Fathimath Shaazleen is one of the Maldives’ brightest stars, a pioneer in its luxury-defining hospitality industry with over two decades of experience. She currently leads the operations of the ultra-luxe Naladhu Private Island, named Conde Nast Traveler’s top Indian Ocean resort for several years. As the Maldives’ first local female resort manager, Shaazleen’s incredible story is like no other. Our team had a chat with her to find out more.
My interest in joining the hotel industry came while I was studying for my A‘Levels. After reading a magazine article about a Maldives resort experience, I started looking for more information on this industry. It wasn’t an easy task then. Still, it got me thinking about hospitality. My dad worked in a resort for a short time, so I had a bit of an idea, but prior to hotel school, I had never visited a resort. A couple of weeks later, I saw an advert in the local newspaper, that the hotel school was starting their very first diploma course. I rang my dad and told him that I wanted to join. He, in his most sensible way, asked me to think over it over the weekend. In a couple of days, we talked about it again and he supported me, and I got enrolled. I completed the course and passed with distinction.
This was 22 years ago. Fresh with a diploma in hospitality management, I ventured into this industry. I was one of the first two girls employed by the resort. Like many entering the industry, I was curious about resort life. Unsure of what to expect, but very sure that this was what I wanted to do. I started as a telephone operator/receptionist at Veligandu Island. During the earlier days of my career, I got the opportunity to work in different departments, including housekeeping and food and beverage service too. From there on my path went more towards the front-of-the-house operations. These early days helped to shape my foundation.
Joining Soneva Fushi was a dream come true. I worked there as a butler supervisor. From there, I moved to Huvafen Fushi as a Front Office Manager. My next move took me to Thailand as a Rooms Division Manager at Soneva Kiri. Working outside the Maldives in a different culture was a huge learning experience. I returned after 2 years and joined the preopening team at Dusit Thani Maldives. A pre-opening is a great way to understand the overall operations of a resort and I really enjoyed that. A similar opportunity came from Velaa Private Island, and I jumped at it.
I got my first resort manager position at Niyama Private Island. 2 years into the role, we became parents, and I took a year off to be with my son. This career break was as rewarding as, if not more than any job I had. In 2017, my quest to re-enter the industry began. This time, it wasn’t only me. Several interviews later, I landed a dream job. I was the Resort Manager at one of the most iconic resorts in the Maldives, Soneva Jani, with our little one tagging along.
Today, I work as Resort Manager at Naladhu Private Island.
It is often said that on the path to success, there are no shortcuts. If you want it you must work for it. From the very beginning, it was my dream to reach the top. In 2014 I got my first Resort Manager role. It was a moment of jubilation and a major milestone for me. At the same time, I think it was a moment of celebration for all of us women working in the industry as well.
After a career break, I returned to work in 2017. I am humbled by having the opportunity to continue with my passion, even after starting a family and now raising a toddler. And trust me, I have not done this alone. Hard work, dedication, passion & perseverance, long hours at times — all of these came from me. Whilst the love, affection, trust, respect, belonging & security — the real pillars of my success — came from my family, my loved ones, my peers, my teams, and the many bosses I had the opportunity to work for.
I had the opportunity to work with people who guided, mentored, and taught me the many skills that shaped my success and helped me to be where I am today. I have a husband who loves me unconditionally, and who stood by me with every decision I took. I have an extremely supportive extended family from both sides, who will happily play the role of a guardian angel for our son on occasions when required. I had childcare support in the form of live-in nannies, who had been with our son and took care of him as their own.
In short, there are no secrets. Work hard for what you want. Create an atmosphere around you that will support your growth. Learn and obtain the different knowledge and skills that you will need to succeed. Personal development is an integral part of success. Equally important is to have support from your family and loved ones, especially for us women.
I am extremely proud of what I have achieved so far in my career. I am pleased to see more women entering the industry than before. At the same time, there is also this lingering question in my mind: why are there not many of us? I look forward to a day to see more women moving up their careers in this industry.
Naladhu is a very special place. With only 20 houses, we are known for our private island feel and personalized service. Having a small team, I get the chance to interact with them throughout the day, and at times at a very basic level. I work very closely with the team. I think having the opportunity to personally influence the guest experience of each guest through our team is something I enjoy.
As a woman, naturally, we have a beautiful responsibility of creating life. It is not an expectation, but for many of us, it is a personal choice. There will come a time in a working woman’s life when you are at crossroads, and you are required to make a conscious choice. To continue with your passion, or venture into this beautiful phase of your life called motherhood. For those of us who are working in the tourism industry, this is an even harder choice. Whilst others can continue to work after maternity leave and be with their children every day, unfortunately, most of the women working in this industry do not have this opportunity.
What is needed is improved facilities in the resorts. Facilities built with consideration. Spaces that ensure safety and security for our women. Open opportunities for couples to work in the same resort, allowing the woman to continue even after marriage. Grant longer maternity leave, to encourage those who want to return even after starting a family.
Our tourism is based on a unique concept. The privacy and the exclusivity offered in these islands are one of the unique selling points of the Maldives. However, this seclusion from the community does not give much of an opportunity for many of us to see and experience resort life. This lack of exposure strengthens the common belief that resorts are immoral, where alcohol and nudity are the norms. Parents are hesitant to send their daughters due to fear of exposure to these behaviours, often described as ‘Western’. There is also still a social stigma, as certain jobs are looked down upon and are often considered low-category jobs. Perhaps this came from the mismanagement during the early days of tourism. Sadly, even today it is common to be stigmatized.
There is a need for greater awareness of opportunities available in the industry, targeting young people and their parents. We must be willing to take the first step, in accepting the simple fact that it is not gender which defines the ability to perform a job. It is the willingness and hunger for learning. It is not a position or a place of work that demands respect. It is the sincerity, honesty, and integrity you have in what you do, that demands respect.
Be passionate about what you do, and take up this industry as a career, not just a job. Work hard and push yourself to your best ability. Don’t just look for a job with the highest paycheck. Look for opportunities where you can learn and grow. Be open to new ideas and innovation. Be ready to accept critical feedback, as such moments will guide you to success. When you feel stuck, reach out and seek advice. Be curious to know and learn more, ask questions and be involved. Invest in yourself and do not stop learning.