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In many ways, Kulwant Singh has changed the face of the travel industry in Dubai. As managing director of Lama Desert Tourism (the logistics partner for the Masala! Awards 2011), he promotes the best face of the city to tourists from around the world. His vision, business acumen and passion has led the company he co-founded in 1997 with Ali Ibrahim Al Suwaidi to great heights in this sector. Yet he remains remarkably grounded and prefers to credit his success to his employees and support from his family. In a chat with Masala!, Kulwant reveals what keeps him going from one milestone to another...
What are your memories of growing up in Dubai?
I actually grew up in Al Ain and attended the Indian School for my basic education. Al Ain is a beautiful city and I remember hanging out with my friends at the City Centre and the old-fashioned supermarket near it. During my childhood, we were not allowed to watch too much TV at home so I was heavily into sports. Of course, I never ignored my studies and was a topper in academics too! After school, I moved to Dubai and continued my education.
As a child, I would often see my father, who was in the construction business, return home late due to stress at work. I then thought I would never enter this field but somehow I ended up doing a few villa projects. I guess it must have been in the genes!
What were the biggest challenges of starting Lama Tours?
Money was a huge challenge! When you start a new venture, finance always poses a problem. Your next big test is to break even and then make profits. There were challenges at every step but our determination helped us sail through. We also had a very strong team.
What do you think were the biggest factors contributing to the company's growth?
We grew to such an extent only because of the dynamic strategies set by the government. It helped us grasp the opportunities and push our luck. We also invested in our own infrastructure and exploited the demand and supply ratio well. Moreover, we had very good marketing strategies in place.
What made you venture into real estate?
I would blame the media for that (laughs)! At every party, I would listen to my friends talking about the margins and the profits in this much-hyped sector so I decided to try my luck here as well. Though I got into it when most people had pulled out, I did not lose a lot of money! I believe that what goes down will come up again, so I am keeping my fingers crossed that this sector will see a revival again.
How would you describe yourself as a boss?
I am not serious enough to be called a 'boss' (laughs)! I believe that in today's globalised world, one can't be too strict. I treat my employees like my colleagues and I often ask them for their suggestions and opinions to make them feel special. Just a little praise and appreciation goes a long way to keep them motivated. I understand their sentiments and recognise what they do for the company.
What are your dreams for your company?
I have been spoilt by a 50 per cent growth rate every year over the last decade and I will probably get upset if this rate is not sustained! On a serious note, I feel it's a big challenge to push your limits every time. I keep adding new ideas and sources of revenues. For instance, we have diversified into many businesses including salons, hotels, technical services, real estate and more. I want my company to be one of the largest hospitality groups in this region and beyond.
You have received several awards for your contribution to this sector. Is there any one award that you cherish the most?
Awards are a huge motivator for any entrepreneur. Among all my awards, what is most special to me is the one I received for Corporate Social Responsibility from HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Juma Al Maktoum for supporting Dar Al Ber (a society for the underprivileged).
How do you unwind?
I am quite spiritual and I have a need to connect to God. I also love music as it relaxes me after a hard day at work. I have kept in touch with my sporty side and play golf regularly. Of course, nothing matters more than spending time my family, especially my one-and-half-year-old daughter and three-year-old son.
For a person who runs a tourism company, what are your fave travel destinations?
That's a tough one! I love London, Bali, Sydney, Singapore, Japan, Toronto and Las Vegas while my wife's choices are completely different. She has her own set of favourites and I am the one who has to usually compromise when it comes to destinations!
What was the last holiday you took?
I went to Japan recently and it was a fabulous trip. I went to Kyoto, Osaka and Yokohama. The infrastructure, connectivity and facilities were excellent, but what impressed me the most were the provisions they had for the differently-abled. It touched my heart.
What is your mantra for success?
I believe strongly in the power of positive thinking. The Secret is my favourite book and I often refer to it when I have doubts. My mantra is to keep my professional and personal lives separate but it's not always possible as both are closely related. So you can't give more importance to one at the cost of the other. I spend a lot of time at work but family is important too. Only if you give equal importance to work and your personal life can you be called truly successful.