Q&A: Embracing Technology

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Rennies Travel is a partner of the Hogg Robinson Group, which together makes up HRG Rennies Travel, one of the big players in South African travel management. It is also HRG’s strategic hub for the sub-Saharan Africa region, which includes 28 partners and gives HRG a large African footprint. HRG Rennies Travel MD Bronwyn Philipps joined editor Dylan Rogers for a more extensive chat about this large corporate travel entity.

Q: What has the backing of a global brand such as HRG done for your business?

A: HRG’s network expands to over 120 countries globally and one of the greatest benefits of our partnership is that we are able to tap into this vast pool of knowledge and experience developed over years of doing business in this global space. This, combined with our experience with other multi-national corporations expanding into Africa, makes the ‘learning curve’ when rolling out best practice solutions in Africa faster.

Q: How has the role of the traditional travel management company changed over the past 10 years?

A: Tremendously. Like every industry in the world, technology has impacted the travel space and our business in a big way, and means that clients today can pick and choose how they want to interact with us, how they want to book and how they want their data delivered. This has revolutionised our industry, and to remain relevant we have become technology innovators.

Q: Can you expand on the role technology is playing in the TMC space?

A: In the past, clients often saw us largely as a booking channel. Today, technology touches our business and our clients in every way, and the key value we add is providing services beyond pure booking transactions. A key requirement today is our ability to provide a service in the wider consumer space – by providing ways to make transacting faster and easier for the travellers, while delivering data analytics and business intelligence quickly and effectively to the corporate. We continue to be a conduit to provide clients with the right service and support. An example of one of the ways we do this is by providing access to dedicated travel portals via single sign-on. 

Q: Have business travellers’ expectations of their TMC also changed?

A: Yes. In today’s global economy, travellers are on the go 24/7/365, so they need us to be accessible 24/7. They expect consistency and expert support. As much as technology has revolutionized the travel space, it also results in information overload, so travellers are looking for specialist knowledge. These services relate to assistance with complex itineraries, recommendations and assistance for travel to unfamiliar destinations, guidance regarding supplier options and assistance with emergency situations.

Q: In which African countries are you seeing the most interest from your South African clients?

A: Travel is largely dominated by rich natural resource countries. According to our statistics, our clients’ top African destinations in 2013 were: Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Nigeria and Ghana.

Q: Post-global economic downturn, have you seen a change in attitude towards premium class travel?

A: We are actually seeing growth in this sector. Many flight sectors in Africa are relatively short, but connections are challenging and airports are bustling, so travellers want access to lounge facilities while travelling. In addition, a lot of airlines in Africa operate smaller-bodied aircraft such as the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320, which have less space in which to operate. The premium class seat provides the traveller with a peaceful work environment en-route, or enables the traveller to arrive at a meeting rested and able to function effectively. In terms of accommodation within Africa, clients still tend to support 4 and 5-star properties. The 4-star hotels seem to be the priority for most clients, but it does come at a cost. Both Nigeria and Angola have some of the highest accommodation rates anywhere in the world.

Q: Have you noticed a discernible increase or decrease in the amount of MICE travel booked by clients in the past year?

A: This is one of our key growth areas and we have seen a 100% increase in MICE travel. A key driver of this is that more clients are seeing the benefit of a TMC controlling their spend and reporting on it.

Q: Are there any current trends in the African TMC industry that you’re picking up on?

A: Trends are ultimately driven by customer need to ensure that they are optimising their travel spend and programme. Clients want credible, on demand data, and they want the choice of service options to best suit their needs.