1. Improve operational efficiency
GCC ports should focus on reducing costs, improving productivity and asset utilization, and streamlining and automating processes. In doing so, many operators will need to revise their budgets and capital allocation. Over the past decade, GCC ports have invested heavily in physical infrastructure as a key component of national economic diversification programs. The region’s capacity is on track to more than double, from the equivalent of about 45 million standard containers in 2012 to about 100 million by 2022. Yet utilization rates remain low, averaging under 50%. Accordingly, port operators need to shift away from sheer capacity. Instead, they should focus on improving efficiency according to metrics such as asset utilization, revenue per ship, unit profit from cargo handled, and return on invested capital.
2. Upgrade port capabilities through digital
To improve efficiency, ports must invest in digital, which will give them the capabilities needed to capture cargo, reduce costs, better manage capacity, and improve cross-border trade. There is a wide range of applications, from blockchain to autonomous vehicles, drones, smart sensors, 3-D printing, and cloud platforms. These can help cut costs, improve asset utilization, and significantly improve the customer experience across the value chain.
3. Expand into inland logistics
Before the pandemic, some terminal operators had already started expansion into inland logistics. The aim was to better connect with owners of cargo, improve transparency, and reduce the friction in trade flows. GCC ports, especially gateway ports, should consider such expansion as a means to secure the inland trade system, improve supply chain resilience, safeguard operational continuity, and deliver more reliable and transparent service to their customers.
4. Rethink pricing
GCC ports should reassess their traditional pricing structures to help ease pressure on shipping lines, improve productivity, and maximize their return on assets. To achieve this, GCC ports first need to ensure that they have pricing freedom within regulatory regimes. Then they need to explore a shift to value-based pricing, which encourages effectiveness and efficiency among shipping lines, and extracts maximum value from end customers.
5. Acquire assets at distressed valuations
The pandemic will lead to a shakeout in which some assets come up for sale at attractive prices. GCC ports can take advantage of their strong balance sheets and low interest rates to make strategic acquisitions. Deals can be particularly beneficial if they help ports pick up assets in high-growth and emerging markets with a healthy commercial outlook and growing volumes.