October 2019: In 2002, Bridgette Ngono was one of the first faces that guests would see at the newly opened Protea Hotel by Marriott Bloemfontein, when she took up a post as a receptionist. Today, Ngono is the face behind the operations at the Protea Hotel by Marriott Karridene Beach, where she was appointed as general manager this year.

Ngono leads a team of 81 associates, and her responsibilities range from the overall management of the property, to financial, marketing and operational planning.

Ngono has always been fascinated by the diverse cultures of the world.

Growing up in Thaba Nchu in the Free State, Ngono had a conservative upbringing under strict grandparents.

“I was not very adventurous as a child,” she recalls. “But this changed as I grew older. Growing up in a small town made me curious about the world out there and I wanted to explore beyond what I knew.”

This curiosity to meet new people and find new experiences has since burgeoned into a passion for the hospitality industry.

“The curiosity of finding what else is out there for me drove my passion for this industry,” she says. “I always wanted to know what the world offers other than what I knew. And I soon realised that I could discover the world while working in beautiful spaces.”

A beautiful space is indeed her daily workplace, based at the South Coast property.

Ngono’s career in hospitality began when she joined the team that opened the Protea Hotel by Marriott Bloemfontein, but she has gathered a range of experiences since. Between 2005 and 2007, she explored opportunities within the travel industry, studied further and travelled internationally.

But she was drawn back to the brand that held her hospitality roots, and in 2009 took up a position as Reservations Manager at Protea Hotel by Marriott Willow Lake. She worked her way through the positions of Rooms Division Manager at Protea Hotel by Marriott Bloemfontein and Protea Hotel by Marriott OR Tambo. In July 2019, she was appointed as General Manager of an 81-room establishment.

But it is not just curiosity that drives Ngono’s passion for her work; working with a dynamic team pushes her to offer the best guest experience possible.

“Inspiring my team and seeing them being excited about giving excellent service, is what I love most about my work. The passion I see when the team translates their different talents into their work keeps me motivated, and I love the pride I see on their faces when they achieve their goals,” she says.

From a young age, she understood the importance of achieving goals, thanks to her aunt who put herself through university and before taking up a position in the financial industry.

“My aunt was an important role model in my life; she inspired me to reach for my goals and taught me that I’m better than what I might think,” Ngono recalls.

It is this self-belief that Ngono brings to her current role.

“I constantly advocate for other female leaders in hospitality. The industry is starting to transform in South Africa and is becoming broader and more welcoming to women than we ever thought. There are many exciting career avenues waiting to be explored by women,” Ngono says.

“As the world’s largest hospitality group, Marriott International’s strength lies in our ability to support job creation and skills development by creating equal employment opportunities in the more than 7000 properties we have around the world,” says Anjali Mehra, Marriott International’s Senior Director of Communications middle East and Africa.

“In South Africa, where travel and tourism play such an important role in the economy, we are focused on addressing the historical gender imbalance in the workplace, especially when it comes to achieving a higher representation of women in senior management positions.”