In this series of Belizean Women in Lead, we sit down with Bedran Sisters, Mrs. Mariam Roberson and Mrs. Paulita Figueroa, from San Ignacio Resort Hotel.
Here’s our Interview with Mariam & Paulita!
As women in the lead and through decades of hard work, the Bedran sisters are powerhouses in Belize’s tourism. At the helm of the San Ignacio Resort Hotel, Mariam and Paulita have built on the family legacy, establishing incomparable standards in service.
Did you always want to work in hospitality and tourism? How did you get to where you are today?
Mariam: Truthfully, not really. When the hotel first opened, I was in Nursing School but interestingly I gave a speech at the opening honoring [my] Mom and Dad, so perhaps something was leading me that way. I guess I had no idea that one day, I would be working at San Ignacio Resort Hotel and eventually, become a hotel manager. I worked as a nurse in Belize for less than a year when Dad asked me to help in the kitchen, and that is where I started my career in tourism.
In 1980, I started helping in the kitchen, part-time, and then by 1983, I became full-time: creating a new Menu and running the restaurant. In 1986, I assumed management along with Dad of course. Then in 1994 when ownership changed to the four sisters, I became the Managing Director.
Paulita: Through hard work. I was home from college with an accounting degree so I was put in my Dad’s office in the hotel building but not into the hotel work. Rather, placed into his construction company office; I produced TD4 for 65 men in 3 days and would hand it out at the front desk. On Holy Saturday in 1987, the restaurant at the hotel got busy and I jumped in. That long weekend, someone did not show up for work and that’s how I got my first waitress job at the hotel. Thereafter, I helped in the storerooms, produced inventory sheets and controls, and started organizing the accounting office. We had a system but it was not enforced and I was the new little policeman!
That is what I had to teach to SIRH. I feel like I had the opportunity to learn every department of the hotel and had the energy to excel in them, trying to prove my worth. It helped me tremendously.
– Paulita Bedran
My Dad began training me and my confidence grew; he insisted that I get as much training as I could and at the time, the Belize Tourism Industry Association offered so much, so I did a good amount of courses all over Central America for very little money. The longest was a three-month course in housekeeping in the U.S.A.’s Napa Valley, where I learned how to clean rooms from scratch while being exposed to the food industry. This was not part of the course but the three Belizeans quickly became friends with the food and beverage manager from the hotel we were staying at! We simply visited so many restaurants and wineries at the back and front of the house. I really got a feel for what we needed; our clients’ needs were not a priority at that time, and I knew that had to change.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
M: Growing up in a family where hospitality and entertaining was always a big part of our lives, besides working as a family, I felt very comfortable and enjoyed working in an industry where what we were taught at home then became a big part of my job. I was also working with my Dad and my sisters helping to build his last business venture as he retired and it became my goal to see his dream fulfilled. Truly, I have loved and enjoyed seeing the growth and changes that we have made to SIRH.
P: Meeting people, yes, but really mentoring people. I do feel like it is harder for women to be in this industry—with the long hours, weekends and holidays—but I know the financial and personal growth that it gives us so I encourage women to keep at it. Try to find that crazy balance that feels unattainable at times; with dedication, it can be achieved.
What do you find to be the most challenging part of a woman in your industry?
M: I’ve been asked this so many times and I honestly did not find working as a woman in our industry challenging. Getting my Dad to agree to his daughters to work was a bit of a challenge, but he wanted to teach us business and was always more worried about his daughters’ business futures than our brothers. And so, he ensured that we learned alongside him. My biggest challenge was that I had to learn the industry while being on the job which was a long education, but enjoyable as long as you set a plan you believe in and are not afraid to invest wisely of course.
P: Keeping up with the high demands of your time in this industry—365 days a year with 24/7 service. I think women are overachievers, so when we go home, our minds are still trying to fill in all the blanks at work. I have had to learn to mentally check-out at the door and become the Mother and Partner needed at home. When in reality, work is so demanding and fun I still want to be there but Home is also where I want to be and am needed almost in the same capacity, providing food and service to others.
How do you choose to challenge this?
M: As a woman and part of a big family taught to work from early, I believe knowing who I was and where I came from was what was needed for any challenge. I learned from Dad to always ask and learn. I learned a lot from the men and especially the women in tourism then and now who were and continue to be leaders in tourism. I was fortunate to work for a family business owned by women and run by women so I truly believe that was a big advantage.
P: Women are inspiringly maternal, so all we have to do is make up our minds to achieve something and I guess that I personally am always trying to prove that I can do anything I put my mind to. Most of the time I only have to prove it to myself but growing up with 3 older brothers I felt like I have to prove it to the world.
What advice would you share with women who are at the start of their careers and aspire to reach a senior position?
M: My advice would be to know who you are and where you come from, Believe in yourself and use every available opportunity to learn. After all, knowing every aspect of a business and being able to work with and build strong teams makes you a leader, not a boss. I don’t advise getting caught up in feeling as if—as a woman—you have a disadvantage because you don’t. Today especially, being a woman in a Senior role is an advantage; no one multitasks better than a mother.
P: Please know your business: you have to know the how the why and the what. For every aspect of your business, and what every department entails. That way, if you are ever questioned or need to fill in, you know what to do. I like to know what to do in every department so that I know what I am asking [of my staff] to deliver. Then, I know what it feels like to be in their shoes.
And finally, tell us how you manage to achieve a work/life balance? What do you do for fun/ to relax?
M: I worked very long hours for years, but I was able to have a balance because I had a very supportive husband and family. Not to mention, all the women who assisted me in taking care of our children while I worked. Indeed, it took “my village” to make it work. For fun, because I grew up on a Farm and Ranch, being in “the bush” and countryside has been—and will continue to be—where I love to be. Adventures with my husband in logging camps are some of my fondest and most fun memories that to this day, I still enjoy exploring. I especially love to travel, namely with our children and grandchildren, which is a big family tradition for us.
P: In the earlier years I did not sleep much, but I soon learned to delegate and learned to accept others for what they could produce. Admittedly, it took time for me to see the value in doing it a little differently, but I have learned that as long as we achieve the same end result that is required, it is okay. I have an amazing husband that supports my career; he helps me so that I can achieve the balance, whatever that is. It’s not always easy but we work it out. For fun, I relax at home with our children and not have so much company. Funnily, I don’t want to entertain in my own house because I do enough of that at work! We do travel some and I support my husband’s love for sports, watching games and being at all of his rides, runs and games.
This award-winning boutique hotel is situated in the Cayo district at the heart of San Ignacio Town. The family-run business has been serving local and international visitors since 1976. With only 27 rooms situated over the 17-acre estate, guests can take full advantage of all the on-property amenities, like the outdoor swimming pool and tennis court. On-site dining at Running W Restaurant is some of the best in San Ignacio and features meats from the family ranch. There is also a lobby bar for sundowners for casual drinks and dining.
The proud, Belizean and family-owned business will be celebrating its 45th Anniversary this August 14, 2021! San Ignacio Resort Hotel recognizes its accomplishment to have served their town for many years through community endeavors and is proud to be part of the buzzing San Ignacio tourism industry. The resort was founded by Mr. Escandar Bedran and now continues to be managed and operated by his four daughters 45 years later.
About The Belizean Women in Lead Series
Caribbean Culture + Lifestyle’s ‘Belizean Women in Lead Series’ celebrates International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month 2021. The day, marked annually on March 8th, is witnessed worldwide and celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. At CC+L, we are going a step further and dedicating the entire month of March to the women of Belize. The series features some of the industry’s most innovative and successful female leaders in the Belizean hospitality and travel industry. We chat with them about their career path, including their passions and challenges faced. In addition, we share their best tips, tricks and advice to other women in the industry.
We ask you to join us in celebrating the women around us this month and look forward to sharing this series with you. Finally, we encourage you to share any inspirational stories of those women making a change in our community with us.