Q&A: Wings – Continued growth

After an incredibly successful 2019, Wings Travel Management has big plans for 2020, and here Group Chief Commercial Officer, Frank Palapies, points to some of the areas the TMC will focus on going forward, along with providing some insight into the industry in which Wings operates.


Q: How would you describe 2019, from a Wings Travel point of view?

A: 2019 was a landmark year in terms of us securing a record amount of global new business, including the regional appointment in the Middle East and North Africa to one of the world’s largest providers of drilling, pipeline and construction products and services with a total contract value of around $150 million, and the global appointment to provide travel and logistics services to one of the world’s largest oil and gas drilling contractors in the USA, Canada, Mexico and South America. In October we acquired the energy and corporate travel business of Associated Travel in Louisiana, giving us a foothold in a second major energy sector hub in the USA. Wings also added wholly-owned and managed operations in Egypt and Cyprus to meet the needs for servicing clients expanding into these markets. We expanded our technology division with the acquisition of Alchimea, a specialist software developer, to strengthen our technology footprint.

Q: What were some of the reasons behind your success and growth?

A: The fact that we own and manage all our operations globally has been a key driver to us winning significant new multi-national contracts, as we can provide consistency of service globally, reliable on-demand data, follow-the-sun servicing solutions, and critical safety support in each market. This is a key point of difference to our competitors who tend to use partner agencies in markets like Angola and Nigeria.

Q: Reflecting on 2019, what was the biggest talking point in the global TMC industry?

A: Travel content and distribution – particularly as regards IATA’s New Distribution Capability (NDC). The business travel industry began to see NDC becoming more of a reality. GDS providers such as Amadeus made the first live NDC bookings in their enhanced Selling Platform Connect, and other technology aggregators in the market made progress in terms of enabling TMCs to book NDC content for certain airlines.

Q: What are you predicting the biggest challenge will be for TMCs in 2020?

A: The value chain of distribution has traditionally been from supplier to GDS to TMC to corporate client. But this is all changing due disintermediation as suppliers want to reach the end consumer directly. The industry is certainly evolving rapidly and TMCs will increasingly be under pressure to demonstrate their value in terms of service, as they can no longer just sell on price.

Q: What would Wings like to achieve in 2020?

A: We aim to continue to grow and win more regional and global contracts as well as consolidate operations and new business gained last year. We will also focus on strengthening our brand position in the market as the leading global independent travel management company for clients in the corporate, energy and marine sectors.

Q: From a technology point of view, do you have any new products in the pipeline?

A: We have several exciting new products in the pipeline for 2020 including solutions for those managing travel programmes and a product for travellers too. Our acquisition of Alchimea has also enhanced our future technology capabilities significantly, particularly in the areas of digital transformation, data analytics and machine learning.

Q: Will further acquisitions be part of the Wings strategy?

A: We have several new operations planned for 2020.

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

A: These are challenging times for Africa and this is reflected in the African business travel industry. However, Wings has been operating in South Africa for 28 years and we have worked with our clients through many periods of significant change during that time. There are still many great opportunities for us here in our home market and we intend to continue investing and working in partnership with our clients here.

Q: How have the travel needs of the oil and gas sector changed in the last five years?

A: The downturn in the energy sector over the last few years did have a knock-on effect. Clients naturally scrutinised their costs more closely, whilst not compromising on safety and security. But now that oil prices are rising again, we can see that recovery is positive and business travel in the sector is increasing. This has led a drive to automating crew rotation which has historically been a manual process. Reporting has come under the spotlight where consolidation of spend and the application of business intelligence in terms of spend has allowed TMCs to deliver on value. The need to facilitate this on a global level has become more important.

Q: What measures is Wings putting in place to meet these needs?

A: We consistently work in partnership with our clients to review their entire travel programme and deliver on their objectives. Every client is different and we tailor our services and solutions to meet their specific needs.