First Seychellois woman heads a Hilton brand resort in Seychelles
For the first time, a Seychellois woman, Doreen Valentin, has been promoted to the post of hotel manager of a DoubleTree by Hilton hotel in Seychelles, the Allamanda Resort & Spa, as of March 1, 2022.
SNA met with Valentin to learn more about her journey to the top of a 4-star hotel and what it means to become manager of a Hilton brand resort in Seychelles.
SNA: Tell us about yourself and how did your career start?
DV: I grew up in the district of Port Glaud where I attended both primary and secondary school. Following this, I went to NYS (National Youth Service) like most kids back then and from there I went to Polytechnic where I did secretarial studies for two years. My first choice was tour guiding as I loved talking and tourists, and the others were teaching and nursing.
I always wanted to get a job fast so that I could help my parents as we were a poor family. My parents had eight children – four girls and four boys – and I was the third child. Seeing my parents struggle a lot pushed me to find ways to help them.
While doing secretarial studies, I learned a lot about administrative work. Once I completed my course, I got employed as a secretary for the Ministry of Education at the secretarial studies section of Polytechnic. I worked there for about a year and then moved to the Ministry of Employment which was still located at Unity House at the time. I was a secretary in the manpower planning section.
SNA: How did you enter the tourism industry and what were your aspirations at the time?
DV: The idea of working in a hotel was always there and I was constantly looking for available vacancies. I applied for a secretary position in the human resources department at the Le Meridien Barbarons and that is when I entered the tourism industry.
At the time I was about 22 years old. Not at any given point did I think I would be where I am today. On the first day that I started working for Le Meridien Barbarons, I left at 9 pm. Leaving work late has never been a problem for me. Just a month into the job, my superior went on leave, leaving me behind to take care of things for him. He sort of dropped me in deep waters, but I made it through. Throughout my career, I kept the same spirit.
SNA: When did you join the Hilton hotel chain and which positions did you hold?
DV: I began working with Hilton on October 6, 2006 – it is one of the dates that I will not forget. I started as a training coordinator after leaving my position as a human resources manager at the Coco de Mer Hotel on Praslin. I really wanted to develop my skills in training and I left my higher paying job to join Hilton, a chain that has invested a lot in me in terms of training.
In 2010, I moved to Namibia for two years with my then general manager who was going to open a hotel in Windhoek. He wanted me to train his staff there. My husband joined me as it was a family package. The time I spent there, doing certain things for the first time, allowed me to see things in a different light and brought valuable experiences.
From Namibia, I was sent to Hilton Abu Dhabi, where I did a year and a half, again in HR and training. It was a really nice experience and I wouldn’t have come back to Seychelles if not for some personal issues. When I got back to Seychelles, I became the cluster training manager for all the three Hilton hotels in Seychelles at the time – Labriz, Northolme and Allamanda. I did this all alone with the help of secretaries. Hilton trained me as one of two master trainers in Africa, and because of this, I get to travel a lot which I really enjoy.
In 2014, I did human resources for Northolme and Allamanda until the end of March 2017, after which I got promoted to resort manager for Doubletree by Hilton Seychelles Allamanda Resort and Spa. When Hilton was looking for a person to fill the post, I was still the HR and everyone who applied had something missing, and I asked my GM if I could do the job, and after some consideration, I got the job.
The surprise came at the end of February of this year when the vice president in charge of all Hilton chains in Africa told me that he was promoting me as hotel manager. It was a real surprise as I wasn’t expecting it. For a second, I doubted myself but said yes. The main difference between a resort and hotel manager is that I am fully accountable for the hotel, though I have an area country manager who proves me the support that I need.
President Wavel Ramkalawan personally congratulated Doreen Valentin on her new promotion to hotel manager at DoubleTree by Hilton Seychelles – Allamanda Resort and Spa. (Seychelles Nation) Photo License: CC-BY
SNA: What does it mean to become the first female Seychellois to be promoted to the position of hotel manager of a big chain like Hilton?
DV: I didn’t focus on becoming the first Seychellois woman to hold such a position. I focused on taking all the available opportunities that came my way, allowing me to do better. I am happy as a Seychellois and I just hope that other fellow citizens would take these international challenges.
I know it is not easy but if you have developed a career with them as I have over the past 15 years, you get noticed. Allamanda is a four-star hotel whereas the other two Hilton hotels in Seychelles are five-star, and I manage 68 staff and 30 rooms. I have been in this position for a little over a month now, and I must say that there are challenges, but it is a fun ride as I am still learning. As long as you have the willingness to learn new things, everything becomes easier. I now have to develop my skills in finance and commerce.
SNA: What advice do you have for the youth aspiring to manage a hotel in Seychelles?
DV: There are other Seychellois who are on the right path. The first thing I will say is that you will be discouraged along the way, but don’t give up. Moving to another hotel means that the new workplace won’t really know you and you will be sliding backwards along your career path.
Hold on to your job and by persevering during difficult times, your superiors notice you. They will see that you are not here for the title or just the salary but for a career. Learn as much as possible from your superior so that when they move on, you can take their place.
SNA: Many Seychellois are discouraged when foreigners are employed in high-level positions of international hotel chains in Seychelles. Why do you think these large chains recruit more foreigners instead of Seychellois?
DV: I do not know what happens in all the hotels, but I think that a survey should be carried out by the employment ministry or that of tourism to see what causes this.
When I look at my company, Hilton provides us with training at all levels. I for one made sure that I took all the opportunities I got, but I see fellow Seychellois who do not do the same, and I think this is a barrier.
Some people allow their social problems or challenges to become a barrier in their careers. Many might say that it was easier for me as I do not have children. When you want something, no matter the circumstances, you find a way to achieve it.
Foreigners who come to Seychelles leave their families behind and it is a struggle for them too, but they want to progress and, as such, make the sacrifice. Some Seychellois are comfortable and feel stable in the position they are in but however complain when a foreigner fills a post that might have become theirs.
Valentin manages a four-star hotel with 68 staff and 30 rooms. (Doreen Valentin) Photo License: All Rights Reserved
SNA: Listening to you, I have the feeling that you would love to see your fellow Seychellois progress higher along their career path. Are you going to be mentoring anyone?
DV: I won’t be opening any association, but at the Allamanda, I do a lot of it. I get students from STA (Seychelles Tourism Academy) and Shannon College and work closely with the department of tourism and employment. I am already automatically mentoring a young lady from Shannon College.
An association dealing with development in Seychelles recently approached me and I have told them that I am ready to help as a member. Wherever I can make a difference in a person’s life I will. I mentor for Hilton online too. In my last position, I myself was being mentored while I mentored someone else and this allows you to gather more skills.
SNA: How do you balance your private and professional life?
DV: When I was still with my ex-husband, my work was never a problem. He met me in tourism as he worked in the field as well. We spoke the same language and we never argued over me coming home late from work. We managed our time properly. When we had to work, we worked hard, but when the hotel was less busy, we took our annual leaves and spent time together. It wasn’t a problem for us.
Now that I am alone, I work but make sure I make time for my family and most importantly for myself. I love working in my garden as it is therapy for me. I get satisfaction in cleaning, and at times I work in the hotel garden with my staff. I love singing and I have released a gospel song that is played on SBC. I also sing in my church choir. I love travelling even if I am claustrophobic and don’t really like planes.
SNA: How do you see your future unfolding?
DV: To be honest at the moment I am not saying I am eyeing to become a general manager. I am still developing my skills. There are many opportunities that will present themselves in Seychelles in the near future. There is Canopy [hotel] that will be opening in 2024 at Anse a La Mouche that will be managed by Hilton.
There will also be another hotel opening on Ile Platte soon, as well as an airport hotel. There are many opportunities in Seychelles and even more overseas. Even more, as Hilton has many different hotel categories, with many new hotels under the brand opening all over the world so the opportunities are endless. We will see what the future holds.