Seera Group, the Middle East’s leading provider of travel and tourism services, has always been at the forefront of adapting new digital tools in the tourism sector.
With a robust technology platform that covers different tourism businesses including travel management (Elaa), consumer travel (Almosafer and Tajawal), Hajj and Umrah (Mawasim), destination management (Discover Saudi), car rental (Lumi) and hospitality (Choice Hotels), the Group recently adopted to IATA’s New Distribution Capability (NDC), as the company continues to boost their travel retailing and provide customers with rich, more personalized and relevant offers as well as access to new content and fares from airlines.
To enable this, the company recently extended its long-standing partnership with Amadeus to adopt NDC. Seera Group joins Amadeus’ NDC [X] program to implement the NDC-enabled Travel API solution which will distribute richer airline products to its customers.
ArabiaTravelNews.com spoke to Muzzammil Ahussain, Executive Vice President of Seera Group to better understand the company’s commitment to digital transformation and what the business of selling new fares and services to customers via NDC will mean for the company.
Q: Tell us about your NDC partnership with Amadeus and how has this changed business at Seera.
Seera Group joined the Amadeus’ NDC program and implemented the NDC-enabled Travel API solution to distribute richer airline products to customers. This allows the selling of new fares and services to customers that are only available via NDC.
Customers are at the core of everything we at Seera Group do, and integrating NDC efficiently within our workflow, online and offline, will help our travel brands differentiate its offers with more relevant options, better fares and availability, as well as provide post-booking servicing capabilities.
Q: Since the adoption of NDC content, what other tech enhancements have you brought onboard?
We have several strategic tech-driven platforms that aim to create value for our stakeholders. Our focus is to provide a safe, personalized travel booking experience – for corporates and governments as well as consumers and agents. We are a customer-first, future-ready company, and we have invested significantly in digitization, which helps us in enhancing our operational efficiency.
For example, Lumi, our car rental business launched a new App and mobile web platform, further accelerating the development of sophisticated car travel booking solutions for our customers in Saudi Arabia.
Lumi’s new intuitive and seamless digital platforms allows it to further streamline and automate the online booking process and provides customers a quick, secure, and hassle-free experience.
We have also launched Enigma, a platform that aggregates hotel inventory from suppliers and distributes it across the Seera network to our B2B and B2C businesses whilst applying the most optimum pricing and presenting the best looking hotel and rooms in the industry. All whilst mapping rooms most effectively and accurately.
Additionally, we are also in the process of launching an alternative accommodation marketplace for Chalets in Saudi Arabia which will offer a seamless online experience and mobile app to allow guests to search and book chalets quickly and easily. 3D virtual tours of accommodation will enable guests to fully explore each property and choose the perfect accommodation for their stay and pay with confidence through Almosafer’s secure and convenient payment channels, whilst hosts will have their own dedicated app for inventory management.
Q: How much of this tech enhancements were a result of the pandemic versus what was already on your plan?
We didn’t stop what we were doing because of the pandemic. We continued our investment in infrastructure and technology, and the pandemic showed us the need for process automation across all sectors. In fact, during the pandemic, there were lots of cancellation requests, which were hard to manage manually and offline and thus the team came up with innovative ways to automate the process.
We utilized this time to review our legacy processes and update them and continue to move ahead with projects as per plan.
Q: Tell us how business has fared at Seera Group since the pandemic?
Covid-19 has had a major impact on the travel industry. But our strong liquidity position in addition to several actions undertaken to mitigate the impact of the crisis enabled us to overcome any major challenge. We have now emerged stronger as the travel sector recovers.
In a way, the pandemic pushed us to pivot our focus from outbound and inbound, to domestic travel. It served as the perfect ‘training ground’ for us to be ready and equipped with assets, infrastructure, partnerships, and service quality, and to cater to international visitors in the best way possible.
Q: How has Mawasim helped enhance the Hajj and Umrah experience?
We have been welcoming pilgrims from around the world for over 40 years and our enhanced service offering, expertise level and on ground support is unparalleled.
Mawasim has grown to become a trusted B2B travel services provider offering pilgrims a simplified booking experience. By offering end-to-end services, from one centralized source, the goal is to simplify the booking process for travel agents working with Mawasim globally.
In fact, we recently integrated Mawasim with Maqam – the official global distribution system platform of the Saudi Ministry of Hajj & Umrah. Under this new agreement, travel agents can visit the Mawasim portal to book hotels and transportation and generate a booking reference number, which they can use to process Umrah visa applications via authorized portals for their customers.
In its primary phase, Mawasim is integrated as an Online Travel Agency (OTA), giving travel agents access to an extensive network of diverse and tailored packages targeting various types of pilgrim travelers, based on data driven insights.
Our expert local knowledge, user-friendly technology, and commitment to customer satisfaction puts us in a unique position to serve all religious bookings – those who need Umrah visas through the Maqam portal as well as those with approved tourist visas through the B2B portal.
Additionally, for Umrah +, we are also leveraging the strengths of Discover Saudi to enable pilgrims to experience the rest of Saudi Arabia, before or after Umrah.
Q: Who are your key source markets today?
The target markets from an inbound perspective are plenty as the global travel community is keen on discovering the Kingdom. Looking at it from the perspective of our different brands, for Almosafer, inbound is GCC led (Kuwait/UAE/ Bahrain); Discover Saudi- our B2B: portal, the GCC market and tourists from Southeast Asia, Europe (e.g., UK/Germany, US, China); for Mawasim, international countries with Muslim believers and for Lumi, business and leisure travelers from within the Kingdom.
Q: What have been the key enablers that have helped the company plan forward?
We have built strong synergies across departments, and nurtured passionate teams. We have also gained stronger insights to better understand and serve travelers. Our strong enabler is that we cater to the changing customer needs through our omnichannel approach – to deliver a seamless customer experience across different channels.
Q: Looking ahead, what are your predictions for travel in Saudi Arabia?
Saudi Vision 2030 aims to unlock the potential of the Kingdom’s tourism industry by promoting inbound, domestic, and outbound travel services. Our strategy is to welcome first-time visitors to discover Saudi and to continue to host repeat travelers.
We see a healthy revival, especially in domestic tourism and are confident that with the wide array of developmental initiatives in the Kingdom, we will achieve the goals set by the Vision 2030 strategy for the tourism sector.
We are also investing heavily in infrastructure development, such as the Al Baha project where an entire hospitality destination is being built. People in the Kingdom see the enormous tourism potential, which has activated domestic tourism further. We are working closely with Saudi Tourism Authority to promote the Kingdom as a tourism destination by offering attractive tour packages, advanced hospitality sector, growing flights and more.
We also focus on outbound tourism as Saudis like to travel and explore new destinations.
Q: Can we expect to see more investments into tourism in Saudi Arabia or across the region?
Saudi Arabia through Vision 2030 has set forth a clear strategy to promote tourism and we will continue to support and contribute to the growth of the domestic, inbound and outbound tourism economies of the Kingdom.
We announced an investment of over SAR1 billion in tourism for the Kingdom covering promotion, distribution, infrastructure and Saudi human capital development. Furthermore, with Choice Hotels, we are planning to develop several properties across the Kingdom, opening at least ten hotels in the next five years.