The world is eager to reignite travel and tourism post-pandemic, and the region is no different. HN spoke with Muzzammil Ahussain, executive vice president of Saudi Seera Group, the new name for Al Tayyar Travel Group, one of the largest travel and tourism groups in the MENA region, to highlight the upcoming travel trends.
With the focus of Saudi Vision 2030 to unlock the true potential of the kingdom’s tourism industry by promoting inbound, domestic and outbound travel services, Saudi Arabia is set to be one of the world’s leading tourism destinations. Our strategy is to entice first-time visitors to discover Saudi and to continue to welcome repeat travelers. The goal of Saudi Vision is to welcome 100 million annual overnight visitors and increase tourism share of GDP to 10 percent by 2030. While the pandemic impacted the tourism sector globally last year, we see strong shoots of revival, especially in terms of domestic tourism. We are confident that with the diverse array of developmental initiatives in the kingdom, we will achieve the goals set by the Vision 2030 strategy for the tourism sector.
How is Seera Group catering to growing tourism demand in Saudi Arabia?
We have developed strategic tech-driven platforms to create value for our stakeholders. Online or offline, we are today a customer-first, future-ready company, having invested significantly in digitization; advanced data analysis is the key driver in optimizing our decisions, and we will continue to focus on operational excellence. From Discover Saudi, our destination management company, to elaa, our travel management company of the corporate and government sector, our platform solutions will help revolutionize how organizations in the kingdom manage their business travel requirements. Further, Mawasim, is our wholesale tour operator for Hajj & Umrah, and Almosafer is our flagship consumer travel business unit. Lumi, our car rental and leasing brand, is growing in its own right with technological advancements and added service offerings. We are particularly focused on leveraging the digital opportunity underpinned by tech innovation.
What are your biggest inbound and outbound markets?
For outbound, we are witnessing a significant shift. Pre-pandemic, the outbound travel revolved around Saudi nationals opting for GCC destinations such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Kuwait. We also saw great interest in European destinations, such as Paris and London, and island destinations like the Maldives. Travel destinations including Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines were also among the list of favorites. Now, the interest is on destinations that have quarantine-free regulations and easy accessibility.
Since the borders opened, we have witnessed growth in the number of bookings for the UAE and Bahrain. Given the ease of accessibility, trending destinations such as Georgia, Bosnia, Ukraine, Maldives and Seychelles are the hot spots. Target markets from an inbound perspective are plentiful; the global travel community is keen on discovering the kingdom and has been waiting for easy accessibility again since tourist visas were announced in 2019.
Our Destination Management Company, Discover Saudi, is getting leads from GCC markets, Europe, APAC and the Americas, with extended pilgrimage travel (Umrah) being a key area of focus as well. The pandemic also pushed us to pivot our focus from outbound and inbound to domestic leisure travel, which served as the perfect training ground for us to get ready and be equipped with assets, infrastructure, partnerships and service quality.
How did Covid-19 impact your business and how are you adapting?
Organizationally, we’ve largely been insulated, given the diversified nature of our business. With several of our businesses working on long-term travel plans, we were quick to boost the domestic travel business. Our portfolio businesses meet specific criteria, and our competitive position puts us in good stead within the industry. We have become more agile and continue to develop powerful and robust technology platforms, build synergies across departments, nurture passionate teams and gain sharp insights to better understand and serve travelers. We also cater to the changing customer needs through our omnichannel approach with Almosafer. We are furthering our educational efforts regarding destinations that have opened up and the ongoing regulations.
Do you think that clients’ preferences have changed after the pandemic?
They have definitely changed. In a country such as Saudi Arabia, where international borders have been closed for the better part of the pandemic, travelers pivoted and found ways to venture out and explore their own country rather than flying to their favorite places around the globe. Health and safety has become an integral part of informed decision making as regulations have continuously evolved, and educational efforts have become the backbone of travel advisory.
Our global network and strong ties with key travel partners allow us to keep customers well informed about the latest industry developments and provide travel safety guidelines in order to plan their trips without any constraints (such as unexpected flight cancellations, travel restriction updates, travel policy changes, destination safety news, etc.)
Our Almosafer consumer survey found that 60 percent of Saudi travelers will want to be aware of the in-destination social distancing and PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) rules applicable before deciding to travel. Clarity on safety measures taken by hotels and airlines is considered critical for 55 per cent of travelers to help in building confidence and come to a decision. The survey further finds that Saudi nationals are confident about traveling again, with the domestic leisure market set to benefit.
Our travel advisors, who are specifically trained to help customers make the right travel decisions, will continue to offer a holistic customer support system offering 24/7 assistance. As per our findings, over 20 percent of Saudi respondents confirmed they would prefer making travel arrangements with the help of a travel advisor.
How do you think Expo 2020 will impact tourism in the MENA in general and in Saudi Arabia?
Expo 2020 is likely to draw significant crowds to the UAE and the Middle East region in general. The event is expected to be a catalyst for tourism. The region will witness higher numbers of first-time visitors, and long-haul travelers will be encouraged to break up their journeys with visits to other destinations nearby. We are currently building dedicated packages, creating a Saudi Arabian experience around Expo 2020.
Through our conversations with customers, we have seen a rise in demand and interest in clients visiting Expo to continue their journey in the region by exploring parts of Saudi Arabia, such as Al-Ula.