Do women make good hotel general managers?
They sure do, according to three of Siem Reap’s top female operators – Anantara Angkor Resort’s GM Sarah Moya, Courtyard by Marriott’s GM Ashley Lai, and Treeline Urban Resort’s GM Joni Aker.
Traditionally the upper reaches of the international hotel industry were male havens, but in the last decade women have broken through the hotel glass ceiling and have begun to replace the ‘man’ in manager.
Globally, Siem Reap’s hotel industry is relatively new, really only gaining traction from about 2001 to 2002 when the current tourism boom began to flourish and many hotels opened for business.
Women featured in the upper echelons of local hotels from the early days. In January 2004 Sarah Moya – fresh from the Hyatt Regency Manila – signed on initially as director of sales and marketing of Angkor Century Resort and quickly became acting general manager.
She left Siem Reap mid-2006, but retuned in July 2008 to become opening GM of The Sothea, a swish 5-star boutique hotel with butler service , with the same owners as Angkor Century.
Then, from October 2011 to February 2012 she was GM of Shinta Mani Luang Prabang, and in March 2015 she was GM of Navatu Dreams Resort and Wellness Retreat.
In July 2018 she signed on to her current gig, GM of Anantara Angkor Resort, which used to be The Sothea and, as Moya quipped to Khmer Times, “I’m back to where it all began in Siem Reap.”
Siem Reap’s premier luxury hotel Amansara is managed by Astrid Killian, who signed on in October 2016.
She carries on the legacy of the high-profile Kiwi Sally Baughan, who became GM at Amansara in mid 20ll, after having been GM of Aman Resort’s Jaipur hotel, Amanbagh.
Her legacy lingers and a friend of hers, fellow Kiwi Joni Aker, debuted as GM with the new Treeline Urban Resort in July 2018, after stints as cruise director of Aqua Expeditions and resident manager of KT Serviced Apartments in Siem Reap.
Women have made their mark as hotel managers in Siem Reap, but are they treated differently to their male counterparts?
“We are still a rare breed,” says Sarah Moya. “Being a female GM gives some a high degree of curiosity about your abilities.
“I enjoy being a female general manager. I enjoy being one of the rare, unpredictable ones. As a female GM, I certainly can bring more flair in our outfit and I believe people accept my sense of fashion because I’m a female.
“In the end, with the many companies I’ve worked for, the job is not about the gender. They gauge at the onset based on what you can deliver.
“I believe that personality is a higher factor than the gender. I prefer to be a coach but my style may differ from one of my other female colleagues. I have never reported to a female General Manager. It was more uncommon in the olden days so I do not really have a point of comparison.
“You can be very detailed as female or a male. I am very business minded because that is how I learned that trade, through the sales and marketing route. One aspect perhaps though is that a woman can be more into adding the little touches, making things more personalized.”
Treeline’s Joni Aker notes that Siem Reap and Cambodia are kind on women in the hotel business.
“Fortunately in Cambodia women are quite well represented in business so I don’t experience the misogyny that you can find in other parts of the world,” she says.
“When I lived and worked in the Middle East I was very aware of the prejudice and faced many challenges in relation to this, but in Cambodia, no I don’t think I’m treated any differently.
“Siem Reap in particular is fortunate to have had many successful female GM’s over the years that have forged the way for woman in this role I think. So I’m very grateful to them. Perhaps I don’t face the pressures that they may have experienced?”
Like Sara Moya, Aker says she loves being a woman GM. “I am enjoying the challenge, particularly as an opening GM,” she says.
“I have learnt a lot and loved every minute. I like the challenge of overseeing so many different departments and making sure they work well together, I love multi-tasking, interacting with and developing people.”
Meanwhile at the Marriot, Ashley Lai focuses on women’s strong points. .
“The difference could be that more women GM manage from the heart,” she says. “We focus on strong collaboration and sharing ideas. We are okay if it is not our idea for we are much better at not being right all the time.”
“Indeed, according to popular belief, women are high in emotional intelligence hence we are softer when it comes to “saying things that hurt”. My ability to deliver negative feedback, considering I’m handling people from different cultures and even non-technical people, always challenges me.
“However, this is also very important in the hotel business where people serve people.”
Ashley also notes that at the Marriot she is in good company as a woman.
“Many of Marriott’s senior leadership are also women,” she says, “Including President & Managing Director – Europe, Chief Financial Officer, Global Chief Marketing & Commercial Officer, Global Chief Communications and Public Affairs Officer, and general manager at some of the company’s largest hotels.”
But when all is said and done, Joni Aker simply says, “The challenges of running a hotel are the same I think whether female or male.”