Susanna Saari is the President of SKÅL INTERNATIONAL 2017-2018, who has worked for Turku University of Applied Sciences, since 1998 and is currently a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Business, ICT and Chemical Engineering.
Her main tasks include participating in the work of the “Future Learning Design team” which develops innovation pedagogy solutions and virtual learning for the whole university and lecturing.
She has been a Project Manager for two major research projects funded by the European Commission on Spa management and Wellness destination development and is presently working on developing tourism offerings in the Turku Archipelago with 14 local entrepreneurs in a project titled “Productizing Finnish Lifestyle”.
Susanna holds a Master in Social Sciences and currently is a Doctoral student at University of Lapland working on her PhD on urban wellness destinations. Her hospitality industry experience is mainly in the field of hotels and she worked for Hyatt Regency Hotels in Dubai and Sokos Hotels in Finland before becoming a teacher.
Susanna is a representative of TUAS at the Turku Tourism Academy, and a board member of The Finnish Society of Tourism Research, as well as at The Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism representing
International. In this interview with African Development Magazine, President Susanna Saari speaks about her experience in the tourism industry and work on daily basis.
Can you tell us briefly about yourself, your family and educational background?
I was born and raised in Turku, Finland. I live alone in a beautiful wooden town house in Turku, and interior decoration is a passion of mine. During the high school I spend 2 summers in Brighton, UK and then right after graduation I moved to London to work as an Au-Pair.
I think this international exposure early on has helped me not only in my language skills but also in life. My first education is very classical hotel management education and quite soon after I graduated, I moved to Dubai, UAE to work for Hyatt Regency.
The years at the training department made me realize I love teaching so I moved back to Finland to continue my studies. I have since graduated with a degree in pedagogy, and a Master in Social Sciences. I have also completed a couple of specializations studies (in Events Management and Digital Marketing) and currently am a Doctoral Student at the University of Lapland, Finland. I am working on a PhD about “Urban wellness tourism destination” but this is still very early stage.
In my private life I have been a Senior Lecturer at Turku University of Applied Sciences since 1998 and this year am on a sabbatical leave so that I can work on my PhD and to dedicate my time to being the World President of Skål International (October 2017 – October 2018).
What are the challenges you faced while doing travel and tourism business and how did you overcome them?
I have not really faced big challenges during the years in the industry. However, working in a multi-cultural environment for years have opened my eyes in many ways. Being a strong female is very common in Nordic countries but not appreciated everywhere – breaking glass ceilings is not always easy but doable.
In tourism, we have aspect of tourism like educational tourism, religious tourism, medical tourism which area can Africa be on a selling point of tourism to world?
There a so many niches of tourism that naming just one or two does not work. Furthermore, Africa is an enormous continent – every destination or a country has its unique selling points (USPs) that should be the basis of the tourism development there. Tourism destination marketing has changed over the years, and so have the tourists. Being true to the authentic and local products and services is the key. Tourists are demanding and after good quality services, they rely on electric word of mouth (eWom) like recommendations at social media.
What would you do differently as present Skål president?
I have already been a president since October 2017. My leadership style is to discuss and make democratic decisions but if need be, I can also step in and make swift decisions. The key for me is complete transparency and efficient communications. We are currently working on renewing the statutes and by-laws of the association, and becoming digital on a completely new level
Skal was founded in 1932 and still exist, does it mean the government or corporate organization has been funding it sustenance?
No, we are working on membership fees and sponsorship money
African Development Magazine would like to partner Skal for promotion and event coverage of tourism business and event across Africa, would you support this development?
Of course. Our CEO, Daniela Otero, is the right person to discuss this with along with Vice President Lavonne Wittmann, who is in charge of PR & Communications, and lives in South-Africa.
You have visited many countries, what would you advise the African leaders?
Be true to your local culture and environments. Authentic, local and sustainable is what today’s consumers are looking for. Small scale is pretty, man-made and artificial for masses not!
Amazing memories are unforgettable; can u share with us most amazing memory?
There are a couple of tourism related places that I still remember very clearly. The first one is my trip to Meerufenfushi Island on the Maldives in the late 80’s as a young girl. It was a truly fantastic trip! I was also impressed with what I saw in Mombasa during my site-inspection for the upcoming Skål International World Congress (October 2018, see http://congress.skalkenya.or.ke/ ) just some weeks back! Africa is fantastic
Africanethnic groups and tribes have customs and traditions that are unique to their culture. What do you like about African Culture?
I have not seen too much yet and so I am very eagner to spend some more time in Kenya after our World Congress. A trip to Masai Mara is a must.
What’s your secret?
If I told you it would not be a secret anymore! Laugh.
What do you value the most?
Being able to work and learn more on daily basis.
In terms of its geographical size, population and economy, Nigeria is a force to be reckoned with in Africa and the continent’s biggest economy, Nigeria has undergone many changes in recent years. Yet there are some fundamental challenges which still remain and need to be overcome before it can fully realise its economic potential which tourism is the main focus, what would you do to revolutionaries tourism in Nigeria ?
Unfortunately, I have never been to Nigeria, and so to analyze it will be impossible. I would like to repeat what I said earlier; be true to your culture, be authentic, learn about your visitors, educate your service sector and aim at quality not quantity!