South African-based Tourvest Travel Services has a multi-branded strategy focusing on providing businesses, both large and small, with travel management solutions, using a multitude of technologies. They are one of the biggest names in South African corporate travel, and Chief Sales & Marketing Officer Claude Vankeirsbilck took time to sit down with editor Dylan Rogers.
Q: Please explain the Tourvest offering?
A: The brands that we operate are Tourvest Travel Services, which focuses primarily on the public sector; American Express Travel Services South Africa, which includes managing 23 markets in Africa and focuses on global and multi-national corporations; Seekers Travel, which focuses on South African and SMME businesses; Maties Travel and IndoJet Travel, which focus on the specific needs of the Western Cape including the Boland region; TravelIT, the industry leader in online travel management solutions; and Travel.co.za, which is an online travel agency .
Q: Is it a good time to be in the South African corporate travel management space?
A: It is indeed. We believe technology, primarily, is driving this excitement. TTS has invested significantly in travel management technology, ensuring the business operates at its optimum from a front, mid and back office perspective, and providing our customers with market-leading online travel management solutions. The corporate travel management space is experiencing very challenging times right now, with cost-containment a key requirement of every corporate we engage with.
Q: How would you relate that to the rest of Africa?
A: The rest of Africa is equally exciting, particularly for the American Express Travel Service brand, as many global corporations see Africa as having massive growth potential.
Q: How has the role of the corporate TMC changed over the past 10 years?
A: We have seen the role change from merely providing a simple travel transaction as an agent of suppliers, to providing professional advisory, consultancy and technology solutions to corporations who require total control of their travel management programmes, all geared towards reducing operating costs of providing travel managements services to our clients.
Q: How have you used technology to adapt your offering?
A: The technology we have invested in has made our business and people smarter, more efficient and more nimble, and ultimately the customer experience is more efficient and cost-effective. More importantly, we have invested in and developed online travel management technology that at its core drives cost-containment with the added value benefits of control, including approval workflows and expense management. This investment in technology has ensued we can provide the lowest cost transaction in the market, be it online or offline, while delivering a fair return to our shareholders.
Q: Collective buying power in the South Africa TMC space is quite topical at the moment. Your thoughts on this?
A: It is quite topical at the moment. It’s a form of consolidation, and that should translate into a better value proposition for the customer, in terms of pricing. It is however too soon to tell whether that will indeed be the case. The travel management market is ripe for some consolidation, as the smaller players struggle to compete in a highly competitive environment.
Q: Does this make it difficult for newer, smaller players to enter the market and prosper?
A: As with any industry, the barriers to entry should be high in order to ensure the most efficient, experienced and knowledgeable service providers. But it’s less about needing to align with more established brands or consortiums. It’s more about having to invest significantly in people and the required technology solutions, to be in a position to offer total travel management solutions.
Q: There is currently plenty of hotel development north of South Africa’s borders. Any danger of SA ever losing it’s ‘hub’ status?
A: The building of capacity in other African areas is to cater for a specific demand, and hence we don’t see any risk to South Africa’s ‘hub’ status.
Q: Your thoughts on the South African airline industry? Can it sustain more low-cost players, in your opinion?
A: In my opinion, I do not believe the market would be able to sustain more low-cost carriers. The domestic market just does not have the volumes, and it’s difficult to see the volumes increasing to any great degree with the current economic pressures.
Q: What does the future of African corporate travel management look like to you?
A: I do believe we are well on the way to shaping a highly sophisticated technology-driven industry, supporting online travel management solutions with programmes that cater for the challenges corporates face, specific to Africa, and taking into account infrastructure challenges in moving business people around.