The travel industry is no stranger to disruption. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, a range of digital players were upending the sector with tech-enabled experiences and new business models. Established travel companies raced to embrace digital transformation — and not always successfully.
Seera Group is one of the success stories. But the company isn’t resting on its past achievements. Rather, Seera Group recognizes the need for reinvention across the board, with payments and its partnership with Checkout.com, core to its digital strategy.
To achieve its growth plans, Seera Group has embraced an ambitious innovation agenda — including a willingness to disrupt itself.
“Our group was established 41 years ago as a very traditional travel agency focused on serving corporate and government customers," says Muzzammil Ahussain, EVP Consumer Travel, at Seera Group. "As we matured, we continued to grow our market share and expand our portfolio. But around 2015 we realized that we couldn’t exactly articulate who we were and who we wanted to be. We had a car rental business, we had an insurance business, we had a travel magazine. But we didn’t have a vision for ourselves.
“So we went about developing our transformation plan, and part of that transformation was defining not only how we operate but who we are.”
The work produced a new name — Seera Group — which stands for 'journey' in Arabic — and a compelling sense of the company’s purpose in connecting cultures. It also led to a program of continuous improvement in the group’s technology and the customer experience as Seera Group digitizes across its portfolio.
Payments are at the heart of that strategy, because as Ahussain points out, they affect so many aspects of the business.
And with Checkout.com, Ahussain is confident that Seera Group has a Payment Service Provider that’s able to move at the speed needed to achieve its ambitious objectives. As Ahussain explains, one of the essential reasons that Checkout.com can solve these problems is because of its modular design. This lets customers like Seera Group tailor their integrations, and allows for rapid experimentation and expansion.
“The key reason we selected Checkout was the integration and the API capabilities and how the tool was able to scale with us. It becomes much easier on our side in terms of integrating the technology within our payment process.
“Because the solution is modular, it's very easy to integrate pieces into various parts of our funnel,” he explains. “The dashboards and analytics give us a lot of information that we need to continuously monitor what's going on, whether that's client rates or fraud. That modular nature has allowed us to continually take pieces of those modules and integrate them further into our ecosystem."
In the markets that Seera Group operates, the ability to tailor the customer experience to local preferences is a must to drive acquisition and consumer loyalty.
“We've been really focused on ensuring we have the right local payment methods, like Mada in Saudi Arabia and KNET in Kuwait," says Ahussain. "It's really about making sure your payments offering is relevant to the customer.”
Seera Group also worked with Checkout.com to implement Apple Pay, which has since gained major traction in the region due to companies going cashless to combat COVID-19.
“Mada and Apple Pay are significant contributors to our payment network,” says Ahussain. “When we launched Apple Pay, the Checkout.com team was very helpful during the integration and also in the launch process by coordinating marketing efforts with Apple. Because of the support from Checkout.com we launched successfully and were one of the largest transactors on Apple Pay in Saudi Arabia for a time.”
The partnership between Seera Group and Checkout.com has already produced a number of wins, and Ahussain says that several factors make it so successful.
"One is the day-to-day operations. Our dedicated account manager and the technical support teams across Checkout.com are extremely supportive and on-call to answer the question we have.
"The second piece is around how Checkout.com shares its expert insights to allow us to better understand the regional payment landscape.
“And the third piece is about global best practices and helping us understand the payment trends that are happening at a global scale that are not yet here in the region. At Seera Group we like to be innovative, and Checkout.com is allowing us to be innovative by sharing its views on what's happening in payments around the world."
Ahussain also points out Checkout.com's high-profile base of clients, including in travel, as another benefit. "Many of these merchants have the same challenges as us," he says. "So when Checkout.com solves something for them, we benefit as well."
Like many fast-moving companies, Seera Group looks to the fintech playbook of experimentation and innovation.
“It's understanding that ultimately your customer is going to need to pay you to make this transaction successful — how can you provide additional financial and payment solutions to either increase your wallet share, increase customer retention, or a combination of both? More importantly, this process typically has been very manual and offline. So our view of fintech is thinking about how we digitally enable more than just traditional payment methods to provide additional services to the consumer.”
As Seera Group continues to advance, Ahussain is staying focused on the potential of payments to power growth for the group.
“Our partnership with Checkout.com is extremely strong and I’d like to see it expand. Putting our innovation minds together and coming up with unique offerings for the relevant stakeholders — I think that’s absolutely something we should continue to do. We're excited about that, and that’s what we’re focused on."
Founded in 1979 as Al Tayyar Travel Group, the conglomerate grew to become the Middle East’s leading travel and tourism services company. From its base in Saudi Arabia, Seera Group operates well-known local and regional brands including its consumer travel brands tajawal and Almosafer, as well as corporate and government travel brand elaa, it’s destination management company for Saudi Arabia called Discover Saudi, a car rental business named Lumi and it’s Hajj and Umrah travel brand Mawasim.