Saima Ebrahim – practising the three Ps of the hospitality industry

by Tia

Woodstock resident Saima Ebrahim (37) is proof that hard and passion for a profession pay off.

At the tender age of 16, and while still at school, she started working as a waitress at coffee shop in the V&A Waterfront. Twenty one years later she is a highly respected lecturer at The IIE School of Hospitality & Service Management’s (HSM) Cape Town campus.

“I still recall how anxious I was on my first day of training, taking so many notes and asking the manager if I could take the menu home to review the menu selections.”

Saima Ebrahim

Ebrahim worked at the coffee shop for five years with no idea as to what career she wanted to pursue after matric.

She picks up the story. “I graduated from high school at the age of 17 and decided to take a gap year to decide what I wanted to do career-wise. It was while working at the coffee shop that an idea started to form in my head. The manager and a few of the other waiters and I formed a dining out club and began going to upmarket hotels for lunch or even just a cup of coffee. I started to get an idea of what hospitality was all about and decided it was something that really interested me.

“I enrolled for a Diploma in Hospitality Management at a hotel school. During my first year, one of my assignments was to do a two-week work experience and was fortunate enough to find the Hippo Boutique, a small hotel in Kloof Street. Elsabe De Villiers, the hotel manager, gave me permission to complete my two weeks of work integrated learning and I was trained on how to use the Property Management System as I shadowed the receptionist. After the fortnight was up, the hotel management offered me a part-time weekend job on a Saturday afternoon.

“This was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had because I got to talk to guests and help them with any special requests.”

Another highlight for Ebrahim was being selected, along with two other students, to participate in an Independence Day celebration in Saudi Arabia.

“The South African Consulate General gave us an overview of the independence day celebrations, including who would be present and what we needed to do. It was an incredible opportunity for me to travel to another country and present South African cuisine.”

Ebrahim completed her work-integrated learning at various hotels and made the decision to continue her education and earn her degree in hospitality management.

“I was hired as a chef instructor while I was finishing my degree. Teaching students how to cook for various occasions was my job, and it was at this point that I realised my passion lay in teaching, training and evaluating students.

“I made the decision to finish my master’s in hospitality and tourism management after receiving my degree and, to further my teaching career, I also made the decision to finish the trainer and assessor course I was doing.”

Ebrahim then received a job offer to teach guest relations and event management at a Saudi Arabian vocational college.

“It was the most incredible experience I have ever had working in Saudi Arabia, where I met the loveliest people who I now consider family. Throughout my teaching career, I have never forgotten my amazing students, even the difficult ones, encouraging them and reminding them that their ultimate objective was to complete the course. It was, and still is, so rewarding for me to see my students graduate.

Ebrahim made the decision to return home after five years in Saudi Arabia and it was not long before she was snapped up by The IIE HSM to fulfil a role as a lecturer at its Cape Town campus.

She answered a few questions:

What content is covered in your course and what advice do you give students?

In one of my modules there is a chapter on planning, organising and decision making. Students can relate to this chapter in a sense that they need to plan for their future to achieve their goals or dreams. They also need to be organised and make decisions that will impact their future. Some of the content I teach is about goals and I always tell students to create short term and long-term goals for themselves. I tell them that without goals they won’t know where they are going; goals are the road map to their success. Even when times get tough and they want to give up, stay positive and motivated. Hard work always pays off.

What advice do you have for anyone wanting a career in the hospitality industry?

One of the best choices a person can make is to study hospitality management. The hospitality industry is so broad and can present graduates with job opportunities, both domestically and internationally. A hospitality qualification is not limited to working in a hotel, you can be employed to work on an airline, cruise liner, or even a super yacht. A career in the hospitality industry can be extremely rewarding, especially if you’re a people person. You will interact with guests regularly and enjoy the fulfilment of knowing you’ve helped to brighten their day with your service. The hospitality industry is an industry that can open many doors for you if you work hard, show commitment and dedication, and stay positive.

The hospitality industry is a service industry, and you will need to anticipate guest needs and customer satisfaction is key. You will meet guests from all around the world and treat every guest special and create an experience where the guest will always remember you. Seek out professional development opportunities, listen to hospitality industry podcasts, and read hospitality magazines to keep up with trends.

What do you think are the key qualifications that hotels are looking for in the staff they hire today?

Managers at hotels frequently search for applicants that are approachable, empathetic, and enthusiastic. You will be a highly valued candidate for work in the hospitality industry if you have dedication, excellent people skills, exceptional diligence, leadership and teamwork abilities and a positive attitude.

What makes for good service?

Good service is creating an everlasting memory for a guest. Good service means that you put yourself into the customer shoes, understand what the customer wants and strive to satisfy their needs. The most important aspect in providing excellent customer service is to be friendly and professional. Greet customers with a smile and always be courteous.

What are the key attributes of a good hospitalian?

Anticipate customer needs and be professional when interacting with customers. Be enthusiastic when serving people. Key attributes of a good hospitalian are excellent communication skills, attention to detail, leadership, multitask, adaptability and emotional intelligence.

How do you inspire your students?

I always tell them to believe in themselves because they can achieve anything in life; that they are their own brands (image) and to make sure that when they present themselves, they should always be professional and friendly. And to create a first impression that people will always remember them by.

What do you believe are the latest hospitality trends?

Business combined with leisure travel, aka “bleisure travel;” sustainable travel; contactless check-in and mobile-friendly hotel experiences

Finally, can you sum up the hospitality industry in a sentence or two?

The hospitality industry is made up of three Ps which is People, Passion, and Performance. People stands for staff having a positive attitude and always striving to do their best. Passion stands for loving what you do to be truly successful; Performance stands for the need to create an everlasting memory for the guest and work well with other employees.

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