FILE PHOTO: Muslim pilgrims visit Mount Al-Noor, in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia August 28, 2017. Picture taken August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem
March 26, 2019
RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s largest travel company, Al Tayyar Travel Group, aims to double its online booking sales to 4 billion riyals ($1.1 billion) by 2020, capitalizing on a rapidly growing tourism market, its chief executive told Reuters.
It also plans to invest heavily in technology to reap the benefits of Saudi government plans to develop domestic tourism and to attract non-Muslim tourists to the kingdom.
Al Tayyar was among the first investors in Careem, the Middle East rival of global ride-hailing firm Uber Technologies Inc, with a 14.7 percent stake.
Following Tuesday’s announcement that Uber will spend $3.1 billion to acquire Careem, Al Tayyar said it would receive a gross profit of 1.78 billion riyals from the deal, of which it will record at least 1.34 billion riyals in 2019.
“We grew our online travel agency business from almost zero in 2015 to over 2 billion riyals of gross booking volume in 2018 and we aim to double that number by the end of 2020,” said chief executive Abdullah Aldawood
“This market is growing at double digit in the Middle East, we are uniquely positioned to capitalize on this benefit and grow our current 50 percent market share,” he added.
Aldawood said Haj and Umra – pilgrimages by Muslims to Saudi Arabia – were other focus areas for his company, in light of forecasts that the market for such trips will grow to 200 billion riyals over next decade from about 75 billion now.
The kingdom has set a goal of boosting religious tourism as part of its long-term plan to diversify the economy beyond oil and announced a target to increase the number of umra pilgrims coming from abroad to 30 million a year by 2030 from 6 million.
“We are deploying investment in order to be dominant player in that market too, we will invest heavily in technology, sourcing and data distribution, securing inventory and market share acquisition to achieve our goals,” Aldawood said.
The company’s founder and board member Nasser bin Aqeel al-Tayyar, who owns a 11.05 percent stake, was detained in the late 2017 anti-corruption probe led by the kingdom’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He was released in early 2018.
(Reporting by Marwa Rashad; Editing by Mark Potter)