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Martina Bjorkenor, Managing Director of The Hospitality Network

Martina Bjorkenor is the Managing Director of UAE-based The Hospitality Network. Martina talks to The Industry Leaders about arriving in the Middle East with a one-way ticket and a "why not" attitude and how she has achieved the goal of connecting leaders in the hospitality industry around the region.

How did you end up sitting where you are today?

Well, that is a great question and brings up many nostalgic memories looking back at my journey. Hospitality has been my passion ever since my Hotel Management Studies in Switzerland and coming to the Middle East (where I have spent the past 14 years), starting with a "why not" attitude, a one-way ticket and a suitcase!

I haven't looked back since and enjoyed the amazing experiences I have had over the years. Working with leading hotel operators and then starting a new chapter in 2014 by launching "The Hospitality Network" as one of the founding partners.

What kind of work does your role involve?

As the Managing Director of The Hospitality Network, I am grateful to have a wonderful, dedicated team. Together with our CEO, Petvin Fernandes, we strive to connect the hospitality industry throughout the Middle East. We give the various stakeholders – including hotel operators, developers, owners, consultants, and suppliers and manufacturers – the opportunity to connect.

Our goal is to support the industry as it grows, as new ideas and innovation are taken up, and to help change the face of upcoming hotels. As part of that work, we organize many events and conferences, for industry leaders, across the region.

What gets you excited about your industry?

What excites me most about the hotel industry is that I never cease to learn and that the industry never ceases to evolve and adapt. As the needs and wants of travellers evolve over the years, so the industry is adapting. Whether through technology or other, more hands-on initiatives that keep it fresh and engaging for its guests.

What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?

I feel blessed to have received a lot of good and very generous advice throughout this journey. But perhaps what has stuck with me most is the advice to "tackle one problem at a time. Problems are meant to be solved." Keeping that perhaps self-evident but positive way of looking at things in mind has given me a more long-term perspective. That perspective has been invaluable.

What, or who inspires you?

I find inspiration all around me. Starting with the wonder and enthusiasm for the natural world that surrounds my children, to the great example that my parents set for me, to the hospitality community around us. I'm also inspired by the industry leaders and change-makers who are generous with their time and insights in helping the entire industry grow and flourish.

How do you keep up to speed with what's happening in your industry?

The hotel industry is fast-growing and ever-changing - both things I find so fascinating. To keep up to speed, it is imperative to read industry-relevant news, engage with thought leaders, attend conferences and events, and regularly connect with your network to brainstorm – sharing insights and initiatives. The senior industry speakers we have had the privilege to welcome to our events have also provided many of those insights as they spoke of innovation and future development.

What was the most challenging project or situation you've overcome?

Launching "The Hospitality Network" with the ambitious goal of truly connecting the industry leaders across the Middle East – was the most challenging task I had ever undertaken. It has been a collaborative team effort, with a lot of hard work and even more laughs. The satisfaction we all feel now that we have not only reached that goal but also surpassed it. I find that genuinely heart-warming.

You finish work today and step outside the office to find a lottery ticket that ends up winning $10 million. What would you do?

First, I would say a little prayer of thanks and then launch into creating a bucket list of how I can have a positive impact on the people around me and then further afield. Especially getting involved hands-on with key environmental initiatives.

How do you switch off after a day at work?

Many ways. Sitting down to dinner with my family helps me leave the workday behind as we dive into everyone's experiences that day. I often like to get on my bicycle and push myself to cycle as far as my stamina takes me; it's a great stress reliever.

If you had one wish for the future of your industry, what would it be?

I have so many wishes for our industry. Still, if I have to pick only one, it is to see many environmentally sustainable initiatives take hold and influence the industry's future direction.

What book or podcast should everyone know about?

One book that I would highly recommend is Madeline Albright's memoir "Madame Secretary" as she is one of many people I admire.

How should people connect with you?

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