At the recent Diriyah E-Prix in Riyadh, it was hard to escape the presence of one of Formula E’s most established partners — Saudi Airlines. The Kingdom’s national carrier has been a partner of the all-electric racing series since its debut in the Saudi capital in 2018.
Since then, the Kingdom has undergone a cultural revolution that has swept through every possible sector, including business, tourism and sport.
“Look at how much has happened in Saudi Arabia over the last few years, it’s amazing,” said Khaled Tash, group chief marketing officer at Saudia. “We have Formula 1, we host so many different football, boxing, tennis and other tournaments. The culmination of all this is going to come when we host the Asian Cup 2027, Asian Games 2034, and World Cup 2034 Insha’Allah. I think the trajectory is at an accelerated rate, probably unprecedented anywhere else in the world.”
“We’re very fortunate as an airline to be associated with everything that is happening in Saudi Arabia; we’re very happy to be in Formula E for the sixth year in our partnership with them,” he said, adding: “The best is yet to come.”
Last year saw the partnership with Formula E take Saudia’s involvement in the sporting sector to an expanding market.
“Last year we started activating this partnership in other parts of the world,” said Tash. “It gave access to cities like Jakarta, Rome, and London, and we’re very happy with the partnership so far. It also goes very well with the sustainability agenda of the world, the country, and the airline,” Tash said.
“This year, we’re going to Berlin as well, in addition to other cities where we’ve activated globally. We’re very happy, and happier now that PIF has signed a strategic partnership with Formula E. I think what we will see in the next year or so is an increased level of partnerships and activations between Formula E, Saudia and the rest of the partners.”
Looking at the bigger picture, Tash sees the green shoots of recovery for the aviation industry continuing.
“The year 2023 was a good year for aviation globally, and very, very good for us, as we are almost back to the normal levels of the pre-COVID era,” he said. “I believe 2024 has so many more opportunities than challenges. The travel demand is picking up, the importance of aviation in connecting the world is higher than ever.”
“There is a lot more interest to visit Saudi Arabia, be it for tourism, for Hajj and Umrah, for business and investment. So, we see a lot of opportunities,” said Tash. “There is a big challenge in terms of the supply chain; we have probably a lot of concerns when it comes to aircraft deliveries and when it comes to spare parts, things like that, but I think the players in the industry are mature and professional enough. These are big companies we work with, and we will find solutions. But I would say aviation has many more opportunities than challenges moving forward.”
Saudia launched a rebrand last year, and Tash said that it has been a “a great experience,” which will showcase where the airline is heading.
“Saudia is soon approaching its 80th anniversary; we are an old company but also a company that is still relevant today and will be in the future. We are changing our business model from one that only focused on taking Saudi to the world, to bringing the world to Saudi.”
He said: “We also want to play a very important role in realizing Vision 2030 and what is happening in the country, so there is a lot of work that happens between us, the government entities, and the private sector in Saudi Arabia. It revolves around how we can be in synergy with each other so that all our efforts can not only create better travel opportunities for passengers but also better job opportunities and local content opportunities.”
The coming months will see Saudia announce its biggest ever aircraft order, with 100 more planes joining the fleet that is already awaiting 50 aircraft to be delivered, according to Tash.
Under the new rebranding, Saudia will also be one of the first airlines to use artificial intelligence — in the form of ChatGPT — to help customers navigate its services.
“We want to change everything in the travel experience so that our customers can feel more enabled in a way that they are able to enjoy a truly authentic Saudi experience,” Tash added.