Saudi Arabia: Thousands Fear for Jobs as Airlines Shift to E-Ticketing

airline e-ticketsThousands of workers in travel and tourism agencies in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia fear that they would lose their jobs now that the issuance of paper air tickets is no longer an option with airlines worldwide fully shifting to the electronic ticketing system from today. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) will penalize travel agencies that issue paper tickets from June.

According to IATA sources, some 240 carriers belonging to the world organization are fully geared to switch to all-electronic ticketing, much of it through Internet booking.

“In the Kingdom there are 3,000 travel agencies, which employ 20,000 people. About 60 percent of them would lose their jobs when the paper ticketing stops,” Ibrahim Al-Rashid, chairman of the Travel and Tourism Committee at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told Arab News yesterday.

He added that leading travel agencies and Saudi Arabian Airlines implemented the change-over months ago.

Hassan Sagr, director general of the Tarfal Vacations, said: “The decision to issue only e-tickets would throw small travel agencies out of business. It’s because they do not have the financial capability to meet the conditions laid down by IATA for issuing e-tickets.”

He also feared that e-ticketing would cause considerable reduction in commissions to travel agents.

“Airline companies used to give commissions at the rate of between 12 percent and 15 percent to travel agents in the Kingdom who made at least SR2 billion annually from ticket sales,” Sagr said.

He added several international carriers either stopped or slashed commissions starting October last year. While British Airways is not giving commissions any more, some others offer up to 7 percent, he said.

Jameel Al-Misri, director of Al-Waha for Tourism and Travels, said the small travel agencies have already been hit hard by the new ticketing system in which IATA cut short the clearance time between airline companies and sales agencies from one month to one week.

“Only large companies with good liquidity can fulfill such conditions,” Al-Misri said.

He added that large agencies would not find it hard to shift their activities to organizing travel packages, particularly when online tour packages are not always credible to customers.

Khaled Maghrabi, sales official at a leading travel agency in Jeddah, said, “I would be out of work as my job is mainly to meet people at various companies and make bookings and sell tickets to them. In the new system they can do the bookings and print tickets without our help.”

The global travel agency industry has grappled for years with the rise of e-ticketing and the Internet, but Saudi Arabia only in recent years began utilizing the facility.

Up until the May 31 cut-off date, many travel agencies in the Kingdom were still issuing paper tickets unless customers specifically asked for electronic tickets.

Booking electronically is considered more convenient because customers only need to show proper identification at the check-in counter to obtain a boarding pass.

Airlines charged hefty fees, up to $200, for lost tickets during travel, and customers were even required to buy new fares if tickets were lost.

With e-ticketing, customers are no longer expected to keep track of the paper documents as the flight information and proof of purchase is in the system and they only require identification that matches the name to obtain boarding passes.

IATA members account for 94 percent of world airline traffic and by the end of February, 94 percent of them had already abandoned paper tickets in favor of digital technology.

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