ in 2011. Did that give her the feeling of finally having arrived? “It gave me a sense of accomplishment. But I don’t think you’re ever really there, because there’s always something else to achieve on the journey. And it’s not enough to just run your business; it’s also what you give back to the industry and the community. That’s something dear to my heart; and moving forward, I will embrace that here in Bahrain as well.”
Watch full interview on youtube.