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 **Spokesperson: Muzzammil Ahussain, Executive Vice president, Almosafer
The Covid-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the travel & tourism sector leaving travel operators in an uncertain situation. Almosafer has immediately responded to the situation by putting several plans in place to navigate the situation and prepare for the future while taking into consideration industry changes and possible shifts in consumer behavior.

The COVID-19 outbreak has had a huge impact on travel and tourism across the globe leaving travel providers in a difficult situation. How has this crisis impacted the regional travel market specifically?
The impact of Covid-19 on the regional travel and tourism industry is undeniable. The precautionary measures taken by local governments to curb the spread of the virus have led to travel restrictions being pretty much all-encompassing in KSA and the UAE, our two main markets. With lockdowns, even domestic travel was considered halted. We are now seeing the first level of travel resuming, with repatriation flights available.  
How is Almosafer navigating the current situation and preparing for the future/ recovery phase?
● In the early stages of the pandemic, our main focus was geared towards supporting customers in their travel arrangements and changes thereof, for Almosafer, that meant consolidating our omni-channel efforts to provide travel advisory, and seamless cancellations, amendments and refunds for our customers.
● The second phase was driven by our efforts in terms of preparation for what we anticipate to be the new normal. Re-evaluating our roadmaps and seizing the ‘downtime’ as an opportunity for the intensive development of products and services that will be crucial for when travel recovers. 
● We are working on a lot of our legacy technologies and bringing them up to speed, as well as tech projects focused on improving efficiencies across the group. 
▪ Automation of process will play a major role in efficiently being able to handle a potential second wave or another crisis of this magnitude. Flexibility vs. trip certainty will play a key part in this, 
▪ Travel advisory across the omnichannel offering – training our teams to become experts in regulations, developments and overall advisory geared towards the safety and ease of mind for our customers.
In your opinion, what needs to be done to minimise the negative fallout, build long-term brand trust and to recover from the crisis?
● Governments, travel industry and tourism councils should/could align on a standardized version of a medical passport of sorts to unify the process of ‘checking’ prior to travel. This would help in giving travelers as well as the industry itself a level of peace of mind. If not globally, regionally or per country, this could be an effective measure.
● Processes, technology and beyond all, a personalized approach to customer service and advisory have to be put in place to cope with the post-Covid customer who will have a whole new set of concerns and requirements for travel. 
● Brands need to communicate in a way that builds trust and showcase their understanding and local knowledge when it comes to consumer needs.
Demand for travel will continue to exist when the COVID-19 pandemic is in decline, what shifts in consumer behavior do you predict when it comes to booking travel?
● People will be cautious and not necessarily comfortable with long air travel or air travel in general at first, so we anticipate for domestic to become a big focus for consumers post Covid.
● People will be cautious and not necessarily comfortable with long air travel or air travel in general at first, so we anticipate for domestic to become a big focus for consumers post Covid.
● For KSA, there are lots of regions that are waiting to be explored, far beyond the obvious main cities including Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam. The entire Red Sea coast of KSA for example will play a key role in the country’s current efforts to develop domestic tourism. From cultural explorations, to adventure travel, the Kingdom has lots to offer and we are working on bringing these destinations closer to our domestic consumers.
● We foresee group travel to decline and individual travel to increase as social distancing as such will have become part of our day to day lives, even if not to the extent we are experiencing it now, but people will feel more comfortable travelling in smaller groups.
● We are yet to see how customer behavior will actually change post pandemic, but we are certain that they will require an added level of trust presented by brands across the user journey.
● From the recommendation on safe destinations to the flexibility and safeguarding of their trips (insurance / cancellation and refund policies etc.)
● Loyalty (for Almosafer specifically in the form of our wallet) for us will play a part in creating a closer tie with our customers and ensuring them that their bookings, even if they won’t go ahead as planned, will not be in vain, just postponed potentially.
            How will Almosafer ensure the comfort and safety of its customers when they are ready to travel?
● Almosafer’s global network and strong ties with key travel partners allows it to keep customers well informed about the latest industry developments and travel safety guidelines in order to plan their trips without any constraints (e.g. flight cancellations, travel restriction updates, travel policy changes, destination safety news). In addition, Almosafer’s transparency and fast delivery of information and updates enables customers to book their trips comfortably knowing that their safety comes first.
● Almosafer’s Travel advisors who are specifically trained to help customers make the right travel decisions, will continue to offer a holistic customer support system offering 24/7 assistance, valuable insights, safety consultation, guidance and reassurance throughout the omnichannel booking experience.

You mentioned that you anticipate demand for domestic travel to be high post the Covid-19 crisis, which destination within KSA do you think will be in highest demand?

Makkah has always been one of the main domestic destinations for us especially during the month of Ramadan due to its religious importance. This year, unfortunately, the city has been closed off and we know that worshippers from across the country have missed it very much, so we expect bookings to Makkah to rise instantly, once it opens up.
Apart from religious tourism and people travelling home to see their families and friends, we have a number of domestic destinations on our radar, which we believe will be in high demand. Saudi Arabia really has a plethora of domestic destinations to offer, from the modern capital Riyadh, all the way to far flung, somewhat undiscovered parts of the Kingdom.
● Jeddah has lots to offer in terms of newly developed entertainment and dining options, as well as seaside resorts.
● Abha in the Asir region offers mountainous terrain with a moderate climate, even in summer months, a welcoming change in terms of natural landscape.
● Taif is a culturally rich destination in the Makkah province which boasts greenery and agriculture. A great destination for those who want to escape the city and get back in touch with nature.
● There are also various destinations along the Red Sea Coast, which are perfect for water sports activities, divers and those who want untouched beaches and crystal clear waters. Yanbu and Jizan, as well as the Farasan Islands, an archipelago off the coast will definitely become popular getaways.

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