What are some of the highlights of the past year for SGS?
For SGS, 2017 was a special year. We began an extremely ambitious transformation plan to achieve certain KPIs. We have revamped our entire strategy in a process that involved all stakeholders. Today, we are present in 27 airports in the Kingdom and want to have a presence in every new airport that is constructed. We are working to expand beyond the definition of ground handling to become a services company that provides ground handling, ticketing, passenger services, hotel transfers, and related hospitality services. In the past year, our on-time performance has improved by more than 26% while customer complaints fell by 24%.
How has the recent liberalization of the industry affected your business?
We embrace the growing competition in the market. Living without standards or competitors against which one can assess their performance leads to inefficient operations. Competition brings greater vitality to the sector and gives us the energy to enhance our operations, standards, and perspectives. While there have been many positive effects, there have also been some negative ones. For example, while prices have fallen across the industry, we are not a price-driven organization, and if someone seeks a service based solely on price, then they will not approach us. We provide an integrated service from A to Z. Part of this includes managing the difficult environment we live in. We offer firms the ability to maximize operations across a wide variety of areas. Our clients require experienced account providers, and, as market leaders, this is the role we play. We are an agent that allows our clients, such as airlines, to maximize the efficiency of their operations. Our competitors undercut our prices by offering more restricted services, and we simply have to make this clear to the market.
How has digitalization impacted your efforts at reform?
We have time assessing our internal operations in order to design and implement more efficient systems and business processes. Before we implemented new technologies, we spent a great deal of time understanding exactly where our money was going. After conducting this analysis, we developed a solid plan to transform the company on both the services side and the operations side. We want to improve in ways that maximize shareholder value and customer experience. In order to ensure long-term sustainability, we have to understand the minutiae of our operations.
Do you expect to benefit from the new airport in Jeddah, and how do you plan to capitalize on this project?
This is a notable project, and we are eagerly anticipating the airport's impending opening. We did a great deal of work to partner with the airport authority and our partner airlines to make sure we could be responsive in this new environment. We want to be able to deliver comparable and superior levels of service in this new airport. Another element has been determining how we can maximize our own operations and revenue in this new space. There will be fewer buses in the new airport, for example, which is a service that generates significant revenue at the current airport. However, we will expand our special needs services in the new airport, which will tie into the increased number of Hajj and Umrah visitors. On that subject, we have launched a concept called Road to Mecca to assist religious visitors who often get stuck in Jeddah for a long time on their journey to Mecca because it is the gateway airport. Our aim is to minimize the traffic in Jeddah by transporting passengers directly from their home countries to Mecca. For example, we take their luggage directly to their hotel in Mecca and take care of their other requirements. We are building a luggage center in Mecca in partnership with the developer Jabal Omar Development Company so passengers do not have to check in at Jeddah Airport. In combination with the opening of the new Jeddah Airport, all this will make the growth in the number of pilgrim visitors smooth and easy.
What are your expectations for the market in 2018?
2018 will be defined by a great deal of transformation. Transformation on a company level begins with close analysis of financial statements with an eye on maximizing operations. In many transformations, the first year of change is the worst in terms of financial results. After the first year, the financial results fall in line with expectations. Currently, we expect SGS to perform well within our expectations in 2018. Transformation and modernization are important, though change is expensive. We expect to see even greater results in the coming years. Technology is a vital enabler of this business, and we must work to ensure that we position ourselves in a way that maximizes our current and future prospects. This year, we will ensure a future plan is in place, and we want to collaborate and share information with the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) and various other stakeholders. Opening the new airport in Jeddah is a major priority both personally and for SGS. We are committed to having it up and running successfully. Another key pillar is people. This includes how many we have, where they are located, making sure they are in the right jobs and have the right skills, and ensuring we have the right team, culture, and procedures in place. We hired our first female employees in December 2017 and aim to have 500 women working for SGS by the end of 2018. We are also working on a closer cooperation with TVTC to optimize our in-house vocational training, whilst our accredited Training Academy can also be used by other entities in the sector. This is all part of rebuilding the company in line with our KPIs and objectives, which have been shaped by the larger reform agenda at work in the Kingdom.