The Gautrain Management Agency wants to play a more active role in engaging the South African travel trade industry, and the fourth of March afforded it the opportunity, as Future Group, the publishers of Business Traveller Africa magazine, put together the platform on which to kick off this closer engagement.
Protea Hotel Balalaika Sandton in Johannesburg was the venue, as those South African travel trade representatives based in Gauteng turned out to take in what Gautrain has planned for the future, and to engage the GMA in robust discussion.
A sumptuous breakfast was laid on by Balalaika GM Jorg Zwinscher’s staff, before GMA CEO Jack van der Merwe took to the stage to update the trade on what Gautrain has in store for the next few years.
Of particular interest were the new routes that Gautrain plans to construct and service as part of the GMA’s 25-year plan. They include two new main train lines, connecting Mamelodi in the north-east with Naledi in the south-west, and Honeydew in the west with Boksburg in the east, to complement the existing Sandton-Airport and north-south lines (Hatfield to Park Station, with an extension to Westgate). These will be supported by bus services along popular routes around the stations. There is also a plan for additional parking facilities at many of the stations.
Van der Merwe revealed that Gautrain is also investigating the profitability of having certain services run for extended periods, and opening stations earlier and closing later, particularly the Sandton-Airport service.
Another change the GMA is looking at is possibly removing some of the seating on their trains, to allow for more standing room and space.
Van der Merwe then generously made himself available for a panel discussion, moderated by renowned television news anchor Jeremy Maggs, and also featuring Thompsons Travel CEO Mary Shilleto, Tourvest CEO Morne du Preez, and Zwinscher.
A number of issues were raised and a constructive discussion ensued, with Van der Merwe responding to both his fellow panellists and questions from the floor.
Du Preez beat the drum for technology to play a bigger role in the Gautrain booking and management service, particularly as this has become a feature of the entire travel booking value chain.
Shilleto, in turn, felt that Gautrain should make it worth the while of the travel industry to promote Gautrain as a travel option, suggesting that incentives may be the way to go, to ensure greater co-operation from the industry.
Zwinscher’s biggest issue concerned the frustration felt by the hotels around the Sandton station when collecting guests. In this way he touched on the possibility of dedicated pick-up zones at the stations for hotel transport.
All of these points were taken onboard by Van der Merwe, with the questions and responses generating lively debate and producing valuable interaction and content for both Gautrain and the travel trade.
In summary, a valuable few hours for both parties, and hopefully the start of a closer working relationship, as Gautrain looks to involve the South African travel trade more, in what appears to be an exciting time for Gauteng’s ground-breaking high-speed rail service.