Women in Hospitality: Aishath Zulfishan, Spa Manager at Kurumba Maldives
This is the first interview in our new Women in Hospitality series. In an industry where women make up only 8% of the workforce (of which only 3% are Maldivian women), this series aims to spotlight women in leadership positions throughout the Maldivian hospitality sector. Our first interviewee is Aishath Zulfishan (better known as Xubba), Spa Manager at Kurumba Maldives. Although she started her career as a restaurant hostess, she had always dreamed of working in the spa industry. She then went on to become one of the country’s most highly-qualified therapists and is now heading a team of 15 at the five-star Veli Spa at Kurumba Maldives. Here she talks about the challenges of entering the spa industry as a Maldivian woman and how she balances life as both a manager and a mother.
Can you describe your first role in the hospitality sector? What did you learn from this role?
I joined Huvafen Fushi ten years ago as restaurant hostess and I worked in that role for one year. Although I enjoyed working with the guests, I knew that F&B was not where I wanted to be. Even then, I was waiting for a vacancy in the spa to arise but since there were none at the time, I opted to be a hostess to gain experience in the sector.
When you began your career, what were your career goals?
I always knew that I wanted to move forward in the hospitality industry. I knew that if I worked in the sector, that the resort would mould me, train me and give me that confidence to move forward in my career. All I had to do was take the opportunity and then a lot of doors would open if I worked hard and was passionate about my work.
How did you realise that you wanted to move into the spa industry?
I always knew that I wanted to join the spa industry. I got an opportunity to visit a friend of mine who worked in the spa at Soneva Fushi and when I went in, I just knew it was for me. Even as a child I used to give massages to my aunties in return for sweets and cakes! At a young age I also remember being very positive and happy so really I think ‘spa’ was always in me. I love meeting people and learning new things and the spa industry is a great place to achieve those things.
Although you are in management now, you come from a therapist background. Where did you learn to become a therapist?
As I mentioned, I started as a restaurant hostess for one year whilst I was waiting for a vacancy in the spa. During that time, my confidence really grew. When an opportunity to apply to become a spa receptionist came up I jumped on it! I got the job and it was from there that I eventually became a therapist. After a year in the spa, I realised that I didn’t just want to welcome the guests; I wanted to be giving the treatments as well. I found a course at Lanna Thai Spa Academy in Bangkok and the Huvafen Fushi management allowed me the time off to attend it. The training was very intense and I will always be thankful that I got the opportunity to do it. I later went on to study at the Manila Shangri-la spa academy as well.
How did you transition into management?
After my training, I then returned to Huvafen Fushi as a therapist. Over the next 7 years I then worked hard and continued up the ladder. I became spa supervisor at the Shangri-La, then a couple of years later I transitioned to spa trainer at the Waldorf Astoria, then to head therapist at Velassaru. Finally I became the spa manager at Kurumba in December 2012.
What do you view as your greatest career achievements so far?
This country has a system of medicine called Dhivehi Beys and I really felt like it was something we could incorporate into our treatments. We now offer four traditional Maldivian treatments at Veli Spa and I’m really proud of that. Our signature Maldivian massage is done using a herbal medicated oil which we use in the Maldives for muscle pain, joint pain and migraines. Another popular treatment is the Tamburu Fai, which is a foot massage which uses a herbal paste. It’s great for circulation and tired legs, so it’s perfect for those who have travelled from afar. By adapting Maldivian medicine with the knowledge I learnt abroad, I was able to provide something that even local Maldivian healers were amazed by. That’s something really special for me.
What have been the challenges that you’ve faced?
The challenges that I have faced are many but today, I am grateful that I went through them. I faced negativity as a Maldivian woman wanting to get into the spa industry. The industry is not very well understood in the Maldives and there is a lack of awareness that this is a very professional career path. People are unaware that you have to study and be trained in order to be qualified to work in this field. Nevertheless, I stood my ground; I believed and loved what I did. Wellness is such an important part of everyone’s life, I was happy, living, breathing in an environment that made me the person I am today. The reason why I say I am grateful is that because the challenges made me a stronger person. Also, I hope that more girls and women will embrace the spa industry if they start to see professional people working in this environment.
How do you balance your career with your personal/family life?
I am very blessed to be part of a team with management that values both work and family. The balance comes because I am blessed with such a supportive partner who values my dream, my work and my time with my family. I take one day at a time. I’ve also learned that sometimes we do not have all the answers and that is ok.
What advice can you give to other working mothers?
I have such deep respect for mothers, whether working or not because it is a full time job on both sides. If you are working it is ok not to know all the answers, be kind to yourself and do not be judgmental because every mother is different.
What is your opinion of the spa industry in the Maldives right now?
The spa industry is becoming one of the biggest industries in the world and if we look at the Maldives, all the resorts have a spa and there are many job opportunities in this professional field. When you are part of the hospitality wellness industry you benefit professionally as well personally.
What’s next for you?
I’m always looking towards the future and one day, I hope to become Area Director of a leading spa resort and hotel or even the CEO.