The Female Boss

 

Anna-Marie Dowling is the kind of woman you instantly gravitate towards so it is no wonder she has been so successful in her career spanning over 20 years – although, it’s only through hard work and determination that she has got to where she is today. Ladies and Gentlemen, I introduce you to The First Lady of The Westin and Le Méridien City Centre Bahrain.

 

“Difficulty and adversity breeds creativity and the role of the leader is to keep everyone working for the same common goal. Everyone has doubts and days that aren’t so positive but it’s overcoming that which is the important thing.”

 

Hello Anna! Can you give us a little history of how you got to where you are today, as a Complex General Manager of two prestigious hotels?

I wasn’t academically gifted as a child and in all honesty I probably spent too much time talking at school. The results I achieved in my O-Level examinations were mediocre and it was mostly down so keen for me to study A levels so initially I chose this route at college.

During this time I began waitressing in a local hotel and I absolutely loved interacting with people in this way. After a few months, it was clear that this was the path I wanted to take and despite the fact that my parents me a great grounding in all aspects of hospitality.

I then worked in hotels in Plymouth, London and Slough. Again, they offered me very different but very valuable experience. The hotel in Plymouth was much slower in pace with lots of Coach Parties arriving daily. The London Metropole was another massive learning curve for me before I moved on to the Slough/Windsor Marriott as assistant Food & Beverage Manager.

In order to progress within this industry it takes determination and dedication. I knew that I was going to be the General Manager of a five star hotel, this was always my goal. I finally achieved this at the age of 32. Working with Carl Leaver (then General Manager of Slough/were not keen, I chose to switch to a BTEC course which was much more suited to a career in the hospitality industry.

During this time I got as much experience in a variety of areas as I could. Shortly after completing my studies my parents relocated from Yorkshire to Hampshire. My first job with Holiday Inn was with housekeeping and I had to clean 16 rooms a day! This gave me an insight into how valuable each element and department is within hotels. Guests are demanding, regardless of the standard of hotel and ensuring these standards are met, if not surpassed is so important. I was then accepted onto the in-house training programme and spent time with every department. It provided such valuable experience and gave me a great grounding in all aspects of hospitality.

I then worked in hotels in Plymouth, London and Slough. Again, they offered me very different but very valuable experience. The hotel in Plymouth was much slower in pace with lots of Coach Parties arriving daily. The London Metropole was another massive learning curve for me before I moved on to the Slough/Windsor Marriott as assistant Food & Beverage Manager.

In order to progress within this industry it takes determination and dedication. I knew that I was going to be the General Manager of a five star hotel, this was always my goal. I finally achieved this at the age of 32. Working with Carl Leaver (then General Manager of Slough/Windsor Marriott at Heathrow) was a real turning point in my career.

He instilled in me the importance of being able to manage effectively through delegation. You have to trust and empower your team effectively in order to get things done. This period also showed me that encouraging resilience was and is incredibly important and that sometimes facing rejection and learning how to deal with setbacks and move on is vital. Tell us about your challenges and how you’ve been able to exude resilience in the face of adversity throughout your career spanning over 20 years.

Being in a senior leadership role demands resilience. The time I spent with Café Royal preparing for the place to close down meant that I had to instil resilience in the staff who were facing redundancy. This resilience would allow them to move on and progress in their careers. Equally, the time I spent commuting between the hotel I was managing in Jersey and overseeing the inception of a boutique hotel in Surrey taught me how to rise to the challenge rather than giving in to adversity. It was hard work but once again such a valuable experience and showed me that I could still perform exceptionally well even when I was pushed to my limits. Difficulty and adversity breeds creativity and the role of the leader is to keep everyone working for the same common goal. Everyone has doubts and days that aren’t so positive but it’s overcoming that which is the important thing.

 

What is the secret to the continuous success of The Westin and Le Méridien City Centre Bahrain properties?

We are constantly looking at how we can develop all areas of the hotels. We focus on the management and the staff and ensure that the workplace is a positive place for all, regardless of their role. This is reflected in the standards of service within the hotel. We take care of our associates which means that they are happy to be here and in turn take
pride in their work. Our Guest Relations Team love to create ‘Wow!’ moments whether that be personalised magazines or creating family trees for guests. We use service and personal, emotional connections to keep guests happy and to compete with some of the newer hotels in the city. Developing our digital strategy and ensuring we work together as a close knit team are also our two key priorities.

 

Are women still entering into this industry? What advice would you give them.

I feel that this has never been a better time for women to enter this industry. Hospitality as a whole has a dedicated focus on encouraging more women to develop into senior leadership positions. Therefore particularly in the Middle East opportunities for women in hospitality are more abundant than they have been in the past. Previously wanting to be a successful Senior Leader and raising a family was a stumbling block for a lot of women but companies are trying to ensure a balance can be found and providing greater opportunities for women in leadership. We at the complex are very committed to the development of women in our hotels.

 

With the constant influx of social media, is it more challenging today to showcase what makes your property unique? How does this affect day-to-day management?

With social media I think it’s about creativity. We’re always trying to think of how we can change our posts and social media content. We always try to add value and think about how we can try to tell a story and engage interest. Bloggers play a valuable role in promoting the brand and the hotel and it’s important to us to highlight the signature features of the hotel to them when they visit us. A big challenge for us over the next few years is engaging more fully with the Arabic market in Arabic, and trying to do our social media videos in Arabic. We always need to think about additional ways in which we can expand our audience and therefore our market.

 

With a combination of eight F&B outlets in your portfolio is it challenging to compete with so many great stand-alone restaurants in Bahrain?

We have a unique position here because being connected to the mall means that guests often don’t always want to leave the hotel again to dine therefore our competition lies within the mall as opposed to other restaurants in the likes of Adliya. The themed nights at Le Méridien are almost always sold out every week due to the fact that they have a following now. We have found a niche market here and this is very important. At one time hotels found it easy to attract diners to their restaurants because the only places with licenses were hotels, but over time hotels have had to raise their game as more and more competition has opened up in the market. I particularly like the Seafood Night and the Friday Brunch in Baharat. We have an amazing brigade of chefs and I think the quality of food speaks for itself. The menus are rotated so that even regulars will enjoy slightly different experiences each time they visit. Our Chefs also love to come out and speak with the guests which enhances the experience.

 

You house the largest hammam in Bahrain, which is certainly no mean feat! Tell our readers why Heavenly Spa by Westin is the ultimate indulgence and why they need to visit.

I think we have focussed on the service levels and created a really serene environment. When guests arrive they are greeted by the team who endeavour to create a ‘Zen’ experience. You will leave feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. The selection of treatment rooms is second-to-none and you can spend the whole day there being pampered.

 

How do you feel about your transition of moving to Bahrain?

I feel extremely blessed to be working here in Bahrain and the past three years have been incredible for me. Bahrainis are very inclusive in their culture and because it’s a small place it is very easy to settle here and become part of the community. Both Dubai and London can be faceless and it can be difficult to feel included and at home. This is why I feel so happy to be working here and feeling such a part of the community.

 

“The chefs are superb and I think the quality of food speaks for itself. The menus are rotated so that even regulars will enjoy slightly different experiences each time they visit.”

 

@westinbahrain / @lemeridienbahrain

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