35 Influential Women in Hospitality

35 Influential Women in Hospitality

HN shines a spotlight on 35 of the top female hospitality professionals and entrepreneurs in the Middle East, to find out what advice they have to offer their juniors and what they think are the advantages of being a member of the fairer sex in this rapidly evolving industry. Ranging from an eye for detail to empathy and the ability to multitask, here’s what they said…



H.E. Lina Annab
Businessperson, politician and the previous Minister of Tourism and Antiquities in Jordan

Prior to assuming her ministerial post in June 2016 Minister Annab was the general manager of Zara Investment Company (Holding). She was also a member of the board of directors of various private and public shareholding companies in Jordan. She represented the private sector on the ‘Employment –Technical Vocational and Education Training Council (E-TVET Council)’. She was a member of a number of selections and judging panels for renowned awards and fellowships in entrepreneurship and leadership. Until recently, Minister Annab represented the private sector on the Board of Directors of Jordan Tourism Board (JTB) as well as on the ‘Economic and Social Council’. Over the past 20 years, Minister Annab has held various positions at Citibank, Johnson &Johnson, and the International Monetary Fund. She holds a Master of Arts degree in International Affairs from Georgetown University in Washington D.C. She also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Economy and Foreign Languages and Literature.

H.E. Rania Al-Mashat
Minister of Tourism

As Egypt’s first female Tourism Minister, her excellency holds a Ph.D. and an M.A. in Economics from the University of Maryland, US. Her distinguished career abroad saw her eventually return home after being officially elected in 2005 as sub-governor for monetary policy at the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE). Al-Mashat comments on the role women play in the tourism and hospitality industry saying, “At the beginning of this year, I was informed by a representative of the Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, that he wanted me to run the local tourism industry with a principal focus on the economic side of the sector. It was a huge assignment as that industry represents 10 percent of Egypt’s GDP and employs more than two million workers. As for my advice to women in this industry, I truly see no difference when it comes to ability to perform between both genders. Yet despite the fact that the industry is comprised of 80 men, the one and only thought on my mind while on my way to the office, is getting the job done in a clear and focused manner. In 2011, the tourism industry witnessed a transformation that today saw the creation of economic women empowerment programs in line with the industry’s sustainable development goals. And I am happy to report that due to this and other initiatives, women today have plenty of opportunities to become part of this important industry. We are also working with various hotels to create inviting and more fitting career opportunities for them.”


Nada Sardouk
Director General
Lebanese Ministry of Tourism

After obtaining a BA in French Language and Literature from the Lebanese University, she immediately began to teach what she had learned in the midst of a civil war. Unrelenting in her quest to highlight the wealth of the printed word, she went on to become a lecturer in French literature, while also devoting her time to pedagogical questions. Her career takes a new turn when she, in the early 2000s is appointed as the first female to head the directorate general position at the Lebanese Ministry of Tourism. Her unwavering belief in the country’s tourism industry saw her promoting Lebanon as a go-to regional touristic hub. She went on to attain a DEA in linguistics from the University of Orleans-Tours and published a number of books on the subject. She has also been awarded the knight’s insignia of the National Order of Merit by the French government.
Sardouk comments on the role women play in hospitality saying, “Women represent the majority of employees in the tourism field because they are a huge asset to this industry. That is why they should master the different aspects of their working environment. They should surround themselves with a professional team, acknowledge their weakness, face their failures, embrace their responsibilities and be proud of their achievements. Women do things with great passion and that constitutes their main drive. Add confidence to that and you get a winning formula for success.”



Ulrike Andorff
General Manager
Fujairah Rotana Resort & Spa
Al Aqaa, UAE

“Start learning the basics and obtain in-depth knowledge of all hotel-related departments. Ensure consistent achievements, as these have proven to be the main drive related to revenue. Furthermore, improvement of guest satisfaction as well as talent development go a long way when it comes to organic growth. Passion, flexibility, patience and an eye for detail are traits women master. They are also more caring and service-minded. Any female who likes an interesting, colorful and exciting work environment is therefore designated for the always-rapidly-changing hospitality industry.”


Emma Banks
VP, F&B Strategy & Development, Middle East & Africa

“Keep your finger on the pulse at all times to stay well-informed; you must be willing to work hard as the hours can be brutal; continuous innovation in such a dynamic marketplace is key. It is imperative to have a solid understanding of when to invest and make money and when to walk away.
There are very few ‘leaders in heels’ in our industry, yet it has been proven that businesses with a gender-balanced team offer better perspective.”


Katrin Herz
General Manager
Al Bustan Palace (a Ritz Carlton company)

“I feel very honored to be the first female Ritz-Carlton general manager in the Middle East region and I am very grateful to Oman and the Omani Ministry of Tourism for giving me the chance to manage the famous Al Bustan Palace, a Ritz-Carlton Hotel. My advice is, you can have it all, but you cannot do it alone. You need to surround yourself with the right people at work and at home!
The hospitality industry is a people business; empathy and caring for others is in our genes.”


Simone Höch
General Manager
Steigenberger Hotels and Resorts
Red Sea, Egypt

“Enthusiasm for socializing, helping and serving people is often the one key attribute in the hospitality sector. Employers in hospitality, leisure and tourism will also be looking for an array of ‘soft’ character traits, such as, communication skills, empathy, teamwork, commitment and flexibility.
I do not think there is any difference between a man and a woman in this industry. Personally, being a woman did not hold me back. However, I do believe that in any work environment, you have to push yourself, go that extra mile and dedicate yourself to the job.”


Laura Lahoud
General Manager
Al Bustan Hotel and Festival

“This type of profession calls for everything to be perfect, which is why women will have to be available round the clock, especially on weekends and holidays. Furthermore, they will need to pay tremendous attention to every detail and know how to present the brand to everyone equally well.
The female touch is always welcome in the hotel business. Taste, perfectionism, attentiveness and social skills are all great attributes. A woman will take care of a hotel just as she does her own home, and this is her advantage.”


Maram Kokandi
General Manager
Park Inn by Radisson

“Every woman should exude confidence, speak her mind whenever the need arises and, most importantly, never give in to her fear of taking risks or new challenges. Stay focused, insist on getting the relevant education, keep an open mind and be ready to go where the opportunities are.
My position affords me the opportunity to create and raise awareness about the situation of Saudi women in the industry, which is very challenging and promising. Keep in mind that women are detail-centric and therefore see their immediate surroundings in a more elaborate fashion.”


Hala C. Massaad
General Manager
Raouché Arjaan by Rotana

“You need to first believe in yourself, have passion to accept all the challenges and be detail-oriented to see the opportunities and foresee the problems. Be flexible, diplomatic and persistent. Dare to take new challenges, keep cultivating your mind and your PR skills. Finally, keep smiling!
Women, by nature, can multitask, which is a major advantage. They can also act from a macro perspective and take sound business decisions on a micro perspective. This helps them deal with challenges in an innovative and humane way.”


Ghada Sadek
General Manager
Mövenpick Hotel West Bay

“Exude confidence in dealing with professionals of all levels. Make full use of networking functions. Learn and understand the other’s mindset, taking into account their culture and profession, which will help you engage in different scenarios and navigate the various challenges encountered, while inciting new business opportunities and career growth.
Women today are more empowered and engaged in strong decision-making. They possess that natural disposition of taking care of something as if it were their own and in so doing, govern better.”


Dagmar Symes
General Manager 
Anantara Al Jabal Akhdar

“Be fearless and open to new experiences, while surrounding yourself with people that inspire you. Ask for what you deserve, engage in transparent communication with an authentic human approach. And of course, support other women on the way.
As a female general manager in a male-dominated field, I use my position and positive perception to influence and encourage others to achieve their best selves and this is achieved through introducing highly creative initiatives and focusing on activities that encourage team bonding.”


Eleni Tsolakou
General Manager
Address Dubai Marina at Emaar Hospitality Group

“Studies show that women entering hospitality companies today will have more opportunities for upward movement into top executive positions than past generations. Women will have to be ready to explore challenges and make sacrifices. Competencies in areas of business growth are: cost and expense reduction; negotiating deals; motivating and coaching; loyalty; and retention programs.
Women have multi-tasking abilities that help them set priorities and adapt to changing conditions more swiftly than men. Skills like empathy, intuition, optimism and emotional intelligence, as well as emotional self-awareness, conflict management, adaptability and teamwork, constitute competitive advantages.”

F&B Entrepreneurs


Nayla Audi
Owner and General Manager
Oslo, Lebanon and Milk
Los Angeles

“Irrespective of the industry, women have to be very cautious. Being inexperienced is no excuse for being naïve. Even with an impeccable academic background and extensive work experience, they are going to be taken advantage of. Sadly, this is a global attitude.
The advantages are overshadowed by an infinite number of disadvantages. However, on a more positive note, women have the ability to bring people and ideas together. We also possess a profound understanding of beauty and esthetics. Equality and fairness are other elements we bring that elevate the entire experience.”


Christine Assouad
Semsom, Basillio and Dunkin Donuts
Lebanon, New York

“Dedicate yourself to something you are passionate about, since we in hospitality spend most of our time at work. Have a clear vision and surround yourself with talented individuals from whom you can learn new things. Always try to do things differently, think outside the box, break some rules and do not be afraid to fail. Lastly, keep the financials in check, as getting all worked up about a project can often prove distracting. I do not see any difference between men and women, as both genders are fully capable.”

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Hala Audi Beydoun
Founder and Owner
Cocoa & Co

“Be patient, because this profession drains all your energy and almost prevents you from having any kind of social life. Yet after 18 years in F&B, I still look forward to going to the kitchen every morning. Apart from being satisfying, albeit challenging, decorating desserts and catering to special events allows me to explore and push myself to the delicious edges of my ‘gourmande’ being.
Being a mother, a wife and a business owner isn’t easy, but our passion for all three helps us find the balance.”


Joanna Debbas
Joanna’s Table

“Be prepared to work extremely hard. It’s a competitive market with demanding consumers. Stay away from gimmicks and provide good quality, as well as consistent products. Manage your risk, don’t over-invest, look for partners who can complement your skill set and provide extra capital.
I think each person has his or her own vision. It’s not about being a woman or a man, it’s about having a clear and well-thought-out vision of what you want your restaurant to look, feel and taste like.”


Zeina El Eid
Chairman and General Manager

“Working in the industry for quite a while has taught me that nothing is easy, especially when it comes to our highly competitive and oversaturated market. As such, the need to be dynamic is a must, the ability to change is key and allowing yourself to follow your intuition truly pays off.
Any person bent on entering the industry needs to employ creativity, be it strategically, conceptually or aesthetically. Female entrepreneurs possess a boundless ability to do just that; whatever you give a woman, she will make great.”


Mireille Hayek
Em Sherif, La Parrilla
Lebanon, UAE

“First, you need to figure out if this role is a passion or simply a job. This is by no means a 9-to-5 profession, as it calls for plenty of patience, determination and perseverance. You will need to be present and very mindful of all the minute intricacies. Women are the ones who build a home. As a result, they develop a heightened sense for these intricacies, which have significantly evolved. Through this, and due to the emotion they introduce, their creations take on a special feel.”


Rima El Husseini
Co-founder and CEO

“Only with patience, persistence and hard work can success be achieved in business. The online presence of any business is necessary for attaining goals. However, the idea that online businesses are easier to grow is a misconception. In the business world, men and women have equal opportunities and face the same challenges. Success becomes a choice and a result of performance.”


Aline Kamakian
Owner and CEO
Fig Holding (Mayrig and Batchig)
Lebanon, KSA, Armenia

“Women have always been great cooks as they cook from the heart. In the F&B sector, when women combine a visionary dream with their natural talent for multitasking and a love for flavors and people, they can be the best leaders. So, I encourage every woman with a great idea and with courage and perseverance to get out there and try.”


Lina Letayf
La Mie Dorée s.a.l

“Be passionate, fight to achieve your goals, learn the legal and administrative procedures, have a grasp of the esthetical aspect and its effects, carefully screen new recruits and never be afraid to gamble. Anticipate what is to come and be prepared to accommodate market needs. Finally, do not allow stressors to negatively affect you.
The main advantages are women’s organizational abilities, which help keep them motivated and on task. Yet above all, being productive is paramount to achieving perfectionism in every assigned task, especially when it comes to the details.”


Maya Bekhazi Noun
Founder and Managing Director
The Food Studio
General Secretary
Syndicate of Restaurant Owners

“Arm yourself with unwavering determination and never stop reevaluating your performance. Strive to do better with every passing minute. Shed your fears and venture into the place where you feel you belong. I personally do not differentiate between men and women in any sector. I believe we are equally competent in anything we wish to do once we have the will and determination to do it. This business is all about the details, esthetics and presentation.”


Liza Soughayar
Liza’s Restaurant
Paris, Lebanon

“Courage and perseverance are a must. The profession may be more demanding for a woman as it is an industry that requires being continuously hands on, so finding the right life/work balance is key. I don’t see a particular advantage of being a woman in this industry. It’s probably because I live in Paris and women there are considered equal to men. I would probably say that the perception of people is different when they see a woman working in this industry. They are impressed as they know how demanding a restaurant business is.”



Cynthia Bitar
Co-founder and Executive Chef
Nazira Catering

“My advice applies equally to men and women, as I consider them both equal. What matters is to have the drive and passion to see matters through. Equally important is not to allow fear to get in your way, because you have to prove yourself at every turn to earn the respect you deserve.
Allow yourself to exercise patience, thoroughness and mindfulness, as I guarantee you these qualities will clearly come across in the dishes created and I am certain you will garner the right kind of deserved admiration.”


Nazira Bitar
Nazira Catering

“Think twice before entering this profession as it is exhaustive, yet simultaneously beautiful. This profession was initially created by women, since the biggest chef of us all are our moms. Love, care and comfort is what everyone looks for in a meal, and this we all learned from our mom’s food.”


Sadiqa Esmael
Head of Culinary and Development
DarHamad Restaurant

“I extend my warm-hearted invitation to all women who are thinking about entering the culinary world, because it’s an interesting field full of challenges and in turn requires plenty of devotion and discipline. This career extends beyond the love for food and recipe creation. It is about appreciating and respecting the ingredients and tending to the customers’ needs. Both these aspects are very important to run any business.”


Zarmig Haladjian
Master Chef

“Being a celebrity chef and an artist is not my ultimate goal. However, the honor of representing my country and sharing its culture and heritage globally, is. Employing my talent, passion and feelings in the culinary arts have not only brought me great personal satisfaction, but also the confidence to introduce my own artistic style with flair. It’s important to always keep in mind that cooking wasn’t invented by chefs, but rather, by poor, yet determined women trying to feed their families with little to work with. That is why you should seize every opportunity, knowing that there is no limitation as long as you have passion and creativity.”


Hilda Hosh
Chez Hilda Pâtisserie and Confiserie

“As a female entrepreneur entering into the hospitality industry, confidence is key. The best advice I can give is to keep growing that confidence by continuously learning. Attend trade shows and exhibits to stay current with industry trends. Accept feedback and constructive criticism. Network with peers and find a mentorship program to learn from the successes and failures of others. Women often underestimate their own potential and fail to dream big. Finding that inner strength, courage and confidence will take them a long way in their career paths.”


Rouba Khalil
Rouba Khalil Kitchen Boutique Catering Services

“It is not a man’s world, it is not a woman’s world, it’s a whoever hustles world. You must want this bad and work for it hard, as your gender is only a minor detail.
I don’t believe that your gender puts you at an advantage or disadvantage. Contrary to clichés, I have seen male chefs who crumble under pressure and female chefs who push through. In all cases, diversity of chefs in the workplace, be it background, gender, sexual orientation or experience, is an advantage in and of itself.”



Lidija Abu Ghazaleh
Lidija’s Kitchen

“Trust your intuition. As a woman, it’s been crucial to find my unique voice and let it be the driving force behind creating engaging content. In other words, always be in touch with that voice.
I believe that forging emotional connections is something that women do quite well. Establishing these connections throughout my work has helped pave the way for compelling storytelling.”


Nada Alameddine
Hodema Consulting Services

“One of the biggest challenges is how to be tough in a male-dominated industry, without coming across as being difficult. Skillfully state your opinion without being obstinate and put in the time to see matters through. Be willing to go where the opportunities are and remain flexible to ensure success.
Women are very detail and customer-oriented, which adds value to any proposition. This means your quality of service and reliability must be on the money. Success stems from focusing on your product, employees and your target market.”


Youmna Ashkar Chedid
General Manager
Fulcrum – LBACC
Rafic Hariri International Airport

“My advice would be to be passionate about your job and surround yourself with likeminded individuals who share that same passion and commitment. Cultivate a positive work environment!
I do not see any specific advantages a female in the hospitality industry brings.Every individual has different strengths and weaknesses. To be successful, it’s important to continuously self-assess your own performance and strive to be better every day.”


Hala Matar Choufany
President, Middle East, Africa & South Asia

“Women have the innate ability to succeed in both raising a family and excelling at work, therefore finding the right balance becomes crucial.
Unlike the misconception about gender advantage, I believe that success is achieved through an individual’s ability to develop soft skills, demonstrate empathy, increase self-awareness, recognize cultural dimensions and adapt to contextual dynamics.”


Sarah Hawilo

“Don’t fear starting a business, even if it is not within your realm of experience. Surround yourself with talented people who believe in the company’s vision and are persistent and passionate. I make no gender distinctions as I believe women offer equal and different advantages to men. I also believe that having professional diversity across the company such as gender, nationality, age and others is adventageous to the overall business, people and culture.”

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About author

Rita Ghantous

Rita Ghantous is a hospitality aficionado and a passionate writer with over 9 years’ experience in journalism and 5 years experience in the hospitality sector. Her passion for the performance arts and writing, started early. At 10 years old she was praised for her solo performance of the Beatles song “All My Love” accompanied by a guitarist, and was approached by a French talent scout during her school play. However, her love for writing was stronger. Fresh out of school, she became a freelance journalist for Noun Magazine and was awarded the Silver Award Cup for Outstanding Poetry, by The International Library of Poetry (Washington DC). She studied Business Management and earned a Masters degree from Saint Joseph University (USJ), her thesis was published in the Proche-Orient, Études en Management book. She then pursued a career in the hospitality industry but didn’t give up writing, that is why she launched the Four Points by Sheraton Le Verdun Newsletter. Her love for the industry and journalism led her to Hospitality Services - the organizers of the HORECA trade show in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan, as well as Salon Du Chocolat, Beirut Cooking Festival, Whisky Live and other regional shows. She is currently the Publications Executive of Hospitality News Middle East, Taste & Flavors and Lebanon Traveler. It is with ultimate devotion for her magazines that she demonstrates her hospitality savoir-faire.

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