New African Markets

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Yes, the folks at Tourvest Travel Services – a division of Tourvest – are in travel management. But, according to Chief Sales & Marketing Officer Claude Vankeirsbilck, the industry has moved on and TTS now offer ‘business solutions’, as opposed to just being ‘travel people’. This is what I found out, as Vankeirsbilck and CEO Morne du Preez joined publisher Richard Lendrum and myself for breakfast.

Travel management is an ever-evolving space and one point of interest grabs my attention over a cappuccino and a plate of French toast with the two aforementioned gentlemen at Ninos in Rivonia, Johannesburg.

That is, that TTS have some interesting African countries on their radar, in terms of new business. This interests me from a personal point of view, because I’m intrigued as to the market’s perception of the new business and leisure travel hot spots. Very basically, I want to know who is going into what country and why.

“We’re seeing the mining centres as the hot spots”, says Vankeirsbilck. “So, Guinea, Angola and also central Africa, like the DRC, which we are seriously looking at, at the moment. We’re also already in Ghana, where we have two partners”.

TTS are actually in 22 African countries, but I’m intrigued by the new interest in Guinea.

“It’s actually driven largely by an account that we are targeting and the potential client in question has a massive operation in Guinea”, says Vankeirsbilck. “They’ve almost said to us, ‘if you don’t have an operation in Guinea, you’re missing out’”.

“Essentially, it’s mining, and whilst we could service them out of South Africa, their obligation to the government is to support local content, and that’s what we are finding in many African countries. They protect their local business and you’ve got to have partners on the ground”.

No surprises there, as that ties in with the consistent message we received from our BT Africa Conference in Lagos, where the attitude from the West Africans attending was much the same – find the right people to partner with and you are a big step towards succeeding.

So, does that mean that TTS are placing all their eggs in the basket north of South Africa?

“No. South Africa is still hot, in terms of business travel, particularly from a multi-national global perspective. There are a lot of them that are starting to put a lot of emphasis on South Africa, in an attempt to grow their business in the rest of Africa”, says Vankeirsbilck.

It helps that TTS are in bed with one of the biggest names in the business travel space.

“We’re fortunate that we have a very good relationship with American Express, in the sense that we interact with them pretty much on a weekly basis, in terms of ideas and technologies. We then take that into our African partnerships, which establishes them even more in their markets”, says Vankeirsbilck.

Despite the instant international credibility and support that comes with the Amex master franchise agreement, Du Preez and Vankeirsbilck acknowledge that they’ve got their work cut out for them, in the current economic climate.

“Business is tough”, says Vankeirsbilck. “The economy is tough and anyone who thinks they are out of the recession is dreaming. But there is activity, which is good”.

And what about the overall TTS offering, going forward?

“When I speak to my sales and operational guys, I ask them what business we’re in”, says Vankeirsbilck. “Many of them still say that we’re in travel management. I disagree – I say we offer business solutions, we’re consultative and we’re not just travel people anymore. The fact that we’re in the travel space is irrelevant”.

Dylan Rogers

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