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An Exclusive Interview with Burcin Turkkan, the World President of Skål International by June Mukherjee, the Founding Editor of The Asian Footprints on the big picture and transformational roadmap of the world’s biggest organisation of travel and tourism professionals.

AFP Exclusive
June Mukherjee, Atlanta & Kolkata,
March 20, 2022

As a transformational leader of Skål International (SI) during a very difficult time, how are you dealing with the current situation?

As a transformational leader, I work with teams. My immediate team is the SI Executive Board - we are a team of eight where we identify the goals and the route how to reach these goals. In addition to our Executive Board, I initiated eight committees inviting the membership to serve. These committees have been established to support the SI Executive Board to achieve its goals for 2022. There are over 120 Skål members with a broad range of applicable experience actively serving on these committees who share their expertise beyond their own career interests. I work with all these committees and their members as a team to identify needed change, creating a vision to guide that change using leadership, inspiration, and vision by executing the change in tandem with our committed members. I focus on inspirational motivation, idealised advocacy, intellectual stimulation, and individualised considerations.

When you became the World President, you had a 12-point agenda to take Skål International to its next level. How is that work shaping up?

It is shaping up wonderfully! I am very happy to report that by month three, we are addressing 100 per cent of the 12-point agenda! We started the year with an open, transparent and direct communication to involve more Skålleagues in setting policy. By inviting the entire membership to take part in the setting and execution of goals has generated positive energy and high momentum among our Skål global community. Also working together has created the opportunity for Skålleagues from different parts of the world to spend hours working together towards the common set of goals.

As a reminder, the 12 points were as follows:

* Bring back amicale, respect, and friendship throughout Skål
* Unify Skål in its programmes and purposes
* Assist our members and their businesses to emerge successfully from the pandemic
* Appoint seven global committees to enlist more talent and strengthen all aspects of Skål
* Focus on getting the promised “ROI” return on investment from digital transformation
* Work more closely on global programmes with sister tourism organisations
* Identify key tourism issues to advocate and offer programming for Skål at every level
* Adhere to our statutes and by-laws without deviating
* Adopt best practices for association management for Skål
* Implement sound budget and forecasting practices
* Support our excellent headquarter staff at its current location
* Retain and grow membership at every level and add countries

An organisation so vast and diverse and spread so wide, the keyword you chose was to UNITE. How do you plan to convert the idea into a reality?

We are already much more united! For 88 years, Skål has been promoting tourism and connecting tourism globally through friendship and amicale. Today, during these difficult times, I chose the word UNITE, because in the last two years during the pandemic the human touch in our relationships has been missing. We all had been isolated with limited physical contact. The impact of these two years has been different for each of us, due to various reasons based on how the pandemic impacted our individual lives personally and professionally. I chose this keyword to remind our membership that Skål and its 12,500 Skålleagues, that membership is there to stand together with them, because we all know we can only be stronger standing and working together!

How do you plan to grow the organisation in terms of quantity keeping the quality?

In 2022, we are looking to grow Skål strategically. Rather than looking into the growth in membership numbers in existing clubs only, we are targeting to grow by starting new clubs in new cities and countries. The quality is always there as Skål requires certain qualifications and background for membership eligibility.

We have seen during the pandemic in many cases, tourism associations in various countries remain unheard and their demands remain unattended by governments. As in many countries, tourism is an unorganised sector, How do you think Skål International's advocacy can become more effective?

Here one more time we need to emphasise the power of acting united. Skål exists in over 100 countries and 323 major cities with over 12,500 decision-making members. If we all advocate for the same issues with the same statements adapted to national and local circumstances using all the digital, social and media platforms Skål has created, we can create more awareness and responsibility for the local authorities to respond to the issues raised.

Do you think the work various Skål International clubs around the world are doing towards the betterment of society need more spotlight and need more public attention? How to grab that attention to get more public support?

Yes, we as Skål for the past 88 years have been very comfortable to be one of the best-kept secrets of the tourism world! Skål had been an invitation-only organisation up until the early 2000s. Although every club in Skål has participation at local community levels with various projects supporting the industry as well as many charities and community projects, these accomplishments have generally been kept and celebrated primarily at the local level. In 2022, I have initiated eight committees to support the goals of SI for the year and one of them is the Public Relations & Communications Committee to support the efforts of increasing the visibility of Skål International globally by revealing our success stories in the media as much as possible. This strategy will create awareness and increase the visibility of Skål.

It is indeed the time of the digital age and how Skål International is planning to move on with its next-level social communications?

Yes, we are in the digital age and the pandemic has proven that we must get things done digitally. We also have realised that the most important part of being a human is our face-to-face communication in our daily lives. We don’t feel as happy and complete without the in-person human interactions. Skål clubs will continue to meet in-person once a month, have their national meetings at least twice a year and meet internationally at the Skål World Congress once a year. We have, however, added a digital component, so some of these meetings will have that hybrid access added.

Skål International has a very strong force of youth. What is your plan to use the Young Skål brigade worldwide to contribute to the society in a larger landscape as they are your youth ambassadors?

I strongly believe in the power of our youth. As Skål International, we are one of the first organisations that started the investment in youth by starting the Young Skål student membership category. We have been seeing the results of this investment lately where we have young club presidents in their thirties emerging from the Young Skål Programme. I think we need to give more emphasis to Young Skål professionals, who are future leaders of the industry, transitioning to become active Skål members. Skål offers many key opportunities and knowledge these future leaders seek when choosing an organisation to join. Skål offers the chance to be a part of something big, a global organisation with a sterling reputation and long history. These young professionals want to feel needed and are welcome. At Skål International we acknowledge the fact that we need and want to develop these future leaders. To support this mission, we have initiated our Training & Education Committee which will help our club presidents in identifying, recruiting and training leaders for our organisation.

Sustainability is one of the main keywords in today's world. How do you plan to inject more SDG agenda in the clubs' micro-level activities so that their usefulness goes beyond only travel and tourism purposes and serve towards a better future?

Our Advocacy and Global Partnerships Committee and its Sustainability Subcommittee are already hard at work on addressing these issues. Our focus will be on the protection and preservation of cultural, historic, natural, and animal resources, as well as addressing climate change. One of the proposals coming from this committee is to establish a role for "sustainability champions" and resource materials to be used at the international, area, national, and club levels.

At the moment Skål International is present in about 100+ countries. How do you plan to reach out to the rest? If from any such country anyone wants to join or initiate, what do they do?

We have already made our strategic analysis, identified the countries where Skål does not exist and advised the area committees, International Skål Council, and the Membership Committee to look at these areas to identify the connections our members have in these countries. Our team will strategise the start of new clubs in unrepresented countries by collaborating with local authorities.

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