fix this hackmasters

Image: Marcelo Cáceres

Sometimes it takes an outsider to pinpoint a pain point in an industry that’s set in its ways. In this segment of “Fix This,” we look at one startup’s solution to a perennial industry problem: Transit passengers don’t get out of the airport enough.

The drive from Dubai International Airport (DXB) to the world’s tallest structure, the Burj Khalifa, is 15 minutes on a highway that meanders over Dubai Creek, through Zabeel Park, and past several luxurious hotels and the Dubai Mall. But of the 7.5 million people who transit through DXB every month and stay an average of six hours, only a small percentage ever leave the airport to see those sights. It’s a lost opportunity for the city of Dubai.

“Our idea was to get all these people who are sitting there doing nothing, spending no money and being frustrated, into the city,” says Saher Sidhom, founder of Hackmasters, who also shared his vision at APEX Middle East and Africa in November last year. His company brought together professionals from multiple disciplines, including filmmakers, a data scientist, industrial designers and a representative from Disney for the Dubai 10X project, an initiative that envisions the city a decade into the future. “They represent a bunch of skills that you cannot possibly pick from under the same roof at a normal company,” he says.

Together, they figured that people who step out of the airport tend to spend more money. So, they proposed a way for travelers to extend their layover: Sometime after a flight is booked, travelers would receive a message from their airline asking if they would like to extend their layover, say from two hours to six, thereby creating an opportunity for a micro-getaway. Travelers would be able to take the elevator to the top of the 160-story Burj Khalifa, snap a few photos and enjoy a meal at a restaurant before heading back to the airport. “At the core of our concept is that you can actually enjoy your transit time,” he says, adding that these tourists would likely come back for a longer stay. “There is very solid business logic to it.”

How the concept will manifest is still under wraps, but a trial with 100 people is expected to happen this year. Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates has been extending its list of countries eligible for visa-on-arrival, having recently opened the program to China and Russia. These travelers have the freedom to exit the airport, but, as it stands, are left to navigate Dubai on their own. What Hackmasters would offer is an itinerary that’s aligned with the length of the layover, helping transit passengers make the most of their time.

“Fix This” was originally published in the 9.1 February/March issue of APEX Experience magazine.