Island life is unique - but things become infinitely cooler if you're getting paid to do what you truly love. By featuring amazing people doing awesome work, The Edition hopes to inspire new generations into hospitality - the backbone of Maldives' economy.
It is hard not to feel surprised upon first meeting the Sales and Marketing Executive at Canareef Resort Maldives. With a ready smile that only accentuates his apparent youth, 24-year-old Mohamed Saif acknowledges, with bashful modesty, that it is not everyday that one meets a one as young as he, serving at an executive post in the hospitality industry.
A career in tourism is not what he envisioned for himself during his schooling, but Saif emphatically states that he would not be where he is now if not for Canareef and the chance it’s management took on him. As it turns out, it was a very fortunate leap of faith for all parties involved.
Saif began his career in Canareef in 2016, right out of high school where he majored in Science.
Caught between loans to pursue higher studies and working, Saif opted for the latter. Following rejections from a number of state jobs, including the police and court, “I thought I’d try my luck elsewhere since government jobs weren’t cut out for me”, he says with a wry chuckle.
However, being inexperienced and fresh-faced, most of the resorts he first applied to “straight out rejected me, saying that I wouldn’t stay [long-term]”. Spurred on by our looks of confusion, he elaborates, “There’s a notion in this industry that staff with good academic scores will move on [to better prospects] quickly. And I got fairly good grades in school”.
Undeterred by industry stereotypes, Saif decided to look closer to home. Hailing from the island of Meedhoo in Addu Atoll, it was all too easy to approach Canareef, the three-star property located right next door, on the adjacent island of Herathera.
“They gave me a chance when nobody else did, so I thought I’d stick around”.
Over the next three years, Saif proved his worth as a stellar employee, thriving under the support and encouragement of his mentors and superiors. Starting out as a receptionist, he transferred to Reservations within two months of employment, swiftly climbing the ranks until his promotion in 2018 to his current position as Sales and Marketing Executive.
“Meeting people from all walks of life”, says Saif staunchly, taking a moment to ponder over the past three years.
“I think this industry is good in that sense because you learn to appreciate and be thankful for what you have. Also, you learn to be patient for the things you don’t have, because you see people who are much more fortunate than you; at the same time, you see people who are not so fortunate, and that makes you wonder”.
As to whether he came across anyone that left a special impact on him, Saif lights up and gushes, “One of the happiest moments was when I met the actor, Benn Northover, in 2017. Not many [Maldivians] seem to know him but…’ He trails off with a laugh, the ecstatic joy of a fan, who has realised their dream of meeting an idol, rolling off him.
“We built a bond, and we’re still constantly in touch”.
The perks of Saif’s job also includes a unique privilege not accorded by all the resorts in Maldives.
“One thing that’s great about Canareef is that you get to go home everyday, you get to be with your family; a luxury that a lot of people who work in this industry do not get”, says Saif, referring to the Maldives’ common one-island-one-resort brand of tourism, which necessitates the majority of resort workers to stay on-island post work, commuting back home a few times a month at best.
However, with Meedhoo and Canareef only separated by a narrow channel linked via a short bridge, “We always say it’s like working a nine-to-five job in a [government] office”, chuckles Saif. “It feels like I’m in a resort, but at the same time, not”.
Saif’s impressive lead in his career did not take off without any snag. His cheerful face dims slightly as he recalls an experience that left him with a hard-learned lesson.
“It was December 2016. At the time, I was still getting used to working in Reservations”. Saif narrates an incident where an unfortunate oversight of a booking request resulted in miscommunication, leaving him in an embarrassing spat with a major international tour operator.
“The guests were furious. Their agent was even more so. I was at home when I got the call…”
"That [incident] humbled me so much that it actually paved the way for how I deal with agents, and how I deal with people in general”, says Saif. “It shaped how I perceive and work in this field, I’d say. I don’t leave anything to chance now”.
Saif also expressed his appreciation for his supervisors at the time, noting how much their encouragement and leniency in the face of his slip-up helped him improve.
“[They were] truly understanding; they realised I was really shaken by this ordeal. ‘Mistakes happen. The [important] thing is that you learn from it and don’t repeat it’, they told me”.
Now, as the immediate supervisor for three reservations agents himself, Saif follows the crucial example set by his seniors before him. “When [my subordinates] make mistakes, I tell them, ‘It’s okay, it’s not the end of the world’”.
“I think it was one of the best experiences, even if not one of the happiest”, Saif says with a chuckle.
“I did face a lot of backlash, most notably from people under whom I worked before”, Saif says, refreshingly frank.
With polite diplomacy, Saif touches upon the traces of age-hierarchy still prevalent in Maldivian work environments.
“It’s not just in this field … A young person in a position of authority - that doesn’t go well with older people a lot”.
“Do not cave in, that’s for sure”, Saif responds with calm assuredness.
“If you feel like what you're doing is right, then you don't have to be the one who gives in”.
Saif barely has to consider before he lists three names, all sharing the common denominator of being inspiring mentors.
“One would be Yaaris Rafeeu, who was my first supervisor in Reception. He was the most helpful when I started out. He had a lot of experience and he taught me [all the ropes] from scratch”.
“Then there was Mohamed Waheed, the previous Reservations Manager. We had something of a father-son relationship. He would give advice and inspirational speeches during free time. He always encouraged us to be carefree and maintain a happy environment, as long as we were doing our jobs”.
“And Shazim Ibrahim (currently the Director of Sales and Marketing) is the best mentor I’ve ever had. With 20-25 years of experience, he has a lot to teach and he is never reluctant [to impart his industry know-how]”.
“If someone had told me earlier, ‘If you want to work in Sales, you should not be shy’ - that would’ve helped a lot”, Saif laughs.
Describing his introverted personality - “I used to shy away and hide instead of talking with anybody” - Saif muses on how the constant social nature of working in Sales and Marketing has encouraged him to put aside his social reluctance and approach people with confidence.
“I’m still getting out of my shell, but I have come a long way”.
“The hospitality industry really humbles you”.
“I see on social media how people can be so intolerant of others. I think everyone should work in the hospitality field [at least once] so that it humbles them to some extent”.
“Hospitality has made me more tolerant, that’s for sure. That’s the biggest achievement I’ve gotten out of this field”.
“Also if you want to travel or just escape the confines [of the situation] you’re currently in, this is the best field for it”.
“I don’t think I can work in any other industry anymore”, Saif smiles.
Touching upon his plans to pursue higher studies in the field of Sales and Marketing, he shares his dream, “I want to reach the same level as Shazim and others I have worked with”.
“When you speak their name, everyone knows who they are. I aspire to reach such a position, preferably in a hotel chain”.