GCC has been at the forefront of building global companies in the hydrocarbon industry. However, more recently we are seeing tech companies starting out of GCC or making it their base for global expansion.

Today, we are excited to be talking to a leader who has built a niche and profitable services company in the burgeoning tourism segment, starting almost two decades ago. This company started out of GCC and is now the global souvenir imaging business leader. It is trusted by the likes of EMAAR, MAF, Disney and Universal Studios to name a few.

DEI (Digiphoto Entertainment Imaging) Global holds the mantle as the premier provider in the souvenir photography industry globally, with a footprint spanning top-tier parks and attractions, across continents. It is truly a company, “Built in GCC, For the world”.

Recently, Sandeep Ganediwalla, Managing Partner at Redseer Middle East, had an insightful chat with the founder KS Ramakrishnan who is now serving as the MD & CEO of DEI Global. Join us as we delve into this exclusive exchange to unravel DEI’s perspective on the region’s dynamic landscape and uncover the driving forces behind its remarkable success.

UAE’s Positioning as the Middle East’s Business Hub 

Sandeep: Why did you choose UAE as your headquarters? 

Ram: I chose the UAE, especially Dubai, for its well-structured environment, echoing a CEO’s visionary leadership. The ease of doing business here catalyzed our expansion to 19 countries, a feat more challenging elsewhere.  

Witnessing the UAE’s transformation between 2001 and 2008 into a leisure and entertainment hub while also being a re-export hub, shopping destination, and tourism hotspot was pivotal. Iconic developments like Burj Al Arab and Burj Khalifa and the strategic establishment of Emirates not only enhanced Dubai’s global stature but also resonated with our ambitions at DEI.  

The region’s commitment to transparency and integrity, as evidenced by significant investments like Fairfax’s in DEI, underlines its global business appeal. 

Saudi Propelling the Region’s L&E Market Forward 

Sandeep: Today, even Saudi Arabia is picking up. What is your take on that?  

Ram: In 2004, before DEI’s inception, I remember presenting Dubai’s prospects to a US investor. With over 40 attractions announced, the transformation seemed almost surreal, yet over 30 have been realized today.  

Saudi Arabia’s current evolution, under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030, is even more grandiose. The kingdom’s commitment, seen in colossal projects like Neom, Red Sea, and The Rig, and investments worth billions, positions it as a future leisure and entertainment titan. With industry giants like Disney and Universal planning expansions here and considering Saudi Arabia’s robust local consumption market, I see an unprecedented opportunity for leisure and entertainment akin to the markets in India or China. 

DEI Driving Success in Capturing Memories  

Sandeep: What factors contributed to DEI becoming a global leader? 

Ram: If I were to pinpoint two specific qualities that have contributed to our success, it would be our ability to identify and attract top talent and our proficiency in scaling operations. Our well-structured business model strongly emphasizes people, ensuring that our workforce is at the heart of our operations. 

What truly sets us apart is our 95%+ partner renewal rate, a testament to the strong relationships and consistent value we deliver 

Sandeep: What are the biggest differentiators, and as one of the largest players, what is your secret mantra? 

Ram: Despite the fragmented nature of the souvenir photography industry, DEI differentiated itself by bringing a scientific approach. Developing ‘workflows’ ensured comprehensive capture at entertainment centers, typically placed right after entrance turnstiles. This strategy and our deep understanding of operational structures and capture rates set us apart globally. Our consistency and foresight in adapting to market needs are reflected in our ~2x per capita realization and high renewal rate. 

For instance, when Kodak operated at Rockefeller Center, a Souvenir Photography company was the only company able to provide details of every tourist who visited in the last six months. So, we realized the science behind placing the capsule right next to security. It also serves as a second form of security, eliminating the need to ask permission for photographs.  

We have honed our expertise in numerous facets of this science. This includes understanding the optimal number and location of captures, as well as mastering the capture rate. Uniquely, DEI possesses a global distinction in accurately predicting visitor flow every hour across various facilities or theme parks, enabling us to achieve an impressive 250% capture rate. Our goal is to capture, on average, two and a half images of each visitor, with a keen focus on the meticulous setup and presentation of these photographs to our clients. and emphasize how we set up and present these pictures to you. 

Sandeep: How important is tech in your overall business strategy? 

Ram: See, Sandeep, I believe we are still a people business. While technology is crucial, a strong operating platform centered around people is essential for success. Just a people-dependent tech example – Having self-service soda kiosks at a restaurant… If customers can choose their options independently, you might sell five cans in a day, but with a server’s assistance, you could sell twenty cans because people value the service. My view on technology is that we need to be at the cusp of it, neither too early nor too late. Our newest innovation, WeC, epitomizes this tech-centric approach, setting new industry standards in capturing cherished moments. 

Exploring the World Beyond the Frame

Sandeep: Can you elaborate on how DEI plans to expand its offerings beyond entertainment photography, particularly in theme parks? 

Ram: Certainly. DEI’s vision extends beyond photography. We’re not just capturing experiences but creating them as well – Like be it the Dubai Balloon at Atlantis or augmented reality encounters in aquariums to bespose meet and greet experiences. 

Our expansion strategy also considers the broader spectrum of guest spending within theme parks. For instance, in parks where guests spend, on average, a certain amount on admission, a portion of that spending naturally flows into photography services. Similarly, guests also spend on food and souvenirs. Therefore, exploring ventures in the food and souvenir sectors within theme parks is a natural progression, aligning with visitor spending patterns. 

Sandeep: Any other closing remarks you would like to make? 

Ram: We are not just participating in the leisure & entertainment industry’s evolution; we’re leading it. Our region’s rapid embrace of this shift, especially with Saudi’s massive entertainment developments, positions us at the forefront of this dynamic era. We’re committed to forging new partnerships and amplifying our region’s potential on the global stage. 


  • Sandeep is the Partner of Redseer Strategy Consultants looking at the Middle East and Africa. He has 13+ years of experience in consulting and technology.