RIYADH, April 22 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia’s largest travel company, which has re-branded itself as Seera, aims to more than double the gross value of its bookings in the next four years to 16 billion riyals ($4.3 billion), its chief executive said on Monday.
The firm, formerly Al Tayyar Travel Group, wants to grow its foothold in the kingdom’s consumer travel and pilgrimage sectors, Abdullah Aldawood told reporters, as the government seeks to develop domestic tourism and attract non-Muslim visitors to the country.
Seera’s market share in consumer travel, currently at 3 to 4 percent, is expected to reach double digits within two to three years, Aldawood added.
“Consumer travel is strategic and we will not hesitate to make any move to expand our market share aggressively,” he said.
“If these opportunities don’t come through, or there are not appropriate opportunities at appropriate prices, there is another way, through customer acquisitions... via different marketing strategies. This will lead to the same goal.”
As part of plans to diversify the economy, Saudi Arabia wants to boost tourism spending - by locals and foreigners - to $46.6 billion in 2020 from $27.9 billion in 2015.
It also wants to increase the number of “umra” pilgrims coming from abroad to 30 million a year by 2030 from 6 million.
Electronic visas for foreigners to attend sporting events and concerts have begun to be issued in limited instances but it remains unclear when they will be available on a regular basis.
“A lot of large companies are just waiting for this to happen in order to move and invest,” Aldawood said. “What we know from our discussions with various stakeholders is that the government is really, really, really pushing.”
Plans to admit significant numbers of tourists from abroad have been discussed for years, only to be blocked by conservative opinion and bureaucracy.
The company’s founder and previous board member Nasser bin Aqeel al-Tayyar, who owns a 11.05 percent stake, was detained in late 2017 with scores of other elite business figures under an anti-corruption probe led by the kingdom’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Many, including Tayyar, were released after being cleared or reaching settlements with the government.
Aldawood said there had been no change to Tayyar’s ownership stake. Asked if Tayyar’s relationship to the company’s board had changed in any way, he replied: “Absolutely not, it’s the same relationship.”
$1 = 3.7500 riyals Reporting by Stephen Kalin Editing by David Holmes