Consistency and service

Atlantis Corporate Travel, a South Africa travel management company with offices around the country, has been in existence for nearly 20 years, but perhaps flies ‘under the radar’ a bit, despite its impressive track record and diverse offering. Group Sales & Marketing Manager Darryl Desmarais joined editor Dylan Rogers for a coffee in Johannesburg to talk all things TMC-related. They may fly under the radar, but the Atlantis Travel Group is no small player in the South African TMC space, with a bouquet of services that cover the public sector (Atlantis Corporate Travel), the corporate sector (Atlantis Travel Management), and the MICE space (Atlantis ICE). That being said, Desmarais likes the fact that Atlantis is perceived differently, as it has its advantages. “The change management and flexibility in the marketplace is attractive for some companies, because you eliminate a lot of the bureaucracy and inflexibility of organisational structure,” he says. “If there is a specific need to be met, we can quickly adapt and change to that need to foster the relationship with the client.” That relationship with the client is extended further with two important pillars that Atlantis focuses on and which are pretty non-negotiable. “Consistency and service,” says Desmarais. “To be consistently delivering on service that is promised. By providing consistency, you create reliability around your product, and this is paramount to how we operate as a company.” So, how does one apply that to the corporate travel market? “The business traveller is looking for the same thing,” says Desmarais. “The same reliable process, by doing the same reliable thing in terms of what is being offered and how it’s being offered.” “With the ever-changing world, the business traveller is looking to enhance their current state of travel. It’s those value-adds within an organisation that set you apart and make the traveller feel that he’s not moving too far out of his comfort zone.” Speaking of comfort zones, it’s probably fair to say that Atlantis has become comfortable in the public sector, as that area accounts for approximately 60% of its revenue. But that doesn’t mean the remaining 40% is neglected. In fact, the Atlantis approach is to remain open to growing the group’s offering, with a focus on growing organically with its clients. “For us to say we’ll only do business travel is short-sighted of any company,” says Desmarais. “As a TMC there are so many markets – sport, leisure, tourist etc. “There are so many avenues to tap into, and as a TMC you need to tap into other revenue streams to pick up where you’re losing out on something else.” That would certainly assist Atlantis in sustaining its growth and leaving it less susceptible to the fluctuating fortunes of disposable spend – would it not? “Correct. And obviously government budgets, changes in legislation etc,” says Desmarais. One area that Desmarais – and Atlantis – are adamant about not losing out on is the one that sees TMCs competing on price and being forced into a cost-cutting exercise just to win business. Unfortunately, due to the currently tight economic environment, many TMCs are tempted to go this route. It’s an unfortunate by-product of the economy, with client’s budgets being cut, and as a result, corporates expecting more from their TMCs for less spend. “People want to pay less but get more, but more has to come at a cost,” says Demarais. “The industry can’t keep undercutting each other. Everything else goes up and as a consumer you’re forced to pay. So, we’re offering a service that is specialised and unique to our industry.” That being said, Desmarais makes an interesting observation regarding the current economic client, as he sees it, taking into account the business that Atlantis services. “Even though companies are tightening their belts, I don’t see a pull back,” he says. “I still see a lot of it driving forward.” What Desmarais isn’t concerned about is the future of business travel. That’s despite the Millennial generation, for example, favouring a more tech-savvy approach to business and the fostering of relationships. “As much as technology has made it possible for us to hold meetings over the internet, face-to-face interaction will never go away,” says Desmarais. “We’re creatures of habit, and part of that habit is being able to speak to a human being.” And whilst that status quo remains, corporate travellers will have a need for TMCs likes Atlantis Travel.