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Pam Wilby, general manager of Grosvenor House and Le Royal Meridien Beach Resort and Spa, talks to ABTN about the route to becoming the first female general manager in Dubai in 2000, and how the hotel business in the Emirate has developed over the past 10 years
Like many hoteliers, Pam Wilby started in the hotel business because she loved to travel. "After leaving college, I became a nurse. While I enjoyed the training, I also wanted to travel, so I joined the airlines - I chose good old Dan Air. They took me because I was a nurse."
Wilby (pictured) worked for 18 months as cabin crew on European routes. "While I enjoyed it - I got to travel - I knew it wasn't going to be my career."
But with two brothers in the hotel trade, Wilby soon grew curious about the hospitality business. " They used to rave about the hotel they were working in and the people they were working with. They enjoyed it so immensely that I thought maybe I'd like to get into hospitality."
As she was living near Heathrow at the time, Wilby applied to all of the hotels on Heathrow's main hotel strip, the Bath Road.
"I managed to get an interview at the Penta (which is now the renaissance), which hadn't long been open, and convinced them I'd be great as a receptionist.
"So I gave up the airlines and went to work there."
Within two years, Wilby had risen through the ranks to reception manager, and then to front office manager.
Speaking about her career, she said: "I was lucky, some people looked after me and took an interest me, which really helped."
This is something she is eager to pass on to young people entering the hotel business. "I'm quite humble. I'm so loyal and grateful to the people who gave me my break in life. To me that's so important.
"If I see potential in people, I will guide them. Take them to one side, maybe, and say one day you could be this."
She also won a grant to go to Surrey University for management training. "It was practical as well as theory, but it was more about managing businesse, managing yourself, and about leadership."
After being at Penta for four years, Wilby moved across to Forte Hotels' Excelsior (now the Park Inn), and then the Crest (now Holiday Inn).
And after 10 years of working in Heathrow hotels, the Cumberland Hotel in London (also owned by Forte at the time) was Wilby's next port of call, where she was rooms division manager.
"I was at the old Cumberland, not the new Cumberland as it is today. I was entering a big machine, and kept being told that this was one of the most prestigious roles in the company."
The opportunity to move to Dubai came up, to work at a resort hotel. "I went out to the Le Meridien Juemirah beach. I thought I'd stay for two years, but I just got sucked in to a way of life that I thought was fantastic."
While she started as the deputy general manager, Wilby soon became the head figure. "Did I want the job? Not really. I just loved what I was doing."
During the past 10 years as GM, she has seen the hotel become Le Royal Meridien, one of the top Starwood hotels worldwide, as well as the opening of sister hotel Grosvenor House, which Wilby also manages.
But when she first moved to Dubai, this was all on the distant horizon. "The Meridien was in the desert. Everybody thought we were crazy for opening a hotel there. It was in the middle of the desert - there were camels all over the place and wild dogs running around and a two-lane highway, which you took your life in your hands to drive on.
"There was a lot of development. I was fascinated by all these new buildings, this new city that was being built."
And being a GM in Dubai is unique, said Wilby: "You can make anything happen. If one morning we're told we've got a last-minute function for 2000 on the beach, you don't even think about it. You just get on with it. Maybe they need something outrageous - there's always a man who can."
Last year, however, proved a real challenge, said Wilby: "For any business it's been a huge challenge. I think we've all had to change our mindsets in the middle east.
"Some of us, who haven't been in Dubai for so long, have only had the last four years, which have been the glory years.
"But let's be honest with ourselves. In Dubai our rates have been going up by 35% every year, but you could do it because the demand was there. Now, you've had to reduce. It's paid over the years that wew were able to, but now we're back down to reality."
But the hotel has had high occupancy nonetheless. "There is business out there, it's just very price conscious," said Wilby.
For now Wilby is looking forward to the opening of Grosvenor House's second tower, The Residence, in 2011.
The extension will have 107 hotel rooms and suites and 216 apartment suites and will be home to Embassy Dubai, a restaurant on the top floors with 360° panoramic views over Dubai Marina and the Arabian Gulf.