The visitor experience to Saudi starts with the transport sector – is it ready?

• Customer experience must be a top consideration for Saudi Airports
• User-centred design is key to customer experience and creating seamless journeys
• Technology is a great experience enabler – but must go hand in hand with the human factor
• Airports should consider outsourcing the airport’s full operations to one provider to maximise passenger experience.

By Samantha Rowles, Operations Director of Transport, Serco Middle East, and Nawara Al Osaimi, Senior Design Strategy Consultant at Serco’s ExperienceLab, KSA

Ever since the Kingdom announced its 2030 Vision back in 2016, the government and its different sectors have been working tirelessly to achieve the impossible in a relatively short period of time. It’s clear to see how the Kingdom plans to attract people to live, work and visit but the focus should not only be on the experience of travelling around the latest giga city, exploring the sites, working in a futuristic master development, attending a top entertainment event. The overall experience within the Kingdom and accessibility must be considered, and that experience starts with transport.

From building new airports with developed infrastructures, such as Red Sea International Airport, to enhancing the existing infrastructure of major airports such as Jeddah and Riyadh, the Kingdom has a great potential to perfect the customer experience by designing and implementing the right strategy and use the right tools to deliver it. While new airports offer new infrastructure that can be utilised to deliver the ultimate experience, the challenge lies within older airports, where service providers need to evaluate the infrastructure to be able to create the most suitable strategy and deliver the right solutions.

With Saudi Arabia expecting 50 million tourists and visitors in 2022, delivering fantastic customer service where people feel safe and comfortable is paramount, but it’s not new to such a big and diverse country as Saudi.
Over the past few years, Saudi has proven that is has what it takes to deliver the ultimate customer experience across all sectors, and was ranked number 1 in the MENA region for e-service availability, but the main question here is, how can it maintain this level of experience within the transport sector?

It’s important when planning the airport experience to look at all the details and put ourselves in the passenger’s shoes to ensure we are not missing on the big details, as well as the small ones. Hiring a user research and design agency like Serco’s ExperienceLab can help you not only find out what passengers want and expect but help you design the ideal experience.

Starting internally
Great customer experience starts with the team that is making the service happen. It is not only about providing them with the right training and tools to help them deliver, but also by building the right internal culture and setting a clear customer experience vision so all staff are delivering against a common goal across all human touchpoints at the airport. And that goes for all employees, from customer facing staff right through to the facilities management teams.

Seamless Journeys
The journey through the airport plays a key role in the experience of a passenger. Minimising travel time through the airport is key to a positive airport experience. There are many ways in which an airport can deliver faster journeys for passengers, from self-check in stations to smart passport control gates and directional signage.

Technology goes hand in hand with the human factor to ensure a smooth and fast flow throughout the facility and we have seen dedicated guest experience teams work really well. The training product we have created at Dubai Airport through our ExperienceLab team has enabled our 500 strong ambassadors to deliver world class signature guest experience to millions of happy passengers.

Things change all the time when we travel, and often cannot be helped. It’s how those changes are communicated to passengers that makes all the difference to how they perceive this within their experience. It’s the operator’s job to ensure that the customers are always well informed and up to date with any changes, and this can only be achieved by providing clear updates, on signboards, via SMS, but also have well-trained, well connected and well-informed staff that are able to assist passengers and answer their questions. The only way to accomplish this is via clear and consistent communications between members of the same team, and regularly coordinating between different entities. Workforce management is also key here – ensuring the right people are in the right place at the right time. There’s nothing worse than being frustrated or stressed and no one is in sight to help.

In a bid to make the kingdom a global transportation and logistics hub and plans to increase the number of international aviation routes from 99 to over 250 and more than triple total annual passenger traffic from 103 million in 2019 to 330 million by 2030 – connections should be a key priority when it comes to designing customer experience.

All passengers should be informed and have visibility on the status of their connecting flights and be made aware of public transportation availabilities and schedules. For example, if a passenger is looking at catching a train from Riyadh to Mecca, he or she wants to know the easiest way to get there.

Riyadh Airport Terminal 5 is another great example. It handles over 12 million domestic passengers a year and connects them to their international flights. To be able to land in Terminal 5 and reach your connecting flight in the main terminal and vice versa is a process which involves a lot of logistical operations.

Through understanding customers’ pain points and connection/information needs, airports in the Kingdom can build customised solutions to meet those needs.
Whether its a simple app that gives them access to the information they need at the right time, or a website., it is critical to invest in effective technology to consistently deliver exceptional customer experience. And remember, it’s not just about the airport – it’s also the steps before and after.

Take the Emirates App for example – At every checkpoint of the journey customers receive notifications on where to go (Checkin: details and counter #, Boarding: gate # etc.) Never underestimate the power of information at the touch of a button. One area companies like Serco’s ExperienceLab can help is finding out what information is required to begin with, and can then design the technology solution accordingly.

Total Airport Management
Providing an exceptional airport experience is a task that requires every player and every member in the airport ecosystem to collectively work towards the main goal of deeply and properly understanding what travellers want in order to deliver an optimised experience. This is why airports should consider total airport management – outsourcing the airport’s full operations to one provider.

If we take a step back, we will realise that the airport experience is an interconnected ecosystem of moments, often delivered by different parties, from airport authorities, merchants, food and beverage outlets, duty-free and finally airlines, all contributing to the traveller’s overall experience. How many touch points does the traveller go through? Is there a long line to queue for security? Are there any delays in flights or changes in gates? All these are just a few examples of key moments that can and will affect traveller’s journey and impression throughout the airport.

When one service provider handles full airport operations, this means that all information and data are available at all times to all teams, making the communication process easier and faster, allowing all on-grounds teams to provide their best expertise to all commuters.

Technology as a great experience enabler
There should be no compromising when it comes to implementing and utilising frictionless technologies and systems such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to create the ultimate customer experience at every touch point.
Taking the Airports Operations Control Centre (AOCC) as an example, it oversees that everything runs smoothly from aircrafts and vehicles flow to passengers and baggage flow, which is a huge task, but as a result, on ground operations are run efficiently and smoothly to deliver the ultimate experience to all travellers. This is achieved by placing the right people in the right place, supported by technology, which greatly impacts the travellers’ experience in terms of ensuring queues are moving faster, which decreases the waiting time at immigration, and gives passengers the opportunity to enjoy the rest of their experience, exploring the duty free and F&B section at the airport, or even exiting the airport in no time.

Additionally, technology implemented is used to gather data from passengers which can help make the customer experience better and more personalised. But what’s exciting is that the way data can be managed and used to predict customer behaviour over long periods of time is becoming far more sophisticated, allowing service providers to collect better insights and deliver better services accordingly.
To summarise, providing the right airport experience has a major impact on customer’s confidence, loyalty, engagement and spend, and when travellers are in the right frame of mind, they can enjoy their journey at the airport – spending a little more time, and a little more money.

Fundamentally, great experiences create loyalty and recurring visitors that will continue to choose Saudi as a destination. Airports in the Kingdom have a huge opportunity to get it right and must make user-centred design a top priority.


About Serco Transport
Serco is a leading and trusted provider of a full spectrum of transport systems in the Middle East and across the globe, ranging from air and sea to road and rail.

In the Middle East, Serco brings global expertise in the design, operation and maintenance of heavy rail, light rail, and trams; and provides airport operations, facilities management and air navigation services. Serco is also the largest non-government operator of civilian air traffic control in the world and offers a range of airside fire and rescue services.

Serco is committed to delivering best performing transport systems and has the capability to deliver end-to-end solutions, from the design and delivery of new transport systems to turning around underperforming transport services.

About ExperienceLab
ExperienceLab was launched in the Middle East by Serco, and as a public services company that manages people, assets, and data, ExperienceLab essentially acts as a wraparound of those three things to really focus on service excellence and the experience of the end user.

The addition of ExperienceLab to Serco’s proposition offers the first end to end integrated research, design and delivery offering in the region. Serco helps its clients to use the unique understanding of data and insights generated by ExperienceLab to design or evolve and adapt their services to cater to the end user and deliver world class experiences.

For PR enquiries:
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+971 (0)56 231 4557

Join SERCO at Saudi Airport Exhibition taking place from 7 – 8 November 2022.