This International Women’s Day, Travel Trade Maldives spoke with local women at the forefront of the Maldivian hospitality industry. Their contribution is significant in elevating the tourism experience, reshaping the industry for future leaders, and ensuring gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow.

We sat down with Mariya Shareef, Resort Manager at Summer Island Maldives to delve deeper into her career, and the challenges she faced in her career. Summer Island Maldives prides itself on offering guests an authentically Maldivian, barefoot slice of paradise. The resort boasts open and breezy rooms, an overwater spa, two restaurants, a rustic beach bar, a dive center, a water sports center, and a host of experiences for guests to enjoy

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you started your career?

My name is Mariya, but most people know me simply as Mari. I come from a family of four and I grew up in Male’. I am someone who loves to take dips in the ocean, read a good book, or listen to music.

I got my first job in the tourism industry as a kitchen assistant. After completing my bachelor’s in tourism and my Master’s, I worked in various areas of tourism, including public relations, marketing, and business development. I worked my way up to Resort Manager at Summer Island Maldives.

2. What is your biggest personal achievement so far?

I think my biggest achievement is reaching where I am while being true to myself. As many women can attest, there is a glass ceiling in the tourism industry. I did not compromise on who I am, any of my beliefs or values to get to where I am. It was the result of determination, grit and hard work. I am especially proud of the team I have built along the way at Summer Island Maldives. We are all very different people, yet we fit perfectly together. Being able to develop and lead such a dynamic and capable team is an achievement that I am extremely proud of.

3. What are the main challenges as a women entrepreneur in the tourism industry?

The biggest challenge is the age-old belief that women do not belong in the tourism industry; that woman should not work away from home, exploring their interests and passions. While there has been a change in thinking about this, the issue persists, especially in rural communities, in the Maldives. Even if a woman can break through all the cultural barriers, much like in the rest of the world, women have to work twice as hard to achieve half of what men achieve throughout their careers.

4. Being a female hotelier, do you think that it is easier than before? How did the Maldivian tourism industry change over the last few years?

Without a doubt. When I started it was much harder than it is today. The cultural roadblocks were bigger, and there was little awareness about gender equality. This made it tougher to carve out a space for myself in an industry dominated by men. I think each of the challenges I mentioned has seen improvement over the years. While still not actively encouraging working in the tourism industry as much, families are somewhat open to the idea of women working in resorts. But as important as the question of whether things have changed, is whether the change has been enough. I join the chorus of women all over the Maldives in saying that it has not been enough. There is still a lot of work left to do.

5. What do you think is the next big step to ensure gender equality in the country?

Personally, I think we need a two-pronged approach to empowering women in the industry. Firstly, we must train women on how to succeed in a male-dominated work environment. We must give them the right tools and the motivation they need to succeed. At the same time, we need to create a welcoming environment for women at resorts, one that actively discourages gender bias and discrimination.

7. What advice would you give to other women looking to join the industry?

I would tell them to not be afraid to seek out support and encouragement from people who at some point were in their shoes. I would also tell women to not be afraid to fail sometimes. There might be setbacks, but that is the time to push yourself and see where you can go. A lot of times we end up being our hardest critics. I say, don’t be too hard on yourself. Keep yourself accountable, but give yourself a chance and you will see the amazing things that awaits as your journey unfolds.