Inspired by adventure and experiences, Her Highness Princess Fahda Bander Abdullah Al Saud founded The Traveling Panther (TTP) in 2015.

What initially started as a blog quickly turned into an experienced-based travel consultancy through which Princess Fahda, along with her co-founder Manayer AlSharekh, has been able to share her love for adventure with many others around the world. Emirates Woman sat down with Her Highness to find out more about TTP and her love for travel.

Talk us through your career.

My career started during my last year at the University in Lebanon when me and my film project partner started a small production company called Flix Films. Our first project focused on a short film which we produced two of, and was selected for a few European film festivals such as Berlin & Locarno. I focused on the production part of the business, and after two years I sold my shares to my partner and moved on to further my education in the UK.

I then had a short career in my father’s holding company, a great learning opportunity for someone without any corporate experience. It also taught me that this was not the structure I thrived in. I then took a few years exploring my passions, travel & photography. I took every opportunity I found to go to places I have never seen, and learn from amazing travel photographers on their expedition trips. One of my most memorable was when I went to the Arctic Circle with National Geographic. It truly was an incredible experience that guided me forward into developing my own path. In 2015, The Traveling Panther blog was born, and became the match that ignited the adventure that has become The Traveling Panther (An Experience Design & Cultural Advisory Company). My company has recently celebrated its seventh anniversary this year.

You co-founded The Traveling Panther in 2015. What is the story behind the business?

On a trip to Cuba in July 2015 with my co-founder Manayer Al Sharekh and my closest friends, I picked up photography again. I was inspired by this land that seemed to stand still in time. Every night I would show them what amazing places and people I took photographs of. My friends kept trying to convince me to show them publicly on social media, but I had no real interest in that. One night, they took it upon themselves to give me a push and created a blog, naming it the Traveling Panther. My name, Fahda, means Panther. Manayer asked if she could post some of my photos on the blog, and the process intrigued me. On July 26, 2015, The Traveling Panther Instagram account was born. There, I captured our travels around the world, and people started asking for our help to plan trips. Before we knew it, we had a travel consultancy company, helping people go on the same adventures we had done. We especially took pride in connecting them with the companies, people, photographers, and artists we met along the way who made it so special for us.

What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?

I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur and didn’t truly look to build my own company, yet I always loved to create. Whether it was films, stories, or experiences, taking something from seed to inception has always fascinated me. Collaborating with others to make each project the best it could have always been a part of who I am.

How did your childhood shape your outlook on life and approach to business?

I grew up watching the person who I admired most, my mother HRH Princess Mashael bint Faisal (God Rest her soul), in her journey of discovery and love of life. Seeing her build herself, her business, her career and her community not only drives me, but I also find myself mimicking in some ways. Her adventures and curious nature saw her taking us around the world, doing daring things at a young age. Whitewater rafting in the Americas; exploring volcanic tunnels in Africa; delving into global cultures and expanding our horizons by meeting tribespeople in the planes of Africa; gathering with artists & academics in Europe – she was a true lover of life and knowledge to such an extent that it became the basis of who we are as a family. When it came to business, I saw a woman who built herself through sheer will and dedication to bettering herself in all ways. Whether in education, business development, community development, and even self-development, she loved to learn and grow in any way she could for the betterment or herself, her family, and her society.

Her Highness Princess Fahda Bander Abdullah Al Saud

Would you say you’re more creative or business minded – or both?

If you asked me a few years ago I would have said I was purely creative, however, building TTP has opened my eyes to a business side of myself I never knew I had. I would say I am both, and I believe it takes a bit of both to be able to see the full scope of the business.

What is a philosophy that you live by in your professional life?

My favourite book as a child was Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. A conversation in it by Alice and the Cheshire Cat spoke to me in reference to all facets of my life: “Alice asks the cat: ‘Which road should I take?’ In reply, the cat says: ‘Where are you going?’ To that, Alice says: ‘I don’t know.’ ‘Then it doesn’t matter which road you take,’ the cat says in response.” What I took from this passage is that you don’t need to bind yourself to the final destination, you never know what the journey will bring, and those unexpected detours are usually where all the magic happens.

There have been major positive changes that have been made for women in Saudi Arabia. What are your thoughts on this?

That is an understatement in my opinion. The shift in female representation in Saudi Arabia is awe-inspiring. Not only are we equal in our opportunities, but we are now present in industries that we never have been in before, such as public sectors, defence, tourism, culture, aviation and the list goes on. It’s empowering and humbling at the same time.

What do you think are some misconceptions that are made about women in Saudi Arabia?

Unfortunately, there are many, yet they are changing. I would say the idea that we as women are oppressed and not an equal part of society, and that we don’t have a voice, which is farthest from the truth.

What advice do you wish you had received at the beginning of your journey to success?

There is nothing shameful in failure and successes are not always admirable. It’s what you learn from them that builds growth, and how you act despite them gives value. So be aware of your perceptions and don’t be too hard on yourself.

You’ve worked incredibly hard to get where you are today, where does your drive come from?

I am motivated by the possibilities I see and the abundance of opportunities we are blessed to have access to. But all that would not be achievable without my family and community, who not only support and challenge me, but work side by side with me.

Which three key hurdles have you had to overcome in your career?

One would be learning about a new industry, tourism, that I never worked in before. The second is managing a company and finding my own way to make it successful, and how to manage employees and not creatives, as I did with my film company. Thirdly, having to deal with Covid-19 as a startup in the tourism industry and find ways to pivot and shift in an uncertain climate.

What have been the three key milestones of your career to date?

We are very blessed in our milestones and the three that come to mind are: First, being able to establish The Traveling Panther HQ in Sau- di after the launch of Vision 2030 in 2017, and being on the frontlines of this new industry in my country. Second would be TTP’s first large contract to guest manage the launch of the DGDA Turaif Opening ceremony which led to many opportunities, such as [the music festival] MDLBEAST and the Royal Commission of AlUla. And third is consulting for major international firms and companies in our Advisory position in all matters of Saudi culture, and integration in tourism experiences showcasing our unique narrative and culture which I’m most proud of.

Do you have any mentors or guides who have helped you throughout your career?

My mother will always be the most important, and her advice to always surround yourself and befriend people who are driven, successful, and accomplished was the best advice. I am blessed to have those people from family, friends, and peers who make me want to be better and challenge me to do better. Those people, who are mostly women, have been the beacon to my success. This is The Entrepreneur Issue – what does being an entrepreneur mean to you? It means I get to do what I love and build a legacy to be proud of. It also means I’m not afraid to try.

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