Strategy Bites: Muzzammil Ahussain, Executive Vice President - Consumer Travel, Seera Group
Seera Group's Muzzammil Ahussain delves into his company's journey, how his entity is embracing Vision 2030, and what it means to sustain international collaborations
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Strategy Bites is a series of interviews that LIRA Strategy Partners founder and Managing Director Raffaella Campagnoli is conducting with some of Saudi Arabia's most notable business executives for Entrepreneur.com. In this edition, she talks to Muzzammil Ahussain, Executive Vice President - Consumer Travel, Seera Group
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your business.
Seera Group started its journey as the Al Tayyar Travel Group in 1979, got listed on the Saudi Stock Exchange in 2012, and rebranded as Seera Group in 2019, with a refreshed vision and mission to take our journey to another level with technology investments and international businesses. Today, Seera Group is the largest travel company in the Middle East and a part of the National Saudi Champion companies. We have a very diversified set of business units such as consumer travel, corporate travel, car rental, religious tourism, hospitality, and corporate ventures. Lately, we launched our last project, Discover Saudi, focused on Saudi destination management. I have been working at Seera Group since 2018. As Executive Vice President of Consumer Travel, I lead Almosafer, the leisure travel platform in KSA that covers 80% of travelers, as well as Tajawal, which is focused on desktop and mobile booking services.
As an enterprise in Saudi Arabia, how are you and your entity embracing Vision 2030?
Over the last five years, Seera Group embarked on a significant transformation by embracing the Saudi Vision 2030 on different aspects, which include in/outbound tourism generation and management, pivoting to the new digitally driven business model, and empowering Saudization and the female workforce. It's easier to recap our achievements with some numbers and data:
- We strongly invested in tech, data, digital enablement, first of all with Almosafer, by pivoting to the new seamless traveler for inbound and domestic travels.
- We strongly fostered Saudization: 65% of our over 2000 employees in Saudi Arabia are nationals, and about 60% of them are female, which is kind of unique for the travel and hospitality sector.
- Saudi Arabia is planning 100 million tourists by 2030, with 30 million just traveling every year for the Hajj pilgrimage. Seera Group is the largest and most advanced travel service provider, and we are targeting to be a key contributor to that growth in tourism.
What are the key changes you are seeing when it comes to the business landscape in Saudi Arabia today?
Saudi Arabia is leapfrogging from a very traditional (and not open to tourism) country to one of the most advanced ones. The business landscape is, for sure, one of the most interesting globally right now. As an example, let's consider the evolution we have been investing in over the last three years:
- We are managing 80% of our bookings on the Almosafer digital application by having enhanced our seamless journey.
- We launched WhatsApp booking in 2020, which is really successfully paying back the investment, as we have more than 10% of our customers booking through WhatsApp messaging.
- The omnichannel approach we have designed is connecting our stores with the digital ecosystem we have developed, being able to manage 360-degree travel needs with a significant physical presence and powered by a digital engine.
- Customer care has been enhanced with the use of chatbots, allowing consumers to find their answers immediately with effective, artificial intelligence-driven responses.
- Corporate travel bookings are enabled with a very immediate digital portal, covering from car rental to train tickets, VIP Lounge passes, and hotel and flights reservations.
- Last but not the least, Discover Saudi was launched in 2019 to support Vision 2030's goal of domestic tourism enhancement. We are engaged with our mega and giga projects to create a strong ecosystem enabling the Kingdom to become a unique destination, not only for tourists but also for nationals to explore domestically.
What are Seera Group's plans when it comes to international collaborations?
Cultivating international collaborations is part of our investment plan. Tourism means being able to embrace different cultures and different languages- for example, one of the challenges we have faced is the availability of Japanese, Chinese, and Russian translators in the Kingdom. At Arabian Travel Market 2021, we have announced our exclusive partnership with Klook, a world-leading travel and leisure booking platform.
Together, we will create a one-stop digital platform with end-to-end content and inventory management solutions that will support tourism and leisure activity providers in Saudi Arabia, and provide an unprecedented choice of product offering for travelers to, from, and within the Kingdom. With this partnership, activity providers in the Kingdom will be able to connect with global marketplaces and tour distributors, enabling them to build their business, which will not only support the local tourism landscape, but also elevate Saudi Arabia's footprint on the global tourism map.
The platform will also showcase tours and activities operated by Discover Saudi, Seera's integrated destination management company. Back in 2019, we signed our partnership with Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG), which counts 15 brands and over 5600 hotels in its portfolio in more than 100 countries, for the leisure travel category. Seera Group has access to automated real-time pricing and inventory across IHG's portfolio, and we have connected with a wider audience of leisure travellers. Leisure travel is a growing category amongst the region's domestic and outbound travellers, including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with a number of projects initiated under the KSA National Vision 2030.
Given your role, what are the things that keep you up at night? Adding to that, what excites you most about what you do?
Like in any business, there are many challenges; however, the "natural" and more significant one in the Kingdom is about human capital. Vision 2030's plans are very ambitious- it is the first time the Kingdom is facing such a tremendously fast and significant transformation: culturally, very impactful, and business-wise, very transformational, and internationally hard to benchmark. Seera Group is fully committed to supporting Saudi Arabia in its vision to be considered one of the best countries to experience, and we will continue investing in our growth embracing Vision 2030 and its objectives.