Almosafer’s CEO on Navigating the Future of Saudi Tourism

This sponsored content was created in collaboration with a Skift partner.

Behind every successful travel destination is a story of adaptation and foresight. For Saudi Arabia, it’s about embracing change and rewriting the narrative. With the country hitting its tourism target of 100 million visitors seven years early, the sector is poised for unprecedented innovation and growth. Travel companies in the region now face the challenge of recalibrating to keep pace with emerging trends and new market realities.

SkiftX spoke with Muzzammil Ahussain, CEO of Almosafer, to gain insights into the evolving dynamics shaping the future of Saudi Arabia’s tourism landscape and the key forces and opportunities propelling the sector forward.

SkiftX: How has the way people plan and experience travel changed in Saudi Arabia in recent years?

Muzzammil Ahussain: Saudi travelers continue to explore destinations, with travel demand surpassing pre-pandemic levels. More people are eyeing luxury getaways and experiential tourism across the wider GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council), Europe, and Asia, with trending destinations, including Turkey and Thailand, fueled by easy visa accessibility. 

Domestic tourism accounts for over 40 percent of our consumer booking volume, which indicates that the country’s efforts to promote local tourism are effective. While religious tourism and key cities still play a major role in domestic bookings, new leisure destinations such as Abha and Taif, as well as luxury getaways like AlUla and the Red Sea, have seen a growth in demand.

Saudi travelers spent more on longer trips in 2023, with both average trip length and spending rising compared to pre-pandemic levels. There’s been a shift towards more luxurious and meaningful experiences post-Covid. Meanwhile, low-cost carrier bookings have increased, showing that travelers prefer economical flights while allocating more for in-destination expenses.

SkiftX: What major opportunities do you foresee for new technologies to drive growth and innovation within the region’s tourism industry?

Ahussain: Technological innovations have revolutionized customers’ travel experiences in the region, with digital platforms becoming the go-to for complete travel planning. 

B2B portals and distribution platforms are also driving industry growth, while white-label solutions allow partners to adopt advanced technology without heavy IT investments. This promotes a more inclusive tourism ecosystem and stimulates growth across all levels of the industry.

The future of tourism relies on continuous digital innovation, including AI for personalized recommendations, VR for virtual tours, and blockchain for secure transactions. Saudi Arabia is positioning itself as a leading digital tourism hub in line with Vision 2030 by staying at the forefront of these technological advancements. Almosafer will remain a key driving force behind digital developments in the sector.

As corporate and government travel requirements evolve, what are some new solutions Almosafer is introducing to redefine travel management, and how are they improving operational efficiency?

Ahussain: Almosafer Business, our corporate and government clients division in the Kingdom, provides customized travel management services by integrating Almosafer technology, travel advisory, and expertise across our 40-plus years of local market experience. We serve over 140 leading corporate and government entities as a one-stop shop for end-to-end travel management services. Our digitized system provides a flawless experience, making every step trackable, leading to improved efficiency.

We’ve also recently partnered with American Express Saudi Arabia to enable our corporate clients to centralize payments through its Corporate Travel Account (CTA). This consolidates and enhances corporate travel spending visibility, providing clients with an optimized, personalized business travel management solution.

What key destination development strategies are making the underexplored areas of Saudi Arabia more accessible to international tourists?

Ahussain: Saudi Arabia is making significant investments in infrastructure, new airports, increased flight frequencies, additional routes, the establishment of ground transportation facilities, and a richer array of “things to do,” making it easier for global hospitality brands to expand into underexplored areas, driven by growing interest from domestic and international tourists.

Destination management companies (DMCs) also play a big role in providing on-ground services. They increase awareness of local offerings in collaboration with regional destination management offices (DMOs). Enhanced connectivity and global marketing are bringing previously unexplored territories to the forefront, and our DMC, Discover Saudi, is well-placed to serve the influx of travelers from around the world.

Almosafer’s recent partnership with the upcoming Riyadh Air, investments in alternative accommodation, and ongoing collaborations with the Saudi Tourism Authority and key ecosystem players are all contributing to a seamless experience for international tourists looking for authentic immersion in the Kingdom.

How is Saudi Arabia planning to improve its religious tourism infrastructure?

Ahussain: Religious tourism is the largest economic contributor to the country’s tourism sector. The two holy cities of Makkah and Madinah are popular destinations throughout the year, as per Almosafer’s consumer and inbound tourism data. The Saudi government aims to increase the number of pilgrims to over 30 million by 2030 and is investing in infrastructure to improve the mosques, hotels, transportation, and tourist services in Makkah and Madinah.

Several projects are underway to accommodate increasing visitor numbers, including the Holy Mosque’s expansion and urban development projects like Rua Al-Madinah, a large mixed-use real estate development near the Prophet’s Mosque, and the Masar development giga-project in Makkah.

Recent reforms in Saudi Arabia now allow visitors to perform Umrah with any visa and have simplified visa policies, with residents of the GCC being able to obtain a visa on arrival.

What role does Almosafer play in streamlining the Hajj and Umrah experience?

Ahussain: Mawasim, Almosafer’s dedicated Hajj and Umrah tour operator, provides B2B partners worldwide with a portal to create seamless pilgrimage experiences. Religious tourism is critical to our growth and will be strengthened in 2024 by integrating with the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah’s official booking portal, Nusuk. This will expand our Umrah package offerings globally. 

Mawasim is also among the few companies licensed by the Ministry to provide Hajj-related services in select destinations via its B2C platform, Nusuk Hajj, with plans to serve 10,000 Hajj pilgrims annually, including new markets.

Almosafer has also recently been named the official flight partner for the direct Hajj program through Nusuk Hajj. This partnership will improve the Hajj experience for pilgrims from Europe, the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, and select Asian and African countries, with reliable travel options and a range of additional services from the Nusk Hajj platform.

Ahussain: Saudi Arabia’s rich cultural heritage and diverse geography make it an ideal destination for those seeking immersive experiences. Almosafer has seen a growing demand for activities and recreation among Saudi residents, mainly in Riyadh and Jeddah, with personalized experiences like diving, snorkeling, and other adventure and nature-based activities being popular among domestic travelers.

Almosafer continues to promote local activations by partnering with key stakeholders in the industry. Additionally, we support SMEs through Almosafer Activities, the Kingdom’s first marketplace for tours and activities, which is now integrated with Almosafer’s other travel businesses and sells directly to domestic travelers.

Ahussain: While religious tourism has traditionally been the cornerstone of the local tourism sector, leisure and entertainment travel are set to become additional major economic drivers moving forward. The development of giga-projects shows the ambitious scale of Saudi Arabia’s vision for the future. With outbound, domestic, and inbound tourism increasing, improving local infrastructure and offering seamless digital experiences will ensure travelers have unforgettable visits, making Saudi Arabia a must-visit destination.

For more information about Almosafer, click here.

This content was created collaboratively by Almosafer and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX

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