Before COVID-19 hit, the hospitality industry was one of the biggest sectors in the global economy.
While it’s faced unprecedented challenges since March 2020, the industry is slowly bouncing back as it continuously adapts to cater to the change in times.
Yet, even with these seasonal transformations, there are many misconceptions surrounding this industry.
We spoke to Bilha Mucuha, a hospitality professional and the General Manager for The Tamarind Group about her experience working in hospitality and the endless opportunities for women to learn and grow.
Bilha’s journey shows that working in hospitality has room for growth and presents endless opportunities to meet new people.
how she decided to pursue hospitality
Despite going through a very academic-based education system, Bilha took the road less travelled and enrolled to study a BSc in Hospitality Administration and Management at Strathmore University. The course was fairly new at the Kenya-based tertiary institution, but the school’s excellent track record made the investment seem worthwhile.
Additionally, her support system was with her every step of the way. “My parents were very supportive and didn’t push me towards the traditional prestigious careers. Instead, they helped me take a deeper look into my strengths. I was then able to make a list of things I could pursue based on the things I enjoyed.”
After carefully narrowing down to hospitality and management, Bilha knew it was time to put in the work. Four years later she graduated top in her year with a First Class Honours and got the Vice Chancellor’s Award – the most prominent award at Strathmore.
working in this industry
Armed with sufficient theoretical skills, she was off to the world of work. Her first role was as a Management Trainee. This role, while entry level, provided her with the fundamental principles needed to scale in this industry. Looking back at her professional history, this first job placed her on the path to her current position.
While hard work was a driving force to the promotions that followed, it was her passion for the work that she was doing that made her stand out and apart from some of her colleagues.
The hospitality industry is dynamic, and it needs people who are customer service oriented and know how to relate well with other people. This was one of the fundamental lessons Bilha learned even as she rose to Assistant Manager where her work was elevated to both supervisory as well as to offer support.
And this is still a key component of her day to day as General Manager (GM). “My day to day involves touching base with clients to find out if they are receiving the service they expect. Sometimes I’ll even take an order at lunch or dinner. This makes our guests confident when they know they are interacting with the manager.”
It’s been two years since she was promoted to GM and Bilha is wearing this role hat with pride and humility in equal measure.
What’s kept her going is her confidence and knowing that she is part of a team striving to give customers a memorable experience.
“Customer engagement is the heart of the hospitality industry. In my managerial role there are also strategic and financial aspects, but none takes up as much space as one to one interactions with our customers.”
However, her ten year tenure hasn’t been without lessons. Bilha shares that in her professional growth she has had to debunk various gender-based mindsets towards women. Some of these come from women themselves.
“The importance of appreciating that as women, there are some biases we gravitate towards. It’s not good, and it’s not bad. But being cognizant of the fact that we gravitate towards certain things is important.”
This extends to things like imposter syndrome. In this case seeing that women sell themselves short because we lack enough confidence in ourselves to pursue certain goals. Unlike women, men easily take up jobs they are not qualified for.
But even beyond confidence, traditional expectations of women have still been known to creep into people’s minds.
“Some women choose to pursue family over careers and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I find that when you when we do that, before we’re even even in a relationship or because we are at an age where society expects us to do this, we’re sabotaging our careers.” For Bilha its about awareness of how we as women at times limit ourselves.
opportunities for women in hospitality
Like any other industry, there is a seat at the table for women to learn, grow and even lead. There are several inspirational women who have broken gender barriers.
“To climb the career ladder in hospitality, you’ve got to remain green and be enthusiastic. It’s a dynamic industry, and it’s ever changing. Any slight changes in the macro environment have a direct impact in hospitality. We’ve seen it with COVID and various occasions in the past both nationally and internationally.”
over to you
What are some of the lessons you’ve learned in your area of profession? How can women continue to grow and take up spaces intentionally? Let us know in the comments.