She’s a clear proof that behind every successful woman; there is unique vision that makes her stand out from the crowd, passion for the job that keeps her going no matter what, and understanding folks who support her quest to reach her dreams. It’s Soha El Torgoman; the Elective Member of the Egyptian Hotel Association who is now General Manager of Ramses Hilton & Hilton Cairo World Trade Center Residence, letting us in her office and her heart; expressing with passion her deep connection to the renowned hotel, her plans to make it reach its fullest potential and her eternal bond with family and horses!
Mrs. Soha, you join Ramses Hilton with 35+ years of experience in the hospitality industry, tell us more about your career path.
I joined Hilton in 1981 where I started in Ramses Hilton’s Reception Section as a Room Clerk. I had no experience at the time, so that was my first lesson in hospitality. I stayed in Front Office till late 80s. After 1987, I held various managerial positions as Assistant Office Manager and Director of Business Development. In 1998 I was offered the General Manager position at Hilton Ain El Sokhna. And in 2002 I was appointed General Manager of Hilton Hurghada Resort. 14 years after; it was announced, my appointment as Cluster GM for Ramses Hilton & Hilton Cairo World Trade Center Residence.
How does it feel to return to the hotel in which you started your career as a General Manager?
I have mixed up feelings. I used to get into this office to present a case or discuss proposals with the General Manager; so for the first two days, I used the meeting table as my desk. I have to admit that I am lucky, as many of my colleagues are still working here in the same building. It gives me unfailing support, as I don’t feel as a stranger. I still belong to this team that I worked with form the very beginning!
What are the new initiatives the hotel is working on to withstand the current downturn in tourism?
We are working on a new master plan. And after 35 years, finally we are initiating a renovation process for Ramses Hilton. The plan is to start next month with the 3 upper floors including Windows on the World’s Restaurant. Also we will be having a new Executive Launch. It’s scheduled to have the first phase of renovation complete in 6 months. Then we will start working on the lobby. Meanwhile, we are going to introduce completely new outlets.
Do you think Down Town hotels still preserve its potential after the numerous luxurious hotels opening in new cities; i.e. New Cairo?
Every single destination within Egypt has its individuality and uniqueness. The River Nile gives a special taste to hotels of Down Town. So whoever loves the Nile and the unique view would always have this area as their number one choice. Also I read about a governmental initiative to upgrade the Corniche area. It was featured in newspapers that it will produce alternative roads to avoid traffic congestion and to create vast green spaces by moving some governmental buildings here. Implementation of this plan will certainly have great impact on tourism in Down Town and will be a big addition to the center of Cairo which has its very own charm; just like the pyramids!
What does it take for a woman to succeed in a career dominated by men?
Nowadays, there are lots of women working in hospitality and tourism; but it’s another challenge to become GM. When I started my career off, I remember that I was always singled out. It was like everyone was checking after me, judging me and testing me. Today, it is no longer that big of a challenge. There are several improvements, and females are now appointed as General Managers; regardless the fact that they are still a few. Although this is a very demanding job, I consider it more suitable for women than men. I see that a hotel is like a big house, but on a larger scale. It has rooms, kitchen and bathroom that need a woman’s insight, ability to multitask and good eye for details. It’s women’s area of expertise to be in charge of the house, follow up on every little detail and make sure that guests are hospitalized and well treated. I believe women have their own touch in hospitality and have a keen eye for detail much more than men- with all respect to men.
Is it still uncommon for a woman to be in charge of a luxury hotel here in Egypt?
As I told you lately there is big improvement; community is starting to accept and get used to women in leading positions. I think character also counts much. I have that masculine character since my early age. I didn’t go through an easy life; I had to fight to work and build my career. I remember when my dad passed away I had to step up and help my mother sustain the family. I had to be strong and thick-skinned, and I think that taught me to be able to overcome any obstacles; be it in career or life in general.
I have to admit that the circumstances helped me. I was lucky at first couple of years around 1998, when we were preparing to open Hilton Ain El Sokhna. My son wasn’t living here in Egypt, and even my husband used to travel a lot. I always used to say that I didn’t leave anyone behind me; I was left behind (she laughs) but actually that helped me alot. In fact when I was offered the post, I discussed it with my family first; before giving my reply. I remember I told them that even if I am super qualified, without their support I won’t be able to make it. I put them in picture and let them be aware of the new post’s requirements. It would demand change in my lifestyle which is theirs as well. And I am glad now that my husband and my son are proud of me, and I do respect them very much as well.
Did you always want to work in the hotel industry?
I can’t tell you I could work in a career other than hospitality. I was raised in a home where my dad was working in travel industry. Even my siblings worked in relevant careers. When I left hospitality for 2 years and worked for a travel company, I didn’t find myself. I remember my husband used to tell me at the time, “You are like a fish swimming out of water!”
What steps does the industry need now to boast tourism in the country?
I will answer this question putting on my other hat (She hands me her business card as an Elective Member of Egyptian Hotel Association, from 2015 to 2019) Actually it’s not only the hotels that need to be considered but the whole tourism industry needs to be a priority to the country’s decision makers. Egypt as a touristic destination deserves much more than what we are doing so far. Egypt wasn’t like that 40 or 50 years ago. Now in comparison to other countries, we are way below bar. We need to educate all decision makers about the meaning and value of tourism.
Tourism is the economy of any country. We need to have a plan for minimum 25 years and this plan has to be respected by whoever is in charge. The plan should include all places in the country. Egypt has many destinations that are still virgin, spots that you can’t find any other place in the world.
Also we need to create initiatives and come up with new ideas for the tourism sector. This shouldn’t be limited to only hotels; we need new enterprises, facilities, festivals and carnivals to be expanded and publicized worldwide.
Raising public awareness is also so important through education, at the early ages. People have to be aware of their culture and how to deal with their guests and welcome them. If you go to the Far East, every single person in the street is welcoming you in a proper decent way. The way they are representing themselves is a belief that “I am promoting my country at the same time”. Tourism definition is embedded in their minds.
Egyptians are known for their kindness and cheerfulness, that’s our identity which we have to preserve. But it’s quite different now. Unfortunately, what happened is that competition is getting tough and demand is much less than supply, so prices went down taking quality down as well.
The point is that tourism industry is based on many factors, not only destinations. Tourism needs to be a national project here in Egypt; it is an industry that could drive growth in many other industries.
Apart from your position as a GM and your membership in the Egyptian Hotel Association, what is Soha El Torgoman’s ultimate passion ?
Horses! You see my office is full of photos of horses, not to mention the figurines (she says joyfully). Horses have always been my passion. In the days before cellphones; when my family didn’t find me at office or home, they knew they would find me at the stable, with my horses. Actually, I can’t live if I don’t have a horse; they are the most loyal creatures in the world. They are very telepathic as well. I remember when I was working at Hurghada and couldn’t visit for a long time, I used to ask my husband to put the mobile phone on my horse’s ear, and she always recognized my voice.
When I was a little kid, my coach used to tell me that he always knew that I was coming -minutes before I showed up- because of the excitement my hose showed as if it sensed me there. Now I am a horse breeder; I inherited that from my father, and my ultimate joy is spending time -especially on Fridays- with my beloved horses.
By Ghada Sakr