Q&A: BCD Travel – Regional ambition

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It’s an interesting time for travel management companies, as clients become more demanding and technology continues to change the way we see travel. So, it’s always good to get the perspective of some of the industry’s big TMC brands. On this occasion, BCD Travel South Africa CEO Marco Cristofoli was on hand to answer BTA’s questions.

Q: What is BCD Travel doing to overcome these challenges?

A: BCD Travel South Africa has a three-year strategy to be our ‘Centre of Excellence’ for the African region. It will set the standard to be replicated across the African region. We are further enhancing quality control systems, bringing down operational costs and implementing new payment systems. We have to be out in front of our clients so we can better prepare and support them in their own growth strategies.

Q: How has the relationship between TMC and corporate client changed in the past 10 years?

A: We have become a lot more consultative to clients as their business becomes more and more complex. We have become more solutions-focused as our clients expect us to be the leader in the TMC space. The relationship is a lot more professional and partnership-oriented.

Q: What advancements has BCD recently made in the technology space?

A: We are digging deep into data to power our initiatives around the ‘Amazon effect’ (collecting preferences and buying patterns at the individual level). TripSource continues to expand and evolve as a traveller service delivery platform. We are expanding our service channels, allowing travellers to interact with consultants in multiple ways, starting with chat through TripSource. Our new SolutionSource marketplace will provide access to a curated selection of third-party tools, allowing our clients to easily customise their programmes.

Q: How much of an appetite are your corporate customers showing for sharing economy services such as Uber to find their way into travel policies?

A: Ride-hailing companies continue to face fierce opposition from traditional taxi operators in South Africa and Kenya, however this has not affected its sustained expansion in the rest of Africa. Uber has introduced Uber For Business using its business-to-business platform. It has been successful in Tanzania with the company testing the system in South Africa. There is interest from clients.

Q: How much of an impact do you think IATA’s New Distribution Capability (NDC) will have on the corporate travel space, and in what way?

A: We support NDC, so long as the interests of our clients and their travellers are protected. We think NDC will lead to a better customer experience if it improves the traveller experience with a rich variety of booking choices in one place, eliminating the need to search multiple sites to determine best options. At this point, for us to adopt the NDC is costly due to the manner in which it impacts workflow. In the longer term, the stated adoption by all the major GDSs will satisfy the airlines’ need to make customised offers, the business traveller’s desire for a consumer-level user experience, and the travel buyer’s need to comparison shop and capture data needed for a managed travel programme.

Q: What are your thoughts on the role that self-booking tools are playing in the corporate travel space?

A: For simple point-to-point routes they are invaluable in driving down the cost of the transaction, however for more complicated bookings there is still a need for the booking to be ‘touched’ by a travel consultant. Another trend we are seeing more in Africa is for self-booking tools to be integrated into end-to-end travel and expense solutions, which allows clients better visibility and control.

Q: What are your thoughts on the current state of the African business travel industry?

A: Regional integration and connectivity continues to hinder African business travel. However, airlines such as Ethiopian Airlines have made remarkable developments in connecting more cities to the rest of the world. The region is experiencing increased competition from global airlines and regional low-cost carriers. Traveller security remains top of mind for organisations conducting business in the region, with more of our clients investing in en-route traveller security tracking and support solutions. Alternative payments solutions including virtual payments are being adopted; this will further enhance the travel service procurement process and efficiencies within the TMC and client environments.

Q: Have you picked up on any global TMC trends that you feel will be a fit for the African continent?

A: The growth in mobile device adoption in Africa, and in particular data usage, means higher utilisation of mobile devices. The shift towards digitisation of travel processes and adoption of self-booking tools presents a great opportunity for the African business traveller. Self-booking tools offer the user a more consumer-like comparison and shopping experience when booking travel.

Q: Where would you like to see BCD Travel in the next 10 years?

A: Whilst South Africa is a prominent market, we continue to set our focus on the whole region. Since 2014 we have become the market leader in Africa in full integration of travel management programmes. We will continue to innovate and strengthen our market position in South Africa and the African continent.