The entire planet spins a little faster now, and travel management companies have had to keep up, smoothing the way for their clients’ businesses to keep spinning along with the pace of the globe. This is the view of Lola Adefope, General Manager at HRG Nigeria, who took the time to answer Business Traveller Africa’s questions.
Q: How has the role of the traditional travel management company changed over the past decade?
A: It has evolved in leaps and bounds and is almost unrecognisable from the company which, 10 years ago housed the “travellers bestie”. TMCs are now the source and providers of an almost Siri-like intellect to travellers – knowledgeable, immediate and efficient, while maintaining a customised, tailored touch.
Q: What role is technology currently playing in the TMC space?
A: Technology is an integral tool. It gives TMCs the ability to control scale, and have visibility and control over their own products. The fragility of providing travel solutions has been replaced with a vast array of sellable items within easy reach. But accessibility brings in additional elements of competition and we need to use technology provide clients with the items they did not know they needed. This can only be done by relying on clever tools of the trade.
Q: Have business travellers’ expectations of their TMC changed?
A: Yes, definitely. Itineraries need to be flexible and delivered immediately. Vast options need to be immediately accessible because travellers want to make decisions themselves. Manual entries and paper tickets are now a thing of the past and no longer necessary, since even boarding passes can be scanned directly from a travellers phone.
Q: What changes have you noted in business traveller requirements for hotels and airlines?
A: Business travellers have become more savvy regarding global alliances and preferred chains. Whilst mandates and policies may be passed down within companies, travellers have preferred travel partners and know how to maximise the potential benefits. Where a company has selected a particular airline to partner with, we find travellers, when given the option, will also select a hotel chain within the same group and eat at a restaurant where points or miles can be accrued. Companies are making individual travellers more responsible for themselves and for their budgets, and this is clearly reflecting in the efficiency with which business travellers are making their selections.
Q: How would you describe the current business travel market in West Africa?
A: Business travel in West Africa continues to be consistent. Whilst recent economical and sociological incidents may have reduced the spend and lowered the classes of travel, travel still continuously occurs. Global markets continue to drive travel into West Africa but trends show that instead of the simple arrival-meeting-departure itinerary that was prevalent four of five years ago, we now see elongated stays, long lease accommodation, and hub travel where a major city is utilised as a base and the traveller then visits several other cities.
Q: How does travel in West Africa currently compare with what was seen during the Ebola outbreak last year?
A: It certainly is picking up, however, the effects of the outbreak can still be seen at many major airports (although not in Nigeria) where the port health authorities still initiate temperature tests and dole out sanitiser. Volumes are still low in comparison to previous years, but are on the rise.
Q: What does the future of African corporate travel management look like to you?
A: I’d say it looks more organised. Efficiency is key. T.I.A (This is Africa) is no longer an excuse. Infrastructure can’t pose a barrier to business in a world where technology, the internet and mobile phones have shrunk the planet. Global focus and trade is now looking at Africa. People want to visit and we want them to visit.
Q: What industry changes would you like to see in the next five years?
A: I would like to see the pace of infrastructure in Africa match the pace of global interest, and African national carriers that can rival other global operators and focus on the Open Skies agreements.
Q: Are there any trends in the Nigeria TMC space that you’ve picked up on in the last 12 to 18 months?
A: Consolidation, consolidation and consolidation. TMCs in Nigeria have learnt to drive profitability by creating partnerships and focusing on volume sales. The steadfast nature of corporate travel is also becoming more alluring to non-traditional entities with OTAs now partnering with others to get into the same space.
Q: What, for you, are the African corporate travel hotspots, in terms of the demand you’re seeing?
A: Nigeria continues to be a magnetic destination with travel being driven by the oil and construction industries. Corporate travellers continue to move towards Angola, Kenya and South Africa. Markets which had previously been overlooked are now pushing to the fore with a web of air services that are liquidating their borders. Countries such as Cote d ‘Ivore and Ghana act as hubs for regional routes and have seen a growth in demand for accommodation and office space.