COVID-19 has affected every industry, but few felt the impact like global travel. The Seera Group is one of the Middle East’s biggest travel conglomerate, was not immune to this impact.
And while the outbreak of coronavirus had an immediate impact on sales, some financial consequences are less noticeable. For Seera Group, the fall in transactions also led to a laser focus on reducing risk and fraud.
“With reduced transaction volumes due to the restrictions on travel across our core markets, risky and fraudulent transactions had a higher impact on our business,” explains Muzzammil Ahussain, EVP Consumer Travel at Seera Group . “Missing even one fraud case would be much more painful than before, so we focused our efforts on eliminating these cases as much as possible.”
In addition to managing risk, the company zeroed-in on retention to mitigate any negative impact on customer satisfaction.
“With refund requests on travel bookings coming in all at once, banks were not equipped to handle the load,” explains Ahussain. “Therefore, being able to move customers from cash or card refunds to e-wallet refunds helped us manage the load and, vitally, also retain the customer.”
Customers adjusting to the new normal
Ahussain says customers have adapted quickly to new ways to pay, including across Seera Group’s retail estate, where cash has often been preferred.
“Since the lockdown in Saudi Arabia, we have decided only to accept contactless payment methods for the safety of our staff and our customers. In our retail branches, we have dedicated travel advisors who support our customers in processing payments digitally. On WhatsApp, one of our primary communication channels to engage with customers, our agents also actively support payment processing. Generally, though, we feel customers in the market are up to speed with digital payments, and those who have had to adjust have done so quickly.”
Looking ahead, he sees reasons for optimism after a challenging year.
“In a recent study that Seera Group conducted with over 3,000 Saudi travelers, we also discovered that a majority of Saudi nationals are confident enough to travel as COVID-19 restrictions ease, with 73% of Saudis confident to go with restrictions partially lifted. We see this in our search and booking volumes as Q1 2021 is already on people’s radar.”
To win regionally, think locally
COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of taking a flexible approach to payments and being able to adapt rapidly. For companies looking to operate in the MENAP region, it’s a valuable lesson in any year.
So how would Ahussain advise global businesses looking to enter the MENAP market?
“Go local! Having access to local payment methods such as Mada in KSA, KNET in Kuwait, or Benefit in Bahrain will be a gateway to customer loyalty and acquisition. For example, over 40% of Saudi Arabian payments are processed through Mada cards, and over 80% in Kuwait through KNET, so not offering these methods will be a block to gaining market share.
“Staying on top of new developments in the payments sphere is crucial,” he concludes. “The MENAP region works fast and is perfectly capable of competing on a global scale in terms of fintech.”