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Five Female Leaders Create a Culture of Forbes Travel Guide Award-Winning Service

Progress is not accidental, the emphasis on moving toward a more equitable future in luxury travel is being intentionally ushered along by Forbes Travel Guide.  Last week, we spoke with Amanda Frasier, President of Ratings, to learn more about Forbes Travel Guide’s approach to equality in both ratings and the annual FTG Summit, which takes place next week in Las Vegas.  


Of the 2,000 FTG award-winners which also includes spas, cruise lines and restaurants, there are 340 Five-Star, 600 Four-Star and 503 Recommended hotels.  We check in with five female leaders on how they create a culture of star service: 



forbes travel guide five star winners 2024

Isabelle Bouvier, General Manager, Royal Palm Beachcomber Luxury, Mauritius


Isabel moved to Mauritius in 2021 after leading some of the most renowned hotels in Paris, including the Peninsula Paris and opening The Set Collection’s Hotel Lutetia.  “Coming to Mauritius after the pandemic was a great challenge, but it was a chance that should not be missed––it was an incredible opportunity to be part of this legendary palace. Another reason for my choice to come was the country’s multicultural society—I wanted to learn and celebrate unity in diversity.”


The Royal Palm Beachcomber Luxury, which FTG inspectors describe as what you imagine when “conjuring up a faraway tropical getaway,” with its 69-thatched roof suites that stretch out over the Indian ocean. Guests arrive via helipad to enjoy the respite at the 18-treatment room spa, three pools and lots of watersports, while refueling at the resort's three restaurants overseen by French chef William Girard.  This year marks the first time the resort achieved the coveted FTG 5* rating. 


Isabelle Bouvier Royal Palm Beachcomber Luxury

What are the challenges of bringing Five-Star luxury to a remote location like Mauritius? 

 

Establishing a five-star luxury brand in a remote location like Mauritius presents a few challenges due to competition from other established destinations and brands. However, these challenges are balanced out by the uniqueness of the Mauritian hospitality, the people take pride in serving guests and strive to exceed their expectations. Together, we have worked to differentiate ourselves and create authentic experiences at the Royal Palm and in Mauritius. 

 

How do you build a culture of service?

 

As a member of ‘’The Leading Hotels of the World,’’ we have service standards and expectations to meet. We have also implemented mentoring, and recognition programmes to acknowledge outstanding service and to motivate staff to maintain high service standards and gain confidence.  Building a culture of service is paramount to creating memorable experiences for guests and ensuring guest satisfaction.

 

Jill Goh, General Manager, Mandarin Oriental, Singapore


Jill began her career with Mandarin in 1993, and it has taken her from Asia to London and back.  “Having worked in various Mandarin Oriental properties across different regions, I’ve found that the constant of excellent service remains consistent regardless of location and they are aligned to our Group vision––A World of Fans. Our colleagues value every interaction with our guests as every connection is an opportunity for us to create a ‘Fan’ of Mandarin Oriental.”  


Having just re-opened in September 2023 after a six month renovation led by Jeffrey Wilkes of internationally-acclaimed interior design firm DESIGNWILKES, the Mandarin Oriental's 510 guest rooms and suites fresh look blends indoors and out with bright colors and patterns that evoke nature and the sea views. FTG inspectors note the spa and variety of restaurants and bars are highlights, and suggest spending time at the hotel's "gorgeous 82-foot outdoor pool area surrounded by lush tropical vegetation with superb views of the city skyline" is a must. Bringing these outstanding facilities to life is the "friendly, helpful, efficient service" that FTG notes is "just one of the many things that makes this a Five-Star Singapore gem."


Jill Goh Mandarin Oriental

What steps have you taken to build a culture of service at Mandarin Oriental?

 

“We need colleagues who are genuinely warm, kind-hearted and smile generously. Secondly is to continuously invest in them at various stages of their career path, providing them with the opportunity to learn and develop during their career journey. 


As leaders, we must walk the talk as we uphold Mandarin Oriental Legendary Quality Experience (LQE) pillars, and convince, inspire, and positively influence our colleagues through our behaviors and actions which will naturally translate to how they connect with our guests. I always joke during our colleague orientation session that at Mandarin Oriental, we will transfuse your blood type to “Q” as we welcome you to the family.  



The legendary Sheila Johnson, who co-founded BET, is the Founder and CEO of Salamander Collection. This year she adds another notch to her string of impressive accomplishments, as her Salamander Middleberg is one of only three hotels to earn the exclusive triple Five-Star status in 2024, representing properties that receive top awards for their hotel, restaurant and spa. 


Perched on 340 scenic acres in the heart of Virginia’s horse and wine country, with 168 rooms, a 23,000 square foot spa, a 22-stall horse barn, restaurants and more.  FTG inspectors note “It’s hard to be bored during a stay at Salamander Middleburg.


Sheila has been humbled by earning the FTG “5* trifecta” telling us, “It’s truly been an amazing year. Operating a resort at this level can certainly be complex, but undoubtedly the most important aspect is our people. Retention is critical because if you can keep your employees, and keep them happy, you have consistency, experience and excellence.”

 

sheila johnson ceo salamander collection forbes five star

There is much talk about "authentic experiences" in luxury travel. As a CEO, how do you lead your team and have it feel truly authentic?

 

Authenticity starts at the top, and our brand values are drawn from my own: honesty, authenticity, respect and passion have always provided the guiding direction for the Salamander Collection, applying in equal measures to the guests, employees, members and owners that Salamander serves. From a programming perspective, we always highlight local activities to ensure our guests leave feeling like they have experienced the region, and done so in an authentic manner.

 

Wellness is also becoming quite a ubiquitous term, how do you create meaningful wellness experiences?

 

It was my interest in health and wellness which led me into the hospitality field. Creating a special spa was the initial driving force behind building Salamander Middleburg resort and I never lost sight of that inspiration. The resort opened in 2013 and took over a decade to design and construct, and while it’s become exceptionally popular, because it sits on 340 acres we offer a very tranquil location and the spa’s carefully designed spaces draw the outdoors inside. We carry a similar outlook throughout all of our properties and spas.

 

Staff wellbeing is a current priority in the industry; we’ve noticed that Salamander employees are so proud to work for the company. How do you foster this bonded internal culture?

 

At Salamander, we believe in forming lasting connections with our team.  At our core, we are not just another hospitality company; we believe in being gracious and kind to one another.


Mary Rogers, Managing Director and Area General Manager, Montage Laguna Beach


After leaving her native Ireland, Mary began her hospitality career more than 20 years ago with Ritz Carlton, taking her to Florida, the Caribbean, and Las Vegas, an experience which she credits for imparting the fundamentals of service. “It was this foundation with the Ritz Carlton Hotel Company that enabled me to transition to Fontainebleau Miami Beach at the beginning of 2009, when the resort had just reopened after a billion-dollar renovation. The re-birth of this iconic resort gave way to the creation of a service culture of teamwork; a culture which was alive with energy, fun and excitement, which was needed and very much on brand for the resort in Miami Beach.”


Spending 12 meaningful years with Fontainbleau, she decided to return to the luxury hospitality space and found a home at Montage International after meeting with founder Mr. Alan Fuerstman. Montage’s “storied history in Southern California and a very well-established service culture, based on timeless values and a deep commitment to the communities in which they operate,” attracted Mary to the role leading the 262-room flagship hotel in Laguna Beach. 


Montage Hotels & Resorts, which includes seven resort properties in spectacular locations, is the world's only all-Five-Star hotel brand after Montage Big Sky in Southwestern Montana earned a Five-Star accolade this year.  


Mary Rogers Montage Forbes Five Star

What has the company specifically focused on to achieve this ultimate recognition?


Montage places a strong emphasis on continuous learning and training, prioritizing meaningful connections we create with our guests. The dedication of our associates, consistently delivering exceptional service each day, is at the core of our success. The foundation lies in our approach to hiring, orientation, and training. Our commitment to ongoing development and an unwavering passion for customer service are the driving forces behind this incredible recognition.


Jaime Simpson, General Manager, Jumeirah Mina A’Salam, Dubai


Jaime’s hospitality journey has taken her around the world from India, Japan, Thailand, Oman and now Dubai, a long way from her native Australia.  She’s worked in a range of settings too, from boutique hotels and big properties with Hyatt and IHG, as well as the Prime Minister of Australia, and was an advisor for the G20 Summit in Saudi Arabia. Jaime is also an outspoken advocate for working mothers, as she is one herself. 


In her current role as General Manager of the 292-room Jumeirah Mina A’Salam, she leads a team of over 500 colleagues. The property is part of the Madinat Jumeirah, which FTG inspectors note, “offers access to 50-plus restaurants and bars, shopping, Sinbad’s Kids Club and the Wild Wadi Waterpark” plus private beaches with watersports, golf and tennis. 


As of this year, Dubai now has 47 FTG rated properties, including 12 Five-Star hotels. While the stakes keep elevating, Jaime explains, “Jumeirah Mina A’Salam has been at the forefront of luxury hospitality and has dedicated the last two decades to crafting exceptional experiences for everyone who walks through our doors.  The key to creating these guest experiences lies in the delivery, and how our colleagues bring each experience to life. This is based on a strong service culture that is nourished by inspiring leadership, camaraderie, good training and passion to serve. 


To stay relevant, the hotel recently underwent an extensive refurbishment of the hotel’s rooms, suites, ballrooms and Amal Club Lounge, which were unveiled earlier this year.  


Jaime Simpson Jumeirah Mina A Salam

You’ve spoken openly about the challenges and joys of being a working mother, how do you prioritize?


I do not think anyone ever has it all, but you make the best of the cards you have. We are a blended family, and the children are supportive of each other and of both parents working full-time. A working mum knows that it is a non-stop balancing act. You do drop the ball at times, but you learn to pick up and move forward quickly. I cannot do it all and be everywhere at once, and I am honest about that with my children. For example, I would love to be able to go to every single one of my son’s weekday football matches but that is just not something I am able to do without compromising my work. However, I am there for every single weekend match and I move heaven and earth to attend the BIG games. I do my best to make sure that my son does not miss any single match. And, I lean on other mothers to take a video and catch moments so I can share them with him later.  

You do drop the ball at times, but you learn to pick up and move forward quickly. I cannot do it all and be everywhere at once, and I am honest about that with my children.

Once you understand what your balance is, you realize it is about choosing the times that you spend with the family, the times you spend at work, and being comfortable about segregating the two. I believe my children will not look back and think of all the times I am not there [mothers’ guilt], but they will surely remember all the times that I have been there. I think you can be a loving mother with a great bond with your children and still complete your due diligence. 


You know what? It is so important that you do what you love, and that your child is getting the love and support they need, too. So again, I think of the word ‘sacrifice’, and I think about the times when I was not able to spend time with my kids. But today, I am more at peace with that, and I do not view it as a sacrifice because I have changed the way I talk about it to my children, and they have been seeing this as a positive thing and not something that takes me away from them. I tell them, “Work makes mum really happy, and this is why mum goes to work.”  


Great segue into our final question which we asked these leading women: what are you doing to support women on your teams?


Isabel: I see to it that women have equal access to opportunities for career advancement and leadership development as men. They are also provided with the support and resources to achieve their goals. At Royal Palm, we ensure that women are represented and valued at all levels, with performance and behavior as key criteria. Our goal is to create an environment where everyone feels respected, supported, and empowered to succeed.


Jill: I am a strong advocate in fostering a culture of inclusivity and empowerment, where colleagues from different backgrounds are given equal opportunities to develop and excel in their roles and harnessing the potential of each employee. I often offer mentorship to young potentials, to help them chart their career path. My advice to women is do not allow your gender to be your boundary, very often women may focus on this aspect and it inevitably becomes a mental block that steers their energies into a non-productive way.


Mary: I standby 5 things you need to thrive and succeed as a powerful woman:  


1.  Lead by example — How would I ever expect my staff to do as I say and not as I do?


2.  Hold yourself to firm boundaries — Boundaries are very important to me because the hospitality industry is changing, and if we don’t change with it, hospitality staff will look elsewhere for other jobs. 


3. Encourage other women to follow their dreams.  Last year, I debuted a series called “Ladies Leading the Way,” which provides the opportunity for women and associates to learn from their female peers. I kicked off the series during Women’s History Month with a panel spotlighting female leaders at the resort and associates had the opportunity to ask the hotel’s female leadership questions about their careers and life advice


4.  Make sure that you’re continuously learning — The hospitality industry is evolving very, very quickly. I want to make sure that we are learning along and evolving with it.  Join networking and industry organizations where you can meet like-minded leaders to learn from.


5.  Set goals for yourself and hold yourself accountable to them — In addition to my professional goals, I’m a big supporter of also setting goals for my personal life — whether that be in my relationship, with my family or in my home.


Jamie: It is my understanding that some women, not all, will reach a challenging stage usually in their 30s to 40s. That is when they start to set up their family unit and face pressure from all sides. Without people in your corner to support you and push you, I think it would be impossible.


You are not able to work efficiently without a positive and supportive environment. Positive support will help you succeed at work, and this is the environment I strive to provide for all members of my team, especially for women coming up the ranks.


Thank you for sharing these insights and big congratulations on your Forbes Travel Guide Awards for 2024!

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