What it takes to Win as a Woman in the World of Hospitality

What it takes to Win as a Woman in the World of Hospitality
Rioma Cominelli, Managing Director of First Loyalty Plus

Insights into the professional and personal life of a woman at the top of her game.

Women in Hospitality has reported that while women make up over half the workforce in the hospitality sector, only 11% of leadership positions are held by females. The odds of a woman reaching a leadership position are one in eight.

So, what does it take for a woman to be a CEO, Director or Manager in this demanding industry? To commemorate Women’s Month, Rioma Cominelli, Managing Director of First Loyalty Plus, shares some of her journey, key insights and gives us a glimpse into her life as a successful woman in the local leisure industry.

1. When did you start working in Hospitality?

I started working in tourism in 1983 when I joined the Trafalgar Group. Within a couple of years, I headed up several of the company’s divisions including its 11 holiday properties which I was responsible for selling 20 years later. I worked for Trafalgar for 25 years and built it’s holiday rental company Optima Holidays, which today still rents around 300 000 room nights per annum, mostly in Africa.

2. What is your current role?

I am a Director at First Group and Managing Director of First Loyalty Plus. I’ve built the latter and I can honestly say that it’s South Africa’s best all round rewards programme. We offer discounts on an incredible variety of lifestyle benefits including up to 50% off on hotels and resorts around the world, R120 back on meals, two-for-one coffee and 50% savings on movies. And that’s just the start! It’s been really rewarding to develop First Loyalty Plus as it’s given me the ability to give every South African the opportunity to enhance their lifestyles, and when I see the evidence of fulfilment by our members, it makes all the work worthwhile.

3. What drives you in business?

Early on in my career, I fell in love with creating experiences that made customers happy, that shifted their day’s from mediocre to something special. This still defines everything I do so we work on developing interactions that evoke good emotions and make for happy memories – if each interaction our customers have with us is positive, they will be a customer for life.

4. What are you passionate about?

The spiritual and professional development of people, whether it’s the people who report to me or that I meet. I simply enjoy developing their knowledge, experience, and ideas. I work on listening to understand, not to respond and I approach every interaction by giving the other person the freedom and responsibility to develop their ideas, offering appropriate guidance if it’s requested.

5. What are the most critical issues faced by women in the leisure industry?

Women have been well received in hospitality, but they are generally paid less. The best way to deal with this is not to challenge the status quo, but to excel and exceed performance expectations. Hard work pays off and will generally always result in the equalisation of income.

6. What is one thing that most people don’t know about you?

I have a driving passion for helping others face their challenges in a way that will ultimately enable them to thrive. I also help the less fortunate and I’m an active supporter of the Hillcrest Aids Centre.

7. How do you relax?

Family is very important, and I always make time to spend with my three children and two step sons. They now have families of their own and I am incredibly blessed to have seven wonderful grandchildren, who make me laugh and keep me young. I also try to get away regularly to our farm in Bushmans Nek where I spend my time reading, horse riding and hiking.

8. What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received?

Without a doubt, it’s when people tell me that I’ve changed their lives for the better.

The leisure sector is a demanding industry that takes passion and motivation at each level of the organisation. Rioma’s special combination of perspective, energy, grit and hands-on team work exemplifies why she continues to enjoy such a successful career in the sector.