Omar Mir wakes up to check his inbox. No new emails. Omar sighs. He makes himself a cup of coffee, and makes his way to the gym nearby. One and a half hours later, he comes back, energised and ready to face another day of interviews conducted over Zoom and browsing local job boards.
He makes himself comfortable in the dedicated ‘work zone’ in his apartment, and waits for his laptop to boot up.
“This is what a typical day is like for me now” Omar tells us over the phone. A hospitality professional with 17 years of experience under his belt, Omar hails from the metropolis of Karachi in Pakistan. Now living in Dubai, he was recently laid off from his job at a local hotel chain. With the pleasantries out of the way, we begin our interview…
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself?
A: I’m thirty-seven (37) years of age, and was born in Karachi. I schooled in the UK, and then went back to Pakistan where I got my first taste of the hospitality industry. Having realised my passion for the trade, I decided to make it my career. I have been truly fortunate to be a part of several world-renowned hospitality brands. I came to the UAE thirteen years ago and have been domiciled here since.
Q: Why did you choose the hospitality industry for your career?
A: My father worked for Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) for 32 years and through him, I gained a window into the travel trade at an early age. After I graduated from school in 2002, I pursued a diploma in Food & Beverage production, spurred on by the steady growth the hotel industry showed at the time. After an internship at an international restaurant chain in Pakistan, I landed a role in the catering division of PIA. Around that time, I also developed a passion for cooking, and that was the stepping stone to my career in the hospitality industry.
Q: What paved the way for you to join the hospitality trade in the UAE?
A: My professional career as a hotelier began in the UAE. I got a job at the Four Points Sheraton Dubai as a guest service agent in the front office department. Through hard work and dedication, I gradually rose up the ranks, and went on to work for several chains such as Sheraton Jumeirah, JA Oasis Beach Tower, IHG Group, and Millennium & Copthorne.
One of my fondest memories to date is of being employed at the Zabeel Palace in Dubai, where his HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai resides. During my time there, I served as the Head of Security for Palace Operations. It was a great experience to serve His Highness, who has overseen the transformation of Dubai into what it is today. In that aspect, he is a true visionary par none.
Q: You’ve faced a lot of challenges along the way. Could you tell us something about them?
A: Like everyone else, I too have faced my fair share of challenges. But most of that pales in comparison to an accident that happened a few years ago, which changed my life. To give you some context, I am a diabetic who is dependent on insulin. One day in 2016, I found a screw nail stuck in my shoe. It badly affected my health. A year and several surgeries later, the doctors told me that they had no choice but to amputate my right leg.
When I was told of their decision, I was devastated. I remember lying in hospital after the surgery, thinking about whether this was the end of my career, and perhaps the end of my journey through life as well. That was a dark period in my life.
Q: How did you overcome it?
A: I am very fortunate to have a loving family and a supportive set of friends around me, who encouraged me to never give up. Thanks to them and with God’s grace, I was able to start walking again.
Since I wear an advanced prosthetic leg, it took a few months of practice to learn to balance myself and resume living a normal life. In the process, I learned to banish the words ‘I can’t’ and ‘I give up’ from my vocabulary.
I like to lead an active life, and sometimes, I face difficulties when playing cricket or going for a swim [because of my prosthetic leg]. Occasionally, I find it hard to go up a stairway if there is no railing to hold on to. But other than for these minor inconveniences, I live a rather normal life.
Q: You were laid off recently. How did that happen?
A: The hospitality industry is perhaps amongst the hardest hit by COVID19, and there must be countless others who have also probably been laid off or furloughed. In my case, I took up a new role with a local chain at the beginning of the year. The property was not doing too well, and one of my goals was to help effect a turnaround. However, as fate would have it, the world came to a halt due to COVID19, and three months into the job, I was laid off along with a few others. Nobody saw it coming, and nobody can really be blamed for it. It’s just bad timing, I suppose.
Q: Based on your experience, how long do you think the hotel industry will take to recover?
A: To be honest, the near term outlook is quite bleak, and the path to recovery is going to be a long one. Even large, well-capitalised chains like Hyatt and Mariott are finding it tough, and that tells you how much of an impact COVID19 has had on the industry. In my view, the sector’s initial recovery will come from leisure travellers whose vacations were delayed because of the lockdowns. Business travel, which is the most profitable segment for most hotels, will probably come next, followed by group travel including MICE.
Q: What are your thoughts on Sri Lanka?
A: Given that the civil war only ended almost a decade ago, Sri Lanka’s tourism industry has actually come quite a long way, but there is a lot of untapped potential. For the most part, Sri Lanka is a friendly country with low crime, and has decent transportation infrastructure. Accommodation costs for a night’s stay are reasonable in most places. The country’s inland areas are incredibly green and beautiful as well!
Apart from that, the country has a rich and diverse culture, a collection of fabulous archaeological sites, a diverse ecology and climate, great beaches, world class surfing spots, and quite a few tourist attractions. Personally, I am partial to the scenic train rides—Kandy is one of the best places in the world I have been to; and the safaris. I find Sri Lankans to be friendly and helpful people, who are always welcoming of visitors.
Q: Would you want to work in Sri Lanka’s hospitality sector?
A: I would definitely love to! The tourism product has a lot of potential, and you can command higher prices if you are willing to improve service standards. If I get a chance, I would be absolutely thrilled to help impart my knowledge and work in such a beautiful destination one day.
Q: And finally, what do you have to say your fellow hoteliers in the industry who are going through a lot of personal hardships due to the pandemic?
A: Three words—believe in yourself. Trust that you will make it through this hard time and you are already halfway there. It is not over until you say it is, and while none of us can change the direction of the wind, it is in our power to adjust our sails so that we can reach our destination.
I firmly believe that every trial in life can be an incredible opportunity to learn about what we are capable of, and that how we conduct ourselves through life’s trials and tribulations is what will decide how the story of our life will be written.
After all, we may not have any control over how our story begins, but we can all control how our story ends.Omar Mir