Being able to feed your eternal wanderlust and getting paid for it is one cool job profile, isn’t it? Our guest for the month, Partha Sawardekar, who was once a brilliant translator at BITS, now holds one such cool job at Arabian Adventures. Being a subsidiary of the Emirates Group, Arabian Adventures deals with inbound tourism in the fabled lands of Arabia (read UAE!).
Read on to know how coupling his knowledge of languages with his love for travelling took this multilingual tour guide places (like, literally!).
Being a tour guide in Dubai seems really exciting. So please take us through a normal working day in the life of Partha.
Well, actually speaking there is no normal working day for me! We do a whole lot of different things at Arabian Adventures, starting from one-day tours to six-day round trips where tourists spend each night in a different Arabian city. And the different nationalities and backgrounds that we cater to further reduce the chances of ever having a typical working day.
Word has it that you used to be a brilliant translator back in the day. Any particular reason for this shift in careers? Or was it the opportunity that came along?
Yes, the opportunity came along and I had always fancied tourism. I wanted to try out something different and open myself up for a new exposure.
How did the opportunity that helped you land the job at Arabian Adventures come along?
I started out in a different company in Oman. A senior professor at the Max Müller Bhavan, Mumbai had a contract with a company based in Muscat. This company, Zubair Tours, handled a lot of German tourists. And since none of the local tour guides spoke German, the company recruited German speakers from India. It was after working in Muscat for six years that I got an offer from Arabian Adventures.
Do you believe that translations and tourism as professions complement each other?
Well, the common base in both is knowing a foreign language. But a good translator doesn’t necessarily or immediately become a good tour guide. A tour guide needs to speak the language, which a translator seldom has to do. Knowing foreign languages is extremely crucial, but being a tour guide is not only about the language. The tourists expect their guide to know the history, the culture and the political and economic scenario of the region. So after having learnt the language, a tour guide needs to keep himself informed and updated all the time.
And do you speak Arabic?
I’ve picked up a few words over the years, but I don’t have a conversational quality in Arabic. And in a cosmopolitan place like Dubai, almost everyone speaks English. Even when I take groups to slightly smaller cities like Al Ain or Fujairah, I have to deal with people from the tourism industry who speak fluent English too. So I have never quite faced a pressing need to learn Arabic.
Do you have any plans of learning more languages?
Well I have always wanted to go into more languages. Spanish would have helped. A language like Spanish or Portuguese can get you really good jobs in a place like Dubai because there are a lot of inbound tourists from Latin America, Spain and Portugal. And today, I have to say, Mandarin is important not only for trade but also in tourism because the way the Chinese are travelling across the world is phenomenal! Tourism companies in Dubai also have a demand for Indian language speakers. But frankly speaking, the only knowledge that I do have and that helps me greatly is that of German and English, of course.
And tell us, how is the tour guide in Dubai different from the tour guide in India?
I think tourism in India still has a long way to go. But I have no firsthand experience of being a tour guide in India. However, from what I have heard from friends and colleagues, I can say that the tour guide in Dubai is much better trained than in India. Secondly, I think being a tour guide in India is comparatively more challenging than being one here. I never have to worry about bad quality of roads or unavailability of restrooms while on tour here. But a tour guide in India has to consider all of this, making his job a little more challenging.
As a parting shot, tell us what all it takes to be a well loved tour guide.
It takes a lot of dedication and people management skills along with the required cultural and linguistic knowledge. A well loved tour guide is someone who can impart the knowledge he has in ways that are easily understandable for his group. And people who speak multiple languages do have an edge as foreign languages help in landing good jobs in the tourism industry.