A staple on the Dubai tourism scene, Global Village provides cultural entertainment to millions of guests per year. But its CEO, Ahmad Hussain Bin Essa, isn't resting on its laurels…
Global Village feels like it's been around forever.
It's been here for 20 years. It started in 1996, but back then it was very small. But we grew from just 500 visitors to over 500,000 until 2004 when we moved to our current location.
Last season we had over 5.3-million guests visit the park. Now, I believe it's one of Dubai's landmarks. It is a regional destination for family entertainment.
What's changed over the past two decades?
Global Village is a cultural experience and lets guests go around the world in one destination. In that sense, the concept has stayed the same.
The significant changes have been with guest experiences. A lot has changed over the last 20 years; there is a different generation of people visiting us now. To embrace the younger generation, we are looking into new technologies.
Over the last 20 years, people have become more cultured. The internet provides a window into just about every country on earth, there's a large global expat community, and things like local foods have become commonplace.
With that sort of education widely available, is Global Village even necessary anymore?
Technology is a great way to learn about culture. But you can't ever experience that culture for yourself.
Global Village is about getting involved with the culture, to come and interact with the people who are from those countries. Yes, you can try their food, but more importantly, you get to see them perform. You learn about their products.
This is where you experience what you may have already seen online, in a more traditional way. That's the difference between experiencing a culture, over learning about it.
We know how the park has changed over the past 20 years. Where will it be in another 20?
That's a difficult question. We have a very clear strategy over the next five years. We aim to be one of the top international entertainment brands in the world.
To achieve that, we have one clear objective that governs everything we do – what do our guests require. We look at everything from the perspective of our guests. That means looking into who that person is, what they want, the sort of experience they require.
We monitor our progress every season and develop studies to improve our services according to those requirements and needs. We have a very comprehensive research team that continuously monitors our guests as well as what's going on in the industry in general.
And you feel technology will become a large part of that?
Everything will be done via smartphone in future. Even queuing for tickets, experiences, and rides.
You will be able to book your seat on your phone, which will let you know when you need to start moving towards the ride's location. That means no more queues.
But if everything is done through your smartphone, doesn't that remove an element of interaction?
No, the phone only handles the logistics. Another significant element that we are pushing over the next few years – that relates to this point – is food.
Our food needs to be more customised to every customer. It's no longer about simply going up to a kiosk and grabbing something to eat, the food needs to be integrated with our rides, with the experience.
For example, if a ride is based on competition and you win, perhaps you can celebrate with a special meal. If you lose, you are allowed to have another particular commiseration food.
This is where the industry is moving, towards greater interaction in a coherent way.
What brought you into the entertainment business?
My background is in an entirely different industry. I started out as a mechanical engineer. I worked at BP, on oil tankers, before moving into real estate development.
A while after that, I found myself in the telecom industry. While the industries changed, my job mainly stayed the same: leading teams and managing resources. I had done a few events over this time – even a royal wedding – and I felt passionate about that.
So when this opportunity found me, I jumped at the chance. I knew it would be a challenge, but I like challenges.
If you told your ten-year-old self that one day you would be running a theme park, do you think he'd be happy about that?
Of course. I would have been very excited. But I don't regret all my other jobs before this.
When you are a child, you have dreams, but you never really know what you want deep down in your heart unless you go and try it. I had tried many occupations before I found what I wanted to do.
Despite changing industries, you've always been in a leadership position. What makes a good leader?
I believe all great leaders must be good listeners. Especially if you are young.
You need to listen to people who have more experience in that particular area. I also believe in teamwork. It's important for a leader to put the right individuals in the right place, and then letting them know what their purpose is in that role.
Is the ability to come up with good ideas also important?
Of course, but it's more important for a leader to realise that they can't do everything.
Yes, they need to be motivated and come up with ideas, but more emphasis needs to be on teamwork. You have to build a company as a team. You need to provide an environment that encourages your team to come up with good ideas.
I don't believe a leader should have followers. A good CEO should have other leaders below him, and help develop those leadership qualities in everyone.
How do you do that? You can't put someone in a room and say, "come up with a good idea right away." Creativity doesn't work like that.
When it comes to our office, we have many different entertaining elements: table tennis, a billiard table, for example.
We also have very flexible working hours, and often conduct employee satisfaction surveys. I believe we have a duty to satisfy our employees if we expect them to work to their fullest potential.
Do you have any advice for someone who may have just stepped into the role as a CEO? Or perhaps someone aspiring to be the CEO of a company?
It's not as easy as people think it is, being a CEO. There are certain things that you need to have done before you reach that position.
It's important to have worked in many different roles. For example, I have worked in public administration, as an executive to both big and small businesses.
I have also been through a lot of development training and government training programmes. High positions and low positions.
All of this is important, as you need to be aware of many things when you are the CEO. I guess the most important factor, however, is your personal vision. Regardless of the corporate vision, you need to be aware of what you want to do.
What does a typical work day look like for you?
I wake up quite early, and always do some form of exercise. I have breakfast with my children and then head into the office.
The first thing I do – no matter what – is spend half an hour with newspapers. I see what's happening in the world, how the markets and the industry are doing.
I have various meetings throughout the day – with team members, or investors and partners – but I always make sure to sit down with my strategy people on a daily basis. Then sometimes I am home for six o'clock, other times it's nine or ten o'clock.
You are a very hands-on CEO, lead a large number of employees. With so much responsibility at work, how do you find time to have a meaningful relationship with your family?
It's all about time management and delegation. I always try and delegate tasks to other members of staff, as I don't believe it all has to be done myself.
This is important because my days vary so much. Some days I meet exhibitors and investors, sometimes I even sell tickets at the gate.
So you completely switch off from work when at home?
Well, if I am sitting on the sofa reading, it's probably an article about the industry.
When I am online, I am generally looking at what the market is doing, or going through magazines for inspiration.
But I don't see this as work; I enjoy doing it. I think this is an essential part of success, doing something that you are passionate about and enjoy.For all the latest business news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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