1.The current government has now been in power for over seven months. How do you see Pakistan evolving under the PTI government?
When you look at the five year vision of the government, their main focus is tax reforms which is critical to the backbone of any economy. We have 200+ million people in Pakistan and less than 1.8 million pay their taxes. The previous governments kept on adding more taxes to the current business structure, which had become unsustainable. The government is currently trying to increase number of people paying taxes, if we can double the number of taxpayers than the face of the economy will change for the good.
2. During our meeting, the Chairman of BOI, Mr. Haroon Sharif, mentioned a 500% increase in internal tourism as well as a rise in external tourism. What is your vision on the tourism industry in the country and how do you see its future?
Tourism in this country started increasing in 2014 and this has been a result of three contributing factors; one is security, second is infrastructure and the third is social media. With better infrastructure, people are able to access different areas of the country. Obviously security plays a key role and social media is encouraging people to come and visit, domestic tourism has doubled year on year. In 2015, the official government statistics for Gilgit-Baltistan were 500,000 visitors and now four years down the line the figures have gone up to 2.7 million people.
3. Hashoo Group is a premier business house of Pakistan established in 1960. The group has presence in all major sectors including hospitality, oil and gas exploration and production, information technology, investment, minerals, ceramics pharmaceuticals, travel and tourism, Real Estate and commodity trading business. What are your objectives for 2019?
Our objective and main focus is travel and tourism. We have four hotels opening up this year; the first one being in Multan, the second in Hayatabad Peshawar, the third one in Mirpur, it will be a very unique hotel overlooking the Mangla dam and the last one will be in Malam Jabba which would be Pakistan’s first ski resort. With the influx of domestic and foreign tourism increasing in corporate business and in the Free Independent Traveler (FIT) segment, we are seeing growth opportunities in three and four star hotels. We own 18 Hotel Ones which are limited service hotels and every year we open between 8-9 of them. When you look at the footprint of the group, it is not just about the 9 Five Star hotels, if you look at our current portfolio it is close to 25 hotels and this year alone we are adding another 12 hotels.
4. You are a major player in the hospitality industry. What role can the Marriott, Pearl Continental and Hotel One play in this tourism industry development? What differentiates them from their competition such as the Serena Hotels or the Avari Hotels?
As far as the development is concerned, I think the Hotel One’s can play a much broader role as they are mainly based in sub cities. In major cities there are other hotels but when you go into small cities there are no hotels to stay, we are the only branded experience. We provide all the basic necessities at a very affordable price. When it comes to competition, our focus is on product and quality. We are always innovating our services. For instance, we have started a kids clubs at the Pearl Continental Karachi so that the parents can be kids free during the day. We also put a lot of time and effort in the training of our employees.
5. Oil exploration is at the heart of your business and you are also focusing on property development and industries manufacturing with Gelcaps Pakistan & Pearl Ceramics. What are your plans for the future?
Talking about Oil and Gas, we are definitely looking into growing that business. It is a continuous business since there is always acquisitions and drilling in that sector. When it comes to ceramics and Gelcaps, it is not our core business but we will continue to expand. We manufacture the entire cutlery you see in our hotels, we also provide crockery to Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) and other airlines.
6. Human Resources are always a big challenge in Pakistan. Hashoo Group announces the launch of the ‘Star of the Future Program’, an 18-month training course which is a first of its kind for the hospitality industry in the country. How do you find and train your employees? And do you feel universities are producing the right graduates?
We have a lot of internal training and the main challenge is finding mid-level management. We have created this school in order to form professionals about mid-level management; we have 400 graduates every year. We also kept in mind that tourism will only be increasing in the future. The school we are creating is not solely focused on hotel management but it is a tourism course, which caters to all roles surrounding tourism. These 400 young men and women who are formed every year will not only work in Pakistan but they will also be able to get jobs abroad. This means, an increase in remittances and a growing skill-set which will allow them to start their own businesses when coming back to Pakistan, it has a whole chain effect.
This school first started in Islamabad in September and satellite offices will be opened in Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and even in the north. We will be using our own hotels as a base for internships. There is very limited resources when it comes to the hospitality industry, no one caters to the mid- level management in Pakistan, this will be the first university of its kind and we are starting it in collaboration with Sheffield University, UK, one of the top five hospitality schools in the world.
7. You are extremely international in your outlook. Hashoo Group has partnerships all over the world. Are you looking for further potential partnerships or are you willing to expand your activities to other countries?
We are looking at management contracts outside of Pakistan, more so within Africa, the Middle East and in Eastern Europe. The destinations where the Pakistani Diaspora is present will improve our occupancy rate. We are also focusing on technology and on launching software within the hotels as well as innovative products such as hotel check-in on mobile phones.
8. Which communication strategies are you currently using to promote your companies and how would you like to develop them?
We do a lot of hard advertising and promote our Corporate Social Responsibility activities. For instance, we have 5000 employees in the group so we are planting 5000 trees in Islamabad and hopefully we will expand this to other cities. We have also taken over a park that was shut down and we are going to turn it into a stunning new public garden.
9. The Hashoo Group won three Corporate Social Responsibility Awards for contributions to social development through different interventions, namely ‘Best CSR Practices’, ‘Women Welfare Empowerment & Development’, and ‘Education & Scholarships’ categories. You also donated 60 Million Rupees for Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand Dam. What is the contribution of the Hashoo Foundation and how important is philanthropy for you?
Philanthropy is at the core of the family’s ethos. Any project we work on needs to contribute and have a positive impact on society. When you look at the foundation’s role, we are mainly focusing on climate changes at the moment; this is an area where Pakistan is lagging behind. We are part of the UN council for Climate Change. For instance, we have taken out plastic straws from all our hotels and that is just the start. Women empowerment is also very important to us and we have been working on it for many years. We have a project in Hunza called the “Bee”, close to 5000 women are part of this project. We help them bring secondary income into their homes and we are looking at expanding this project.
10. You have had a very successful career, being the CEO of Pakistan Services Limited, the Hashoo Group and Zahdan Group. In your life, what do you feel most proud of?
There are two aspects that I am most proud of, one is when we see happy employees and the other one is when we see happy customers.
11. What is your final message to the readers of USA Today who consider Pakistan as a potential investment destination?
First of all, Pakistan is a safe country with very good and hospitable people. I believe Pakistan has not been promoted properly but with the new government, we will definitely see a much better outlook of Pakistan. If you look at the past 8 months, our Prime Minister has the heart and mind in the right place. A very important factor for investors is the fact that Pakistan offers one of the highest returns on investment in the world. The government is focusing a lot on the ease of doing business, as a result we have already moved up in the ease of doing business index and it will continue improving. Pakistan is open for business and tourism is a great place to invest, as this is a virgin territory with huge opportunities.