Q&A: Dynamic growth

Flight Centre are one of South Africa’s big players in the corporate travel space, offering the market three brands from which to choose and find a fit. One of those brands is FCM Travel Solutions, and its General Manager in South Africa, Euan McNeil, took the time to answer a few questions.

Q: What’s your view on the state of the South African business travel industry?

A: It is always dynamic. With current economic pressures, we are challenged to keep travel costs down without compromising the safety and comfort of the end-traveller, who has also become a lot more savvy and demanding.

Q: What’s your view on the role consolidation has played in the industry?

A: We see consolidation in various segments, from airlines to hotel groups and even TMCs. For us, consolidation delivers economies of scale to our customers and eliminates redundancies. It also strengthens our buying power which our customers can leverage and enables us to innovate more effectively, bringing in additional skills that benefit to our customers.

Q: Does FCTG have a desire to grow all its business travel brands outside of SA in the rest of Africa?

A: Through FCM Travel Solutions we already have a healthy footprint in Africa, with offices in 14 countries including Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and Angola. We are looking at various expansion opportunities on the content for FCM in the coming years.

Q: What unique challenges does Africa present, in terms of servicing your clients?

A: First and foremost the cost of business travel. We find that the price per kilometre to fly to Gaborone and Maputo from Johannesburg is four times higher than to fly to New York. A further constraint is the lack of visa openness – 54% of Africans still need visas to travel to other African countries.

Q: How does FCTG manage multiple business travel brands all under one roof?

A: We very clearly define our customers’ needs and associate the corporate travel brand that best suits their needs. We look at the culture of the company, what its requirements are and what sort of travel approach would best benefit it to ascertain which corporate brand it suits. We recently consolidated Flight Centre Business Travel, Corporate Traveller and Stage & Screen within an umbrella business, and launched FCM Events to service our customers’ MICE requirements.

Q: How is FCTG and its business travel brands using technology to better service its clients?

A: A key focus for FCM Travel Solutions is the development and provision of cutting-edge technology to simplify travel management. In addition to the recent launch of our chatbot Sam we have also relaunched FCM Connect – providing an integrated suite of tools to support profile management, trip approval and online booking, as well as traveller tracking, programme reporting and data analytics. Corporate Traveller will be re-launching its own suite of technology tools in 2018 that provide customers with a blended solution of personal service and automation.

Q: How has technology changed the TMC industry?

A: We see the impact in various areas. Among these are changing distribution channels; surcharges for booking through the GDS; OBT innovations; big data and the opportunity to analyse it effectively to inform travel policy; payment platforms and new ways of making, tracking and analysing payments; new booking engines; travel applications and sharing economy platforms like Uber and Airbnb becoming more mainstream in the corporate travel space; artificial intelligence and virtual assistants. Even social media has had a role to play by providing a communication and even traveller tracking platform.

Q: What role do you believe travel technology should play in the business travel space?

A: Technology does not replace the TMC. Rather, it enhances what we have to offer and frees us up to provide real value to our customers. We use technology to streamline process and fulfil the transactional aspect of our role.

Q: Can you recommend any pieces of travel technology, apps etc that you believe are getting it right in the business travel space, along with an explanation regarding why?

A: FCM Connect, our technology ecosystem that is housed within a single platform, provides automation and the ease of service for the customer and end traveller. On one platform we can provide full corporate travel support for booking, reporting and traveller tracking enabling immediate visibility of travel spend and strategic insights, among other functionality. Sam, FCM’s 24- hour travel assistant, simplifies the life of corporate travellers by blending artificial intelligence with the expertise of a real FCM travel consultant via a conversational interface to answer questions, make recommendations and perform actions.

Q: What does the future of the South African TMC industry look like to you, and where do you see it in 10 years’ time?

A: A focus on traveller friction and the impact of regular and frequent business travel on the retention of star employees is something we believe will receive increasing focus. Technology will also continue to be a key area of development as artificial intelligence and other automation are introduced to streamline processes and make travel more effective.