Economic View

On developments in Saudi Arabia’s catering industry

How do you assess the potential of the catering sector as an investment opportunity, both in the aviation and non-aviation segments?

WAJDY AL GHABBAN: Saudi Arabia’s catering sector exhibits multiple characteristics that make it an attractive long-term investment proposition in both the aviation and non-aviation segments. The Saudi economy is diversifying and witnessing growth beyond oil-based revenue, leading to higher business activity and consumer purchasing power. This naturally elevates demand for catering services across multiple areas of the economy. At the same time, the Kingdom has made significant investment in infrastructure development, particularly in airports and other transport hubs. This infrastructure growth is expected to positively impact air travel, increasing demand for in-flight catering services.

Saudi Arabia’s focus on boosting tourism through Vision 2030 is expected to attract millions of additional international visitors. This increase is set to benefit the hospitality industry, including catering services in the non-aviation segment.

Moreover, the country’s young and increasingly affluent demographic profile directly contributes to a rising appetite for outside dining experiences and catering services. On the regulatory front, the Kingdom has been making strides in creating a business-friendly environment. Recent reforms aim to improve the ease of doing business, and stimulate domestic and foreign investment in sectors such as catering. Cultural factors also contribute to sustained demand. The importance of food in social and family gatherings in Saudi culture provides a stable market for catering services.

What are the main challenges and opportunities for the digitalisation of catering?

AL GHABBAN: Adopting new digital technologies necessitates an initial capital investment, staff training and the development of new operational processes. A strategic approach is vital to ensure seamless integration and minimise operational disruption. Digitalisation also comes with the imperative of data security and privacy. Increased customer and operational data usage heightens the need for robust cybersecurity measures and compliance with data protection regulations. This critical challenge must be adeptly managed in order to maintain customer trust and safeguard sensitive information.

Digitalisation also presents a significant opportunity for automation, particularly in areas such as inventory management, order processing and delivery tracking. Automating these processes can result in greater operational efficiency, reduced costs and expedited service delivery. Additionally, digital platforms can significantly enhance the customer experience by offering features like online ordering, interactive menus and real-time customer support. These digital tools increase convenience and customer satisfaction.

Data analytics facilitated by digitalisation can offer invaluable insight into customer behaviour, market trends and operational performance. This can empower companies to make well-informed decisions, streamline processes and improve service quality.

Furthermore, digital platforms can serve as a nexus for improved collaboration among companies, clients, suppliers and partners. Enhanced communication can lead to greater coordination, transparency and service quality.

To what extent are training and development programmes in the catering sector able to equip the workforce with the skills needed for the evolving demands of aviation and related segments?

AL GHABBAN: Training and development programmes in the catering sector serve a pivotal role in preparing the workforce for the rapidly changing business environment, particularly in aviation and other related segments. These programmes offer rigorous training in technical skills. This encompasses a broad range of operational competencies, from food preparation and safety protocols to compliance with industry-specific standards. Such technical skills are essential for maintaining operational integrity.

A significant focus is being placed on customer service. Given the aviation sector’s emphasis on customer satisfaction, training modules frequently include effective communication and interpersonal skills, enabling employees to provide superior service to clients.

These programmes also hone other crucial skill sets, including adaptability and flexibility. With evolving demands in aviation and related fields, employees must be able to adjust to changing circumstances and consumer preferences. Training programmes aim to instil this level of adaptability to ensure effective responses to such changes.

Training programmes offer valuable insights into current industry trends, emerging technologies and market demands. This focus ensures that the workforce remains up to date with the latest developments and is empowered to make informed decisions relevant to their roles.