Seera Group is confident that Saudi Arabia could welcome 100 million tourists a year by 2030 and commends the country's efforts to change its image at a brand level. However, it'll be some time before the perception changes overseas.
Synonymous with Saudi Arabia’s transformational journey, Seera Group has been a significant contributor to the growth of the domestic, inbound, and outbound tourism economies of the country. Having started as Al Tayyar Group in 1979, the company reimagined itself as a modern brand — Seera in 2019.
In December 2021, Seera Group transformed its portfolio to create the largest travel business in the Middle East with the integration of its diverse verticals under the umbrella of Almosafer.
Almosafer now serves as the single umbrella travel brand under Seera Group managing not only consumer travel but also dedicated corporate and government services. Seera’s travel services in the United Arab Emirates also come under Almosafer for further expansion across the region.
In conversation with Skift, Muzzammil Ahussain, executive vice president of travel at Seera Group, talks about leveraging the strong synergies of the different business units and how the company has been embracing and aligning itself with Saudi’s Vision 2030.
The comments have been edited for length and clarity.
Skift: Seera Group transformed its portfolio to create the largest travel business in the Middle East with the integration of its verticals under the umbrella of Almosafer. Was this unification of services necessary to address market fragmentation within the region?
Muzzammil Ahussain: We did this primarily for internal reasons as we saw that it provided better focus for our customers and our internal operations. It helped us to streamline our systems, our processes and our management to really capture the entire travel ecosystem in Saudi — both consumer and business. Almosafer is a one-stop shop for all travel needs, serving travellers through a network of omnichannel offerings. There are also a lot of cross-selling opportunities and a lot of brand strength that we can now leverage. We’ve received great feedback from our clients already in using the Almosafer brand.
Skift: What role do you see Seera playing in Saudi Arabia’s transformational journey in driving Vision 2030 and aiming to fast-track the revival of tourism? Also, isn’t the aim to attract 100 million tourists a year by 2030, a little too ambitious?
Ahussain: It is ambitious, but not unrealistic. That target of 100 million needs to be supported by a number of elements in the ecosystem. Given the investment that the country is putting in in creating the infrastructure and the ecosystem for tourism through various giga projects, the goal seems realistic.
Seera will be playing its part and we have also partnered with the Tourism Development Fund to build the first mountainous resort in the country, in Al Bahar. We are also working around the elements of demand and supply. Through Almosafer, we have been showcasing the country to tourists in the domestic and Gulf Cooperation Council markets and have seen exponential growth in domestic tourism. In 2021, our platform witnessed almost 1000 percent increase in tourism numbers in cities like Abha and Jazan.
We also partnered with Klook, a leading travel and leisure booking platform, to create a one-stop digital platform with end-to-end content and inventory management solutions to support tourism and leisure activity providers in Saudi Arabia.
Also, we are bringing international tourists into Saudi Arabia through Discover Saudi and through Mawasim — our religious tourism arm. Through Mawasim, we are not just looking to meet the demands of travellers for Hajj and Umrah but also helping them to explore Saudi beyond their pilgrimage.
Skift: How difficult is it to sell Saudi Arabia as a leisure destination to international travelers considering the historic perception of the destination?
Ahussain: Credit for this goes to the Saudi Tourism Authority for their work in changing the image of the country at a brand level. The various campaigns to promote Saudi Arabia around the world have significantly helped. Over the past nine months, we got to host international travel agents to Saudi Arabia for familiarisation trips, in collaboration with the ministries and Saudi Tourism Authority, they have all been impressed with the potential of the country. Destinations such as Alula, Old Jeddah, the Red Sea and Riyadh, have remained untapped from an international tourism perspective. Of course, there will be bumps on the road as the ecosystem is being built, but travelers understand that. And while the government does its duty to market Saudi in the international marker, our job would be to showcase what there is to do in Saudi Arabia.
Skift: Is your car rental and leasing business — Lumi going ahead with its initial public offering?
Ahussain: As part of our diversification strategy in 2015 we started our car rental and leasing business, which we rebranded to Lumi in 2019 and our car fleet is now over 17,000 vehicles. We are on track to achieve close to $266 million revenue next year at healthy earnings before interest and taxes margins. We are in the process of evaluating the IPO for Lumi and we expect to have more information coming towards the second half of this year.
Skift: As Saudi women start taking charge of their own transportation, do you see more women drivers coming to rent or lease cars?
Ahussain: We do have female customers and have seen some growth in this space. The rental car business in Saudi is growing through a transformation. Before it was much more business oriented, now we’re seeing it for leisure trips, for vacations and road trips, which is now a new way to explore Saudi Arabia.
Skift: How many women are employed in the Seera Group? Do you see that increasing?
Ahussain: At Seera Group, about 25 percent of our workforce is female. We continue to invest in female talent in Saudi Arabia and also in UAE and Egypt, where we have our businesses. We partnered recently with Princess Nourah University, which is one of the largest female universities in Saudi Arabia. We continue to grow and see females as a core component of our workforce. A key component of Vision 2030 is talent and at Seera we continue to invest in talent. The Almosafer Academy launched in 2019 had around 60 percent female students in its first batch. We will continue to partner with ministries and Human Resources Development Fund to grow our female workforce and talent and also invest in them.
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Photo credit: Abha city in Saudi Arabia is located at the southern end of the Red Sea coast. Seera Group