A ‘new’ start

Rennies Travel is one of South Africa’s oldest and most established travel management companies, but 2019 is proving to be a year of great change, as detailed by CEO Bronwyn Philipps to editor Dylan Rogers over coffee in Johannesburg in early-April.


So, you get BCD Travel South Africa and you get Rennies Travel, which is now part of the BCD Travel global network.

Two separate TMCs, but both aligned to the same international brand. Oh, and they are both part of the Bidvest – or BidTravel – group, and have offices in the same building in Johannesburg.

Confused? Not if you’re someone entrenched in the South African travel management industry, but if that’s not you, here’s as simple an explanation as I can muster.

Up until fairly recently, Rennies was affiliated to another global giant, HRG, but with American Express Global Business Travel buying out HRG in 2018, the knock-on effect was felt here in South Africa.

That’s because Amex GBT had an existing long-standing relationship with another of South Africa’s big players, Tourvest, who have been the holders of the local licence of American Express Travel Services for some time.

Shew. Keeping up?

That meant you now had two big South African players due to be affiliated to the same international brand, which was never really going to be attractive to any of the parties. Hence, Rennies electing to part ways with HRG and seek out another international partner. And that’s how Rennies ended up with BCD Travel, as of a couple of months ago.

But, where does BCD Travel South Africa fit in, you may ask?

Philipps sums it up simply.

“Rennies Travel is an already established South African TMC that now has a global affiliation with BCD Travel, whereas BCD Travel South Africa is the ‘local office’ of BCD,” she says.

The key issues, arguably, are why Rennies opted for BCD, with Philipps conceding that they did shop around, and what happens to the HRG clients Rennies was servicing? According to Philipps, the majority of those clients, where possible, have elected to remain with Rennies and take on the BCD offering, whilst the choice of BCD seems to have come down to technology.

“That was a big driver for us,” says Philipps. “We looked at the technology that was out there and went for something that could compete in the areas that we play in. We felt that BCD largely had that with their TripSource product.”

It’s almost impossible today to have a TMC discussion that does not involve technology, as it’s become such an integral part of the modern-day TMC offering, notwithstanding the fact that it remains a service-orientated industry involving actual humans who have to perform that service.

“The biggest battle we have is making sure we have access to content, and by that I mean air travel to hotels to cars etc, and there are a lot of new disrupters in the market,” says Philipps, who is a supporter of IATA’s New Distribution Capability and what it is bringing to the airline industry.

Philipps also admits to grappling with the issue of the ‘commoditisation’ of travel and the industry’s independent supplier strategies, as almost everyone mulls over the pros and cons of a direct relationship with the customer, as opposed to going through a third party.

She believes this has created a situation whereby your supplier could also end up being your competitor. That obviously doesn’t sit well with Philipps and neither does the age-old tactic of under-cutting your competitors just to earn some short-term market share.

“I think the sad thing for me is that because there’s so much competition happening all over, people are still diminishing the value that we bring, and it’s actually TMCs that are doing that to themselves, who are competing at these ridiculous price points that really are not sustainable from a business point of view,” says Philipps.

All of which leads me into my final question.

As the chief executive of a 63-year-old South African TMC with a presence in Namibia and Zimbabwe, and in the midst of some significant change, what keeps Bronwyn Philipps awake at night?

“It’s what is that next unique point that’s going to make you stand out from your competitors, and what is somebody prepared to pay for? I think those are the interesting things that keep us all up at night,” she says.