Q&A: Taming the Animal

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About 10 years ago Carlson Wagonlit Travel, a global organisation specialising in business travel management, acquired a share-holding in the Bidvest-owned Concorde Travel in South Africa, which then adopted the CWT brand. CWT is the largest travel management company globally, both in terms of sales and global coverage, and CWTSA Managing Director Ben Langner joined Business Traveller Africa for a chat.

Your focus is on business travel management. How different an animal is this from leisure travel management?

A totally different game. The effective management of a company’s corporate travel programme may involve thousands of employees. This requires effective development and control of travel policies, approval processes, management of vast amounts of information, supplier management, safety and security considerations, and a constant focus on driving down costs. To achieve proper optimisation of a corporate travel programme, one needs not only skilled staff, but also sophisticated products, systems and tools.  

Where else in Africa do you have a presence?

We are present in all the major markets. The majority of our business in Africa is managed through our Global Partners Network. Great effort is made to ensure that our partners are equipped to deliver the same service and, importantly, are proficient in using the travel management tools to which our global and regional customers have become accustomed.

Does Carlson Wagonlit have its eye on new markets in Africa?

We see growing demand from our global customers, particularly in the energy sector. For this reason, CWT has a strong focus on its network on the continent to ensure that the organisation has coverage also in newer markets that historically didn’t feature in the regular business travel arena. We see specific growth in demand for TMC services in Nigeria, where we have appointed a new partner recently. Other areas of increasing importance are Ghana, as well as some of the key East and Southern African countries, such as Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique.

Are you seeing a move towards more business travel booked online, or do travel buyers, generally, still like to deal with an agent?

From a general perspective, online booking is becoming increasingly important for our customers. For instance, CWT’s ‘Travel Management Priorities for 2012’ study showed that 56% of travel managers consider optimising online booking among their travellers as a priority for 2012.

In your opinion, what are the key issues in business travel in 2012?

The ever-increasing price of fuel and the resultant cost pressures on airlines. Apart from the strain this places on the management of travel programmes, and from an expense control perspective, it also poses a real threat to the commercial viability of some airlines. Another significant aspect specific to our continent is that the growth in demand for accommodation of a standard acceptable to business travellers seems to outstrip the supply. This leads to higher hotel rates and challenges with availability.

How have the needs of the business traveller changed over the years, and what has contributed to this change?

The world has become a more complex place. So, the business traveller today often faces a bewildering matrix of variables in planning and undertaking journeys. Examples of this complexity are confusing air fare structures, onerous visa requirements, health, safety and security concerns, the dependence on connectivity for the communication tools of present-day travellers etc.  

What challenges does the African business travel industry face in 2012?

In some of the countries on the continent, we see a shortage of quality mid-market hotel accommodation. Whilst there are more scheduled flights on the continent, it can still be a challenge to travel – especially between East and West Africa. Although there are a number of airlines who connect key cities on the continent, it can be very time consuming, as infrequent services often lead to travel times that are longer than what travellers are accustomed to in many other parts of the world.

From what you’ve seen, what are the current hot spots – ie. countries – in terms of African business travel?

We have seen a huge growth in interest in Nigeria and we predict further growth in Angola and the DRC. This is due mainly to our clients in the energy industry. However, clients in the telecommunications and several other sectors are also pursuing opportunities in these areas.

What do you think will be the African business travel issues in 10 years time?

In a fast-changing world, it’s difficult to predict. However, my expectation is that the African continent will develop fast, especially in terms of communications and general infrastructure, and this will make the issues of the business traveller of 2022 more similar to those of the developed countries of the world.