Lonrho Column

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Your Friend in Africa

Easy and reliable access to travel information should empower the traveller to book directly with the hotel, airline and car hire provider. Yet in the South Africa, where the majority of consumers are sufficiently comfortable with e-commerce to spend over R2.6 billion online in 2011, there continues to be demand for travel agents. Why?   

A good friend of mine operates a small leisure and special interest travel agency, offering a very bespoke and tailored service. Like many agents, he feels obligated to provide masses of information to potential customers, listing huge numbers of hotels and guest houses, car group listings, seat configurations etc. The amount of information is staggering, never mind the cost of collecting and updating this information. 

According to Google, 69% of businesses now plan travel by searching the Internet, visiting an average of 22 websites before making a decision. Meanwhile, mobile travel bookings accounted for 15% of all reservations in 2010, up 69% from 2009, when around 9% used the medium, according to Corporate & Incentive Travel. So, not only are standard web reservations continuing to grow, but the mobile handset has become an accepted reservation tool. So, again, why the need for a travel agent?

As a frequent business traveller, what I value from a travel agent are speed, professionalism and reliable advice.  I believe there is value, particularly with African travel, in someone else taking responsibility for ensuring flights are confirmed, that the fares purchased are the lowest available, that the hotel knows the payment terms prior to arrival, and that car hire vouchers are available via MS Outlook calendars. These services I am willing to pay for, but only as long as the value is evident.

Monthly analysis of travel spend versus savings is essential reading for any business that spends more than 1% of its turnover on travel. In today’s information-fed world, the use of a travel agent can no longer be argued to be essential. If the agent doesn’t add value to your business, go without and spend the money you save on something that does add value.    

Ewan Cameron – CEO: Lonrho Hotels