Q&A: Continued growth

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Salsa Tours, an established South African-based global wholesale travel supplier, opened in October 2006, and has, over its eight years of operation, become a leading global supplier to a number of large travel networks, large businesses and corporate organisations. Being an accredited ASATA wholesale member, a member of the ViKo Group of Companies, as well as being 100% black owned and managed has helped set Salsa up for success. CEO Vishal Koovegee gave Business Traveller Africa his thoughts on business travel in Africa.

Q: How is Salsa Tours different from a traditional travel management company?
A:
As a wholesaler, we sell our products primarily to intermediaries such as travel agencies or travel management companies. We are therefore geared for a volume based business model as opposed to a travel agency, and of course our upstream supplier network not only gives us depth in the options that we have to offer, but this network also enables us to offer maximum global coverage. Our pricing model is also completely different to travel agencies, enabling us to offer highly competitive rates on identical products. Our cutting-edge IT platforms make us one of the only wholesalers in Africa with a highly sophisticated insofar booking process system. We developed our own travel software called TravelBeat, a booking tool which offers a myriad of management functionalities aimed at enabling more accountability and transparency of travel spend.

Q: What sets you apart from other South African wholesale travel suppliers?
A:
According to our clients, the reason they use us and not our competitors is based primarily on three factors: Price – when you strip away the commission earned by an agent, our net rates are highly aggressive; Service – we take full accountability for the booking as a whole, and ensure that the traveller is not left without assistance; Understanding of global travel – our skills set to handle international travel arrangements is the key to our operations team’s prominence and success.

Q: What are your thoughts on the current state of the South African travel management industry?
A:
Travellers, both leisure and corporate, are constantly seeking cheaper solutions. The internet continues to distort product and service offerings and specifications, not to mention pricing. South African travel management participants are being forced to become creative to distinguish themselves from their competitors.

Q: What changes have you made to your offering in the past two years?
A:
Our primary focus has been on our global products portfolio, to strengthen the depth and coverage of our products, whilst at the same time ensuring that we are able to get the best possible rates for our clients. We have forged very important global relationships and our international presence has been massively boosted. The intention has been to improve our portfolio with products and services that play a central role in our offering.

Q: Are you seeing any trends in African corporate travel?
A:
One trend for corporate travel into Africa for the last few years, and which is gaining even more prominence, is security. This is a topical issue for corporate travellers and we have noticed a distinct shift to an environment where bookings for Africa are prioritised where security is concerned.

Q: Any African countries standing out, from an increased interest or recent travel point of view?
A:
We have found a massive increase in demand for hotel rooms and other land arrangements in Botswana over the last 18 months.

Q: What effect have you seen the Ebola outbreak have on African travel?
A:
Ebola has definitely had a negative impact on the travel volumes to West Africa, with some countries reflecting a dramatic reduction. To make matters worse, some countries introduced travel restrictions which certainly reduced the number of travellers to and from these countries. We have also noticed that foreign travellers have developed fears of travelling to the continent as a whole, including South Africa.  

Q: What about terrorism in Africa and its impact on how you sell corporate travel?
A:
Unlike Ebola, terrorism presents a different dynamic and is a lot more difficult to isolate, and to anticipate. For this reason, corporate travellers conduct their own due diligence on the countries that they want to travel to, whilst we ensure that from a ground level perspective, we are able to offer security arrangements in identified high-risk regions should the clients require this.

Q: What impact has the drop in the global oil price had on your business?
A:
Not much to date unfortunately. Whilst air travel becomes cheaper, land arrangements, particularly internationally, have not benefited from a reduction in rates. If there have been, these savings have not been passed down the supply chain.

Q: How much has corporate travel policy changed in recent years?
A
: The last few years have seen a number of fundamental shifts due to the recession. Certain privileges, such as access to Business and First Class air travel and upgraded hotel rooms, were revoked and restricted to more senior executives. One of the biggest shifts in corporate travel, particularly domestic travel, has been a move to seek accommodation in apartments and B&Bs as opposed to hotels. Boutique hotels have also seen increased demand, and all of this has been attributed to cost cutting exercises.

Q: Have corporate travellers’ needs changed in the last 10 years?
A: Absolutely, primarly regarding a need to access new global markets. The fact that new markets are more easily accessible than 20 years’ ago has made corporates and multi-nationals more adventurous about entering new and foreign markets. This naturally impacts on their travel requirements.