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Women in Hospitality – meet GM Tarryn Burrows

General Manager at BON Hotel 64 on Gordon

With her die-hard attitude, positive outlook, a great sense of humour and an innate sincerity, Tarryn Burrows brings a personal and professional approach to her work. She hails from Johannesburg where she completed her schooling before embarking on her studies in Hotel Management, Travel & Tourism and Business Management. In an industry that demands a thick skin, she still adds that soft touch to her interactions with guests and staff and believes in teamwork to ‘get it done’!

In celebration of Women’s month, we asked Tarryn Burrows, General Manager at BON Hotel 64 on Gordon about women in hospitality and what special something women bring to the table.

1. Do you think the hotel industry is slow on pushing female leaders through the ranks to management positions?

I don’t think the industry is slow to push them, I don’t think women push themselves as much as they should for key positions, especially in the bigger properties. Women who work at smaller properties are all about the home-away-from-home feel, offering guests more personal attention. I like to make my guests feel ‘at home’ – I am the kind of GM that allows fluffy slippers in the restaurant for breakfast, as we are all like family. I make a point of getting to know my regular guests – where they come from, why they are visiting etc. One family in particular springs to mind who come every year for a holiday – their daughter loves to colour in using glitter pens so we ensure that there is a book and glitter pens on her pillow on check in – every morning for breakfast I get this beautiful drawing which I put on my office wall.

2. Do you feel that being a woman gives you an upper edge in the hospitality sector?

In this industry, no matter what gender you are, I feel you need to have an edge and a thick skin. I love the industry – no two days are the same, and never boring! At the end of each day, I regale my mom with titbits from my day – she loves to hear the stories as each day yields something different; some good, some bad and some really funny.

3. What do women bring to the table that gives them an advantage?

Personal attention.

4. Do you feel that you had to prove yourself in a traditionally male-dominated work-space?

Yes, even though I am the “boss” I still have guests who want to meet the “boss-boss” as they expect it to be a male – when I then say my title (though not one for titles; I was born with a name and that is how I want to be known) the guests change their attitude – and realise that the ‘boss-boss’ is actually a ‘chick’!

5. What do you identify in other female leaders that resonate with you?

Strength, attitude to life! I am inspired by strong females, the ones who won’t back down because they are female, the ones who will fight for what they deserve with no preference given because of their gender.

6. Do you feel that there is a sense of equality in your position as GM? If you had to compare with male managers, are females paid equally, treated equally, etc.?

This is a tough one to answer, …. Honestly speaking yes, I feel women are paid less, even in this day and age but like I tell my kids, ‘Everyone has 2 arms, 2 legs, 10 fingers and 10 toes,’ and no matter if you are pink, purple or green with spots, we are all human and all deserve to be treated fairly and equally.

7. Would you say that the hotel industry is especially demanding on women (due to family commitments etc.) or would you agree that it allows more flexi-time management than a traditional 8-5 career?

For me, it is demanding but life is all about balance. I am a single mom of 2 little rug rats whom I love dearly and I will make a point of always being there for them. I trust my staff with everything so should I need to run out I can, but always ensuring that my work gets done – I am permanently on my cell phone so I work 24/7 (sometimes whilst cooking/burning dinner). Being in this industry is hard but like I always say, life is all about sacrifices and what you put in is what you get out.

8. Can you identify a real ‘Girl-power’ moment in your career where you were challenged because you were female?

When we had incredibly big storms (floods and everything) which literally hit Durban in 5 minutes! The hotel was flooding, the school next door was flooding – so I gathered all my staff (which happened to be all female) and split them into groups; one group pushed water out of the restaurant, one team went to assist the school and a few others went to push a tree that had fallen over in our road so our “aged” neighbours could get home safely. It was inspiring and uplifting to witness how we all came together and assisted our neighbours during the biggest storm I have seen in Durban in the 7 years I have lived here.

Another time springs to mind when an intoxicated guest from a neighbouring hotel get lost and ended up bathing himself in the fountain at the front of our hotel (which is only roughly 10cm deep) and the only way I could get this incredibly large, inebriated man to move away was to bribe him with cigarettes, until his boss came to collect him and sort him out – I went through 2 boxes of smokes that day!!