EVOLVE: Please share brief synopsis of your professional journey?
Sumaira: It was mid-seventies and my father was transferred to Dubai. Dubai was pretty barren in those dayssand and more sand! There was also a lack of good schooling and colleges. I started interning when I was just 16 years old, in a Travel Agency, which happened to be a GSA for PIA. That is where I must have contracted the lifelong bug of tourism! From there on worked with Arabian Adventures or Emirates Airlines for nearly a decade, and thereafter launching MCI Group (largest MICE Conference company in the world) in UAE, Saudi, Qatar, Turkey, India, South Africa & Canada. My newest initiative is a Destination Management & Design Consultancy Discover Tourism & Commerce Management. Our work is built around helping governments or Tourism Ministers & their teams, to help develop FDI to the country through a comprehensive, quantifiable and measurable Tourism Strategy and plan.
EVOLVE: Why Pakistan and why tourism?
Sumaira: Why not Pakistan? We have everything from flora/fauna, culture, food, history and our people! We just have to have a vision and a plan to change the narrative! If Pakistan wants to turn the tide on its economic development its got to embrace tourism. The UNWTO predicts that the next two decades will be of sustained growth for the tourism sector and that international tourist arrivals are set to increase by an average of 43 million a year between 2010 and 2030. By 2030, the number is estimated to reach 1.8 billion. For those countries with a quality tourism offering, the sector has come to represent one of the main sources of income, with economic and employment benefits across a multitude of related industries. I believe the only answer to Pakistans world positioning as a progressive emerging market, is through Tourism. Pakistans time is now!
EVOLVE: What are the challenges and threats to Tourism Industry in Pakistan?
Sumaira: Lack of consistency or lack of political will? In Pakistan, finally we have a Government that recognizes that tourism is a cornerstone of growth. Many think it could be our fastest growing sector over the next decade. We have a PM who has conveyed a real call to action, and sees tourism as a catalyst for Pakistan to improve its FDI. Also he has managed to appoint a very dynamic Minister Tourism Mr. Zulfi Bukhari, who I really believe gets it and is working very hard to change the narrative. We have only just started to apply ourselves insha Allah nothing can stop us. Let not our past define us anymore! Its all about looking forward
EVOLVE: What would you prefer to be known as: Tourism Strategist, Destination Developer or an Artist?
Sumaira: I am an artist first creativity seeps into everything I do! If its not creative its not happening for me! Art is an explosion of creativity that comes from deep within your soul. Tourism too is all about creativity and I find many parallels between the two fields.
EVOLVE: What are the key attributes of a winning Tourism plan and vision?
Sumaira: The foundations of a winning plan are based on consistently delivering a set of actions over a period of time. As a Tourism Strategist, our role is almost that of a guide, as we embark on this journey along with an entire nation and its aspirations. In addition, it needs to have a BIG inspirational vision and message. My vision for Pakistan is A tourism job in every household.
EVOLVE: Can you name a few destinations that Pakistan can learn from whilst developing their own plans?
Sumaira: There are many that can help us leapfrog our own strategy and plans. Rwanda, Dubai, Palestine are just few which have made 360 shifts in their economies and perceptions by adopting tourism friendly strategies and plans. Rwanda has changed its image from genocide to African tourism haven in just 9 years their economy growing 7% YoY. UAE has gone from camels to 4WDs in just less than 15 years, diversifying from an oil economy to Tourism sector as key driver. Palestine case study is my favorite. This country known for intifadas and war-ravaged conflicts has been voted in the top 5 destinations trends for 2020, based primarily on religious tourism UNWTO estimated 57.8% growth for them in this sector.
EVOLVE: Is Destination Strategy Development a specialized field and a subject of studies?
Sumaira: Most of good destination strategy developers all come from grassroot travel and tourism backgrounds and that helps, as experience matters. However, there are many strong tourism associations that one can belong to and benefit from their structured learning programs as well. E.g. PATA, DMAI, SITE, IAPCO, MPI. In more forward-looking destinations,we help governments develop school, college curriculums around tourism mastery, as well as tie up with International schools of hospitality, tourism and culinary skills.
EVOLVE: Looking at your profile album, it seems that women are strong subject in your art? Being a woman in your work place has that been an advantage or a deterrent? What do you say?
Sumaira: Women are a huge part of my art as I feel its the best form of Gods creation (some may disagree) For myself being a woman and that too a Muslim woman, a Pakistani, living in UAE, always painted me as an anomaly especially when serving on International Boards. I was welcomed, as I served as a face of a badly needed diversity! I learnt, that If you are good at what you do you can win respect! Although I know many women continue to face immense challenges along the way at least for myself being a woman was never a disadvantage but always an advantage! I was fortunate as tourism is one industry I feel, where women can have a voice and is much more tolerant and accepting of our gender!
EVOLVE: How is globalization of tourism effective in developing geo-cultural relations between countries?
Sumaira: Much has been said about the negative effects of globalization. Its a huge debate! However, for the emerging markets and new tourism aspiring destinations like Pakistan, we can actually leverage on this platform, to target the same global community, sending a strong message of PEACE Tourism to our neighbours and rest of the world – hence change the narrative from terrorism to tourism! And we are just getting started!
EVOLVE: What prompted you lay foundation of Kenza Art Gallery and House of Isaacs as Chief Design Director in House of ISAACS?
Sumaira: Havent you guessed it already? I am a serial entrepreneur and both platforms gave me an outlet to represent Pakistan in a creative way! So why not? The Art Gallery was launched in Dubai and the House of Isaacs is a Pakistani Bridal line in Canada.
EVOLVE: You are also voluntary advisor and board member of dozens of Associations & Tourism Boards all over the world besides your busy schedule at Discover. How do you manage your time?
Sumaira: Its a balancing act but one I am well used to. Multitasking comes easy, being a mother, extensive family teaches you to keep going! And it helps to have an ever supporting spouse!
EVOLVE: You have also authored many publications, completed various projects and won awards. Are you satisfied with your personal achievements and what keeps you awake nowadays?
Sumaira: One is never satisfied. I set very high standards and expectation for myself. There is much more left to do there is certain urgency and opportunity in Pakistan to capture the moment and get going with implementing our tourism dream. I am almost obsessed with the idea and this is what keeps me awake as well as wakes me up in the morning with certain zest!
EVOLVE: What are your current activities give us a sense of your professional diary?
Sumaira: I have just returned from Cape Town in South Africa, as I am part of a Thinktank for the Western Cape Economic & Tourism Board, advising on their first Tourism Masterplan. Whist there I was also invited by the Africa World Travel Market to conduct a masterclass on the next mega Global MICE Trends and investments. From there I travelled straight to Islamabad to be part of Pakistan Tourism Dialogue and its panel along with some imminent Pakistans tourism strategists, chaired by Minister Bukhari. I also have the honor of serving on the PMs taskforce for Branding & marketing, and more recently appointed to the board of PTDC, for which I am relocating to Islamabad for the next few months. Future engagements include destinations such as Northern Ireland, Kenya and China.
EVOLVE: You are promoting a new product brand. Whats the concept and where do you begin?
Sumaira: Discover Tourism & Commerce Marketing is an International, quality Destination Management (DMO) design company, specifically focused on emerging tourism destinations who want tourism is the key driver of FDI. Its a brain child of myself and my sister Saira where we decided to combine the power of her Dubai based 23 year old consultancy (Global Management Consultants) and my 25 years of tourism experience, to create a DMO that speaks to the needs of these markets.
EVOLVE: How can Pakistans Tourism Industry benefit from your experience & expertise?
Sumaira: The fact that I am a Nano international tourism influencer, and also a Pakistani, is huge advantage as I understand tourism in the context of the culture and my people, and it comes from a deep sense of gratitude for my roots – and that I have been exposed to leading and developing some amazing destinations such as Dubai is a big plus! Working closely with and supporting NTCB – I think we they have a good plan in place to make it happen and I look forward to supporting them at all levels.
EVOLVE: Any message for the readers of EVOLVE magazine?
Sumaira:Publications like EVOLVE are an essential component of such any strategy and must consistently narrate the story of Pakistans success as a sustainable tourism destination. It needs to continue to evolve and explore and feature more of the big picture, providing a blueprint to bring individual strategies together to serve as a singular vision for Destination Pakistan.