Dr Hussain Sunny Umar is the face of Maldives Getaways–a leading PR and marketing company in the Maldives. Dr. Sunny and his colleagues have reached milestones in tourism, from hosting the biggest international travel and tourism market in the Maldives two consecutive years to introducing new events and products to celebrate the local business and tourism sectors.
1. Please give us a brief introduction of yourself.
It’s kind of weird to talk about myself. But in short, I am an “ok person” with common goals like any other.
2. What three words would you use to describe yourself?
Realistic, Friendly, Achievement-oriented
3. How did you develop an interest towards studying business administration?
It was the only program which has a mix of subjects back then. It had marketing; fun and practical stories about people and companies, and different strategies. It has human resources; something like human behaviour which also involved management policies.
I think I am not much of a finance guy.
4. We understand that you are one of the very few Maldivians with a Doctorate in Business Administration. How would you describe your journey towards the Doctorate?
I am not sure about the number of people here with a Doctorate in Business Administration. In fact, it took almost 12-15 years of studies—since 2002!
I started part-time studies in Clique College. After completion of certificate and diploma levels, I went to Malaysia and kind of reunited with my old schoolmates. I did my advanced diploma, degree, masters and DBA in Malaysia, at Sunway, Segi and City Universities.
In short, these were hard days. Every now and then I had to witness a lot of friends and roommates leaving Malaysia upon completion of their programs.
5. Your doctorate thesis was about Islamic Tourism. What is Islamic Tourism, and what was the reason for selecting it as your area?
I was looking for a gap in the body of knowledge. That was what the thesis was about—finding an area where there is potential for research. So, someone dear to me suggested the idea, and it turned out it was a significant gap in the literature and in practice!
My thesis was from a business angle: How to attract the Arab and Muslim travellers to the luxurious Maldives. Very simple and straightforward! Islamic Halal tourism simply is about attracting the Muslim market, just like attracting China, India or any other market.
6. You are currently working as the Chief Executive Officer at the local PR and Marketing firm Maldives Getaways. How did Maldives Getaways come into being?
It was a company founded by Ahmeem. To turn this company into what it is, four others including myself joined together.
There is a total of five shareholders. I am individually the weakest while the others are the best in their field. Our shareholder Nashaath designed the currently in-use banknotes of Maldives. Areef is an expert in IT. Khoorsheed is an expert in literacy, knowledge, video and photography. Founder Ahmeem is the brain behind all.
I am just the guy that goes on TV and meet people, I guess. But all five shareholders have one goal, and the other four work extremely hard compared to me.
7. What are your main responsibilities at work?
Very simple: achieving long-term and short-term goals. Making daily and regular checks here and there like a mechanic. We are blessed with a powerful team; especially the ladies on our team! I have never come across these strong talented characters.
8. Please describe how a typical day starts and ends for you.
Half of the day relies on client working hours (9 am to 5 pm). The other half just like an on-call medical doctor, but never close to the amount of work a doctor would invest on duty.
There are gym and family too. The family is very important to me.
9. Maldives Getaways has a wide range of publications, events and projects like Guesthouses Maldives, Travel Trade Maldives, Corporate Maldives, Gold 100, etc. What was your role in creating these products?
Ahmeem comes with these crazy but simple and great ideas. Our team—him included—makes it happen: day-to-day operations and making it a feasible, profit-making entity while enjoying and having fun. The hardest part for me is raising funds. But I really am nothing compared to what the others do at the office and on the ground. Sometimes their keen interest and attention to the projects simply astonish me!
Dr. Sunny Umar at the Travel Trade Maldives 2018 Gala —
10. If our assumption is correct—Travel Trade Maldives is the biggest event by Maldives Getaways. You have hosted this travel fair in two consecutive years. How do you feel about the proceedings of TTM 2017 and 2018? Do you believe it was successful, and why do you think so?
True. Over the course of 44 years of tourism, a travel shows that invited international agents never happened in the Maldives. It was extremely and by far, the biggest challenge for our entire team. There were some moments where you come to the lowest point, but then you see your colleagues not ready to give up. That keeps it going and being successful.
TTM is the biggest, and we appreciate the industry’s support; General Managers of resorts, and especially the sales and marketing directors who vested their interests every single time. Also, no project can survive without sponsors; they never stopped believing in us.
It also involves huge costs and takes a lot of time for marketing and meeting both local and international parties. Maldives Getaways marketed TTM in over 25 travel fairs in two years and invited over 300 agents and operators to meet more than 140 resorts in the Maldives.
Travel Trade Maldives comprises of different components: a summit, pre-scheduled meetings, a Gala night, a suppliers expo and a career fair. A total of 500 individuals will interact in the event. That is almost the entire tourism industry!
11. What is the purpose of such an event, and do you believe the purposes are being met?
With every year, tourism is growing internationally and new concepts are introduced. It is becoming a complex system. The Maldives is also witnessing an increase in bed supply. There were almost 50 new resort properties opened between 2016 and 2018. There are more than 650 guesthouses in operation.
To increase tourist arrivals, we need the industry to introduce more trade activities and events. TTM is what was missing out, and what is needed. Of course, it is not enough. There has to be more. But TTM plays a vital role. Not every resort or guesthouse can participate in travel trade fairs. Therefore, with the assistance of the government and other agencies, we make it happen.
So I guess we have made some progress. It is up to the industry to decide if we did a good job.
Travel Trade Maldives is an annual event that started in 2017, and a second edition took place in 2018. Now we have partnered with a Sri Lankan company called Marketeers & Co., to assist them in hosting a similar event; Travel Trade Sri Lanka! A huge challenge for us once again.
12. What is the single biggest achievement or success in your professional life?
One might thing a PhD or DBA is an achievement, but for me it is not; it is just a stepping stone. It was my mother’s dream, actually. She wanted someone in the family to be a doctor—a medical doctor to be precise. I granted her wish but in a different area, and she is happy.
At Maldives Getaways, our team and personal goals are kind of aligned. We all dream of big things and goals. In short, we are some sort of a disrupter in the business community I guess. With our products like Gold 100, Travel Trade Maldives, we are on the verge of bringing more to the community soon.
Personally, education is an important part for me. But it is what you do afterwards—what you contribute to the economy or community—that gets people to remember you. Your efforts, products and investments.
13. We see you as a very dynamic and charismatic person. What is the driving force behind your motivation and successes?
Time. That is what we do not have. Either you do it, or you don’t do it. If you choose to do something, at least you know you tried. While we have time, we must take what we have and move on. When I was 16, I thought I would be a football player like my brother. But I was wrong; I did not have the skill set and capabilities like him.
So I made a realistic decision—change. Then I took the next one—get education work on my own one day. The real motivation is getting to know what is realistic and achievable. I learnt from entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, and local entrepreneurs like Champa Afeef and Crown Nazeer. I want to learn more from them about what is realistic and achievable. With our team, I am pretty sure it is possible.
14. We also see that you travel to a lot of travel and tourism fairs. How many countries have you travelled to, and which one is your favourite?
The real traveller is my wife—she is the one behind the travels. It is addictive. We started when I was studying, and later we started to try and travel once a year, to take a trip and enjoy.
Most trips are related to work. Every year there are some 10-15 travel trade events Maldives Getaways attend. Mostly it is Ahmeem or I—but someone else attends if we are stuck. But in comparison to the industry, I would not count myself as a regular traveller. There are some sales and marketing directors who barely see their family for three months.
My favourite destination is Iceland. I have never seen anything like it before! The population is similar to the Maldives, but it is a huge and cold country. It’s amazing!
But every country is unique and quite fascinating.
15. Do you play any sport?
Mostly football. But it is just for fun. I do not like playing in tournaments.
16. What are your favourite pastime activities?
Movies, football. Nothing too unique. But after joining Maldives Getaways, it is mostly just football. Health and fitness are very important.
Dr. Sunny Umar with one of his biggest inspirations: businessman Mr Ahmed Nazeer (Crown Nazeer) —
17. Who is your biggest inspiration?
From the Maldives, it is definitely the pioneers like Champa Hussain Afeef, MU Manik and Crown Nazeer. These are amazing entrepreneurial characters. But in reality, there are so many other people too. I like the idea of a rational entrepreneur and someone who can maintain both business and personal life. It is what they do; not who they are for me.
I like Prophet Mohamed’s character a lot.
There are so many other inspirations too.
18. What is the most unforgettable memory in your life?
Again, there are so many. One recent memory was during TTM 2017. Prior to the launch date, we came to a really close point to realize the whole event could fail. But if god wills anything can happen. If there is a minute’s chance of making it happen, we from Maldives Getaways will always try till we fail. With our team effort and again with a lot of assistance from industry, we manage to pull it off right.
19. What advice would you give to someone who would like to pursue a career in tourism marketing?
I am a person who needs advice regularly. I am not that wise to give others any advice. But in life, nothing comes free. You get what you earn.
Tourism is expanding locally and globally. There is so much room for everyone. But unlike some of our neighbouring countries, members of our community are very relaxed. But we are full of talent and skills.
20. What are your plans for the future?
For now, it is just working hard and making new products and projects.
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