Posted On 22nd Feb, 2018
There is no doubt that Tourism has been one of the fastest growing industries in Bahrain in the last few years. However, when thinking of careers within the tourism industry, one rarely considers careers as tour guides or tourist guides. Yet, in our series of recognizing Bahrainis with unique and interesting career journeys, we came across Hessa Al Rumaihi.
Hessa is a 26-year-old Bahraini with a deep love for the land and a passion for showcasing the beauty and hidden secrets of Bahrain. She turned her love for Bahrain into a career path, becoming a certified tourist guide specializing in alternative tourism and curating unique bike tours around Bahrain. Here’s Hessa’s story of how she went from working in advertising and PR to building a business around doing what she loves and enjoys the most.
About four years ago, during a camping trip in Oman, my business partner, Zain, had the idea of offering experiences in Bahrain which helps people connect with nature and learn about Bahraini heritage, culture, and traditions. Localppl is a platform that connects travellers to local experiences and adventures delivered by locals themselves.
The vision was to create a series of alternative experiences, and that’s when my partner reached out to me and asked if I would like to curate my own experience. I knew I wanted to contribute so I wondered what would people enjoy and remind them of their childhoods. I knew I wanted to organize an experience that included being outdoors, biking, and exploring Jasra’s hidden gems and sites.
I tailored my own tour making sure the paths taken were adventurous as well as informative. We explore different environments, farms, beaches and historical sites. Overtime, I expanded the tours, which now include Jasra, Manama, Saar, and Barbar.
What first started out of the sheer intention of sharing experiences with people, quickly turned into a business. There was a lot of demand and a lot of people reacted positively, so that kept me going. My target market is mainly locals and women, expats and tourists.
When I first started, I would use my own bikes or would borrow from friends and use my resources at home. Slowly, when I felt that it was picking up and had more people joining, I approached BMMI and Al Osra and they have been sponsoring me for the past 3 years.
I’ve always enjoyed the nature, travelling, and engaging with people. I’ve always been an explorer since I was a child, so I knew I had to have that element in my work. I’m not the kind of person who’s meant to be in an office or behind a desk, I’m meant to be outdoors. I can’t do the same thing every day, I like mixing and matching.
I had a full-time job in business development for about 2 years, during which I started my apparel business and also started the bike tours with Global Wheels. I decided to quit my job to fully focus on my personal projects and took the jump. I’m currently mainly working on growing Localppl, and offering new experiences such as food and walking tours, gallery visits, and art experiences.
Two years ago, I got certified under the Ministry of Tourism to become an official tour guide. The courses run every 2 months and are 3 weeks long. The course was well worth it, I met a lot of people and learned a lot. I did the certification mainly because I wanted to be authenticated and do things the right way. It was mostly about skills and presentation and I had to do a lot of my own research and learn from stories that had been passed down for generations.
I chose to take the alternative route instead of traditional tourism. We explore and see Bahrain from a whole different perspective, connecting with the land and learning about different cultural and environmental aspects. We focus on raising awareness about important issues such as beach littering, urban development, and lost traditions.
As a woman, being a tourist guide was actually not that challenging. In fact, the Ministry is always looking and encouraging more Bahraini women to involved.
People have been very encouraging towards me. Whether it is the partnerships with Al Osra and BMMI, support and encouragement from the Minister of Tourism himself, or getting the opportunity to take the American ambassador on one of my tours. It’s all been really encouraging and gave me the motivation to continue on with my work.
I fall in love with Bahrain every time I go out on my bike. There is always something new and different to discover. I appreciate Bahrain a lot more now, I connect with its past and have an understanding of the land and feel more aware. On our tours, we get to see a lot of nature and things we don’t usually find.
Some 4000 years ago, one of the most ancient civilizations, the Dilmun civilization, lived in Bahrain. Bahrain was always known as a trade hub where people from Africa, Indus Valley, Persia, and all over would come and stop to trade and rest. It was known to be green and lush, with lots of springs, and marine life. Unfortunately, a lot of that went down with the discovery of oil and urbanization. That is why focus on tourism, and cultural preservation is important.
A lot of Bahraini locals may not be as aware of the country’s touristic potential. But there are a lot of initiatives by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to change that and to bring more awareness.
You have to explore and understand the land you live in. I really believe that it’s important for us to know our roots and our history. These are not things you may learn specifically from books but also from stories from our grandmothers and parents, and sharing those stories with others and piecing the puzzle together.