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"The hotel trade is less sexist than other industries"

"The hotel trade is less sexist than other industries"

From her native country Cameroon to Burkina Faso, or from Nigeria to Equatorial Guinea, where for the last year she has managed the ibis hotel in the country's economic capital Bata, Solange Bwame has spent more than a decade criss-crossing Africa, contributing her professionalism to the company's teams. A career underpinned by a commitment to excellence.

Was it the hotel trade which gave you your taste for travelling?

I actually came into the hotel trade rather by accident. One of my friends, who ran a jewellery outlet at the ibis in Douala, told me that the hotel was looking for someone to replace the sales manager while she took her maternity leave. I had recently graduated in company management and was working part-time for a communication agency. I applied and got the job. I occupied the position when the Group's senior sales managers visited Cameroon on an assignment. My approach met with approval and that was the start of my great adventure.


Were you keen to see new horizons?

I took up all opportunities which presented themselves. After having handled the hotel's sales activities jointly with the person I replaced, they needed someone for reception. And so I handled this side of things for two years, until they offered me the chance to get involved with the opening of the Sofitel in Ouagadougou, in Burkina Faso. I stayed there until 2008, and held the post of accommodation manager.


What then?

That's when things really started moving for me. I joined the Group's training team in Africa and for two years I provided training in reception and hospitality just about everywhere, in existing hotels and those preparing to open, such as the ibis hotels in Oran, Algiers and Antananarivo, or the Sofitel President in Guinea. In 2010, when I was looking to get back into an operational post, the position of management assistant was vacant at the ibis Malabo, in Equatorial Guinea. I held this post for three years, took a final detour via Nigeria to take on the running of a hotel for the first time, and now a year later here I am back in Guinea, this time in Bata, working as a GM once again.


When you've worked as a trainer and have already been a GM elsewhere, isn't it difficult to manage a team that you haven't selected yourself? 

It requires a great deal of energy and patience. The teams all have their own habits, then I arrive with another management style, high standards, and despite the goodwill and best intentions of the staff concerned, progress can take time. However, looking at it objectively, we've come quite a long way in a year, even if there is still a lot left to do, particularly in terms of improving autonomy.


So it's a full-time job?

That's just the right term! As I live at the hotel, I'm at the helm from dawn to dusk.


How does your high degree of involvement in your work affect your family?

When I left Cameroon, I had to rely on my family to assume the responsibility of educating my two daughters. The youngest was just ten, so it was a big sacrifice, but I don't regret the choice I made. We see one another regularly - I go back to Cameroon for a few days each month - and despite the separation we have remained very close. I'm also proud to say that she has inherited my strength of character and that she is also prepared to fight in order to succeed.


Is it more difficult for a woman than for a man in Africa?

It's more difficult everywhere. But the hotel industry in Africa is less sexist than other sectors, even if a woman always needs to prove that she is better than the stereotypes. The adviser to the owner of Ibis Malabo and Ibis Bata has known me since I worked in Malabo. When I was introduced to the owner, he mentioned that I "worked like a man". The comparison is always there. However, we actually work more than them, because when we leave the office, a second day's work awaits us, with our families. 

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