Raised in the UAE, Kulwant Singh, the CEO and MD of Lama & Carfare Groups, credits his adopted country for teaching him the toughest lessons of his life and reaching out for the stars.
Born in a Punjabi Sikh household in India, Kulwant Singh came to Dubai when his entrepreneurial family moved here, lured by the vast opportunities in the construction industry.
However, in 1996 when his family moved to the United States of America following a slide in its fortunes, Singh, a mere high-school graduate took the brave decision to stay back in the UAE not only to complete his studies but also work his way up and build his future here, literally from scratch.
As destiny would have it, Singh got a job at a travel agency, Caravan Tours, for a salary of Dh1,500.
This job, he tells Emirates 24|7, was in reality a lesson on how to build his dream in the UAE.
It was months before he received his first salary but he did not let go of his dream even when survival was a struggle.
Kulwant Singh with Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan
Little did he know at that point that he had already taken his first step towards heading one of the biggest tour operators in the UAE.
It was sheer grit and determination that saw Kulwant Singh turn into a business powerhouse over the years.
Two decades later, Kulwant Singh today manages nearly 20 companies spread across the GCC, India and the United Kingdom.
Singh runs The CarFare and LAMA Group of companies with an annual turnover of more than Dh300 million served by a team of 700 professionals, 3,500 vehicles, four desert camps, two cruise vessels, two yachts and a vast tourism and transport network to serve customers across the UAE and the world.
Kulwant Singh with Indian Prime Minister
Dreams come true in UAE
The 38-year-old Singh feels that the UAE played a significant role in his success story. He credits UAE's liberal government policies for his decision to stay in the UAE and make his dreams come true.
He believes that the UAE has a lot to offer to those who dream big.
As a family man and a father of three - son Devraj and two daughters Misha and Kisha - he rates UAE's safe and secure environment as one of the top four key factors for so many expats flocking to live and work in the UAE.
Singh ranks UAE's tax-free environment and ease of doing business second.
He also respects UAE's policy on equal opportunity to all and according to him, it is a big factor that helps a lot of residents to invest in business in this country.
Finally, he says, the UAE is a tolerant place. "Therefore, people from different cultures and religions live here alongside one another and happily co-exist."
Singh claims that he is not merely paying lip-service when he ticks off the four basic factors that attract expats to make Dubai their home.
Singh walks down memory lane, almost two decades back, and dips into his personal experience to explain in detail why he believes dreams come true so often in the UAE.
"The UAE Government was very keen to support companies that were willing to invest in infrastructure and who were serious about promoting Dubai as a tourist destination.
"Incentives for tourism growth were extended in the form of: Reduced/ low trade license fees; easy and reasonable tourism licenses on products like cruises and safaris; reduced participation fees for various overseas exhibitions and marketing campaigns by the Government of Dubai.
"UAE, particularly Dubai, has also become progressively more accessible (geographically and economically).
“The government’s initiatives for Open Skies policy that use Dubai International Airport as a hub between the East and the West and a gateway to emerging markets across the world has also helped.”
Singh also adds: "The strong marketing efforts of the government also helped typify Dubai's grandeur and luxury in the world’s collective consciousness with its catchy headline attractions of The Burj Khalifa - the world’s tallest building in the world; the Burj Al Arab- the seven-star hotel; Ski Dubai - the world’s largest indoor snow park.
"And its diverse tourism attractions suit every taste and budget offering first class hospitality, amenities and infrastructure."
Motivated by challenges
However, it hasn't been smooth sailing always. Singh's journey is also dotted with struggles and battling the odds to emerge victorious.
Singh claims his dedication, hard work and ability to remain focused helped him overcome numerous challenges.
A keen golfer and motor enthusiast, Singh is a sportsman even in spirit. "I have learned that when the going gets rough, that is the time not to quit. I am motivated by challenges."
He recounts: “I remember one of the biggest challenges when we were starting up was money.
"Starting a new business was a great challenge that required a lot of financial capital. When LAMA started in 1997, there were very few tour operators in the market (majority of the players were into ticketing).
"Investors were hesitant to take risk investing into larger infrastructures with the limited market share that was available.
“There were also limited resources available from banks and financial institutions; hence, it was definitely a struggle to convince the banks to approve finances for our vehicles and other infrastructures.
"Also, as a newbie in the industry, we did not have a clear vision of where the company was headed and had to instantaneously learn the ropes of the business.
"As Dubai rapidly expanded its tourism wings, LAMA also extended its businesses from being a desert safari operator to operating a one-stop shop tourism business offering air tickets, worldwide hotel accommodation, visa, and tours."
Mantra of life
After having achieved recognition and success, Singh remains connected to his roots. Despite owning several companies in the hospitality industry, he prefers having traditional Punjabi food and listening to yesteryear Bollywood hit songs to relax.
"It is important to stay humble and level headed. My dad is like that and he has inculcated in us the same values and I hope my kids follow the same path as well."
When asked "what next", Kulwant Singh candidly responds that one can never be satisfied.
"We always want to achieve a goal in life and after that there is another goal, then another and another. It keeps going on and on and one can never be satisfied with what he has achieved."