Sumathi Ramanathan, Vice President – Market Strategy & Sales at Expo 2020 Dubai discusses how global markets are ready for this exciting event, despite the COVID-19 pandemic
Being in a role that is responsible for driving visitation from key global markets to Expo 2020 Sumathi Ramanathan, Vice President – Market Strategy & Sales, Expo 2020 Dubai has a big challenge on her hands, especially now that the COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to affect travel worldwide. But that doesn’t stop her motivation and drive to make Expo 2020 Dubai the most incredible event the region has seen. Her background in strategic market and business development is allowing her to drive visitors from key markets around the globe, despite the pandemic and to create an exciting buzz around the event. Here we find out more about the strategy to gain traction from all markets around the world and what we can look forward to from “The World’s Greatest Show”.
This past year has been an unusual one – how has the pandemic affected your strategy at Expo 2020 and what are some of the changes you have made to adapt to our new way of life?
While the pandemic has brought about unprecedented challenges, it has also shown us just what can be accomplished when we look beyond our borders and join forces to achieve a common goal – and this is precisely why Expo 2020, as a platform for international collaboration, is needed now more than ever. Expo 2020 is committed to hosting a once-in-a-lifetime experience – a six-month global celebration of creativity, innovation, humanity and world cultures that will bring the world together and inspire action. While we must continue to tackle the impact of COVID-19, we are also facing a wealth of other issues, including climate change and equal access to basic human rights. Seeking inspiring solutions to these challenges remains the focal purpose of Expo 2020 Dubai. The safety and well-being of our visitors, participants and staff remain our top priority, and Expo has implemented a wide range of protective measures, in line with the latest guidance from global health, medical and scientific experts. In early 2021, more than 100,000 members of the public enjoyed a special preview of Terra – The Sustainability Pavilion and experienced the steps that have been taken to protect visitors and ensure social distancing across the Expo site. These included the mandatory pre-booking of tickets to control capacity and visitor flow; floor markings and signage to encourage social distancing; and designated staff responsible for monitoring and regulating social distancing in all venues. In recognition of this compliance with the relevant safety standards and protocols, the preview received the Dubai Assured stamp from the Government of Dubai.
What are some of the challenges you are now facing in relation to the pandemic?
We must be prepared for the changes in travel advisories worldwide. To that end, at the beginning of 2021, Expo 2020 also launched an extensive COVID-19 vaccination drive for all Expo 2020 employees and their households. The offer of free vaccinations has also been extended to all Expo’s official participants and their staff by His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Executive Council of Dubai. The announcement was praised by the Expo 2020 Steering Committee.
How are you driving visitors from key global markets and what are some of the markets you have the biggest focus on?
We have joined forces with Authorised Ticket Resellers (ATRs) across more than 100 countries, covering all key markets with whom we work closely and can activate quickly. We will continue to monitor the situation in the months leading up to and during Expo 2020, keeping in mind that it is a six-month event so we can focus on different markets as they open up. We are focusing on the key global markets for the UAE, and we are also working with different sectors, such as government, corporate and academia, to drive domestic visitation. With more than 2,500 online travel agents, tour operators, hotel groups and airlines signed up as ATRs around the globe, we are focusing on target markets based on how prospective visitors in those countries book tickets at varying stages of their journey-planning process, activating different markets as they open up.
What is something you are most excited about at Expo 2020?
For the first time in World Expo history, each country will have its own pavilion, reflecting the inclusive spirit of the UAE. Not only can visitors explore the world without borders, but there will be an incredible array of entertainment with something for everyone, from up to 60 daily shows, one-of-a-kind food experiences and awe-inspiring architecture. It will be incredibly exciting, particularly following the challenges of the past year, to discover the greatest ideas, innovations, culture and entertainment that the world has to offer.
Tell us a little about you – what inspired you to take on this role, what is your biggest achievement so far and what would you like to achieve?
I am an avid reader and traveller – and the more I learn and understand different cultures and beliefs and actually meet and engage with others, the more I realise that the commonalities between us are greater than our differences. And what better platform for exchange, dialogue and understanding than the next World Expo, where for six months, the world comes together to celebrate ideas, innovations, thinkers and game-changers. At Expo 2020, success is a collective – we have succeeded in bringing together more than 190 countries at the time when the world is still grappling with a global pandemic of unprecedented scale; and it is amazing to be part of the team who are contributing to a lasting legacy for the city, country and region.
You have worked in many destinations around the world – what is it about Dubai that caught your attention?
The combination of the cosmopolitan diversity fused with the warm and hospitable Emirati culture. The city’s “nothing is impossible” spirit is both inspiring and motivating – it encourages creativity, innovation, out-of-the-box thinking and, more importantly, sets a path for growth and opportunity for people across diverse cultures and origins. It’s emblematic of what a city of the future should be – open, tolerant, innovative, entrepreneurial and enterprising.
How do you think Expo 2020 will elevate the city as a tourist destination?
Demonstrating Dubai’s confidence and openness to all visitors, the first World Expo to be held in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region will be a spectacular event that will draw people back to the UAE again and again. Expo 2020 will further catalyse the city’s thriving leisure and business tourism industries by providing unprecedented access to a global audience and unique networking opportunities, ultimately driving prosperity in the UAE, our region and beyond.
Who is a woman that inspires you?
The late American lawyer and jurist Ruth Bader Ginsburg; who was unapologetically intelligent and purposeful at a time when such qualities were hardly fashionable among women. She had to persevere against many odds but left a legacy of systemic change and progress because of her focus on achieving key priorities. Perhaps most importantly, she held very strong views and passionately advocated for them. She prized professionalism and collegiality and was known as a bridge-builder, seeking consensus while never taking her eyes off the ultimate goal.
What is the professional motto you live by?
“Whatever the mind of man [or woman] can conceive and believe, it can achieve,” by author Napolean Hill.
What is a message you would send to our readers on why they should visit Expo 2020 this year?
After the challenges of the pandemic, Expo 2020 will be an opportunity to experience the world in one place – an unmissable celebrationof human ingenuity, unrivalled cultural experiences, the world’s best entertainment and once-in-a-lifetime experiences.We want everyone to join the making of a new world, and discover life-changing innovations that will have a meaningful, positive impact on our planet and its people.