SAA Cleans Up at BTA Awards

320

The second annual Business Traveller Africa Awards ceremony was held at the Maslow in Sandton, with the Sun International property playing host to a successful South African travel trade industry event, where relationships were strengthened and the country’s national carrier walked away with a bucket-load of awards.

The 2013 Business Traveller Africa Awards took the form of a breakfast event comprising networking opportunities and two interesting panel discussions, followed by the awards, which first made an appearance in Sandton in 2012. This year saw the event – hosted by Future Group, the publishers of Business Traveller Africa magazine – taken to the local travel trade courtesy of Absa’s commercial card division.

The presence of Absa signalled their intent in the South African business travel space, and was backed up by the financial commitment of category partners ExecuJet, Travelport, Gautrain and Radisson Blu Hotels & Resorts. Further support was provided by display partners Starwood Hotels & Resorts, HRG Rennies Travel, Crowne Plaza Johannesburg – The Rosebank, Avis and Birchwood Hotel & OR Tambo Conference Centre.

It was pleasing to see so many big players in the South African travel space commit to backing the Business Traveller Africa Awards, and it bodes well for the future of the event, which appears to be going from strength to strength.

Once delegates had sampled the Maslow’s pre-breakfast tea and coffee spread, MC Jeremy Maggs provided the welcome and set the tone for the morning. A sumptuous breakfast followed, after which Maggs introduced Business Traveller Africa editor Dylan Rogers, who took the stage to facilitate the first of two panel discussions.

First up was the aviation discussion, featuring Iain Meaker of Comair, Aaron Munetsi of SAA, Stephen Paddy of ExecuJet and the Airlines Association of Southern Africa’s (AASA) Chris Zweigenthal.

The interesting make-up of the panel made for a fascinating discussion, with Paddy articulating the private aviation take on the state of South African aviation, and Zweigenthal providing the impartial association view, whilst old foes SAA and Comair were represented by Munetsi and Meaker respectively, and the pair even managed to keep things cordial!

What all four agreed on was that even though times are tough – what with the price of fuel – there’s still plenty of opportunity, both private and commercial, for those players in the market. There was even consensus that the market could accommodate further players, and this preceded a discussion about the anticipated entrance to the low-cost market by Skywise.

At the conclusion of the aviation discussion, Rogers then welcomed four representatives of the hotel industry – Charmaine Hardwick of Protea Hotels, Tsogo Sun’s Ravi Nadasen, Mark Jakins of Peermont Hotels Casinos & Resorts and Starwood Hotels & Resorts’ Hassan Ahdab, who flew in from Europe to take part in the discussion.

The panel looked at ‘The state of the hotel industry in South Africa’, covering the nagging issue of billbacks, who is making the most aggressive moves, the African expansion plans of South Africa’s hotel groups, and the danger of the local groups having their lunch eaten by their international counterparts.

Hardwick was the most outspoken on the billbacks issue, encouraging her fellow industry members, both on the panel and in the audience, to drive further engagement on this subject matter.

Ahdab provided the perfect foil to his South African counterparts, giving an international perspective on theme and providing some insight into how an international hotel group views South Africa and Africa as a whole, and how they go about entrenching themselves on the continent.

With Jakins and Nadasen also not holding back on their views of the South African hotel industry, the audience was treated to a robust debate on some of the key issues in this sector.

A quick tea break followed, after which the serious business of the awards dominated the final stages of the morning.

SAA was the big winner, picking up the top award in three categories – ‘Best African Regional Short-Haul Airline’, ‘Best African Long-Haul Airline’ and ‘Best Business Class’ – whilst the airline’s Baobab Business Class Lounge at O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg was the winner in the ‘Best Airport Business Lounge’ category. Emirates was named ‘Best International Long-Haul Airline’.

ExecuJet Africa was the winner in the ‘Best Air Charter’ category, whilst the ‘Best Hotel Group’ prize went the way of Tsogo Sun, which edged out Protea Hotels, City Lodge, Sun International and Legacy Hotels & Resorts. The other hotel prizes were won by the Saxon Boutique Hotel (‘Best Luxury Hotel in South Africa) and the Radisson Blu Gautrain (‘Best Business Hotel in South Africa’).

The ‘Best Travel Management Company’ category saw HRG Rennies Travel walk away with the main prize, coming out on top ahead of American Express Travel Services, BCD Travel, Carlson Wagonlit and Travel with Flair.

The ‘Best Car Rental Company’ award was won by Avis, ahead of Budget Rent a Car and Europcar, whilst the award for ‘Best Large Conference Venue’ was picked up by Sandton Convention Centre.

As with last year, Future Group and Business Traveller Africa magazine also handed out the ‘Business Travel Personality of the Year’, which this year went to Comair CEO Erik Venter. Earlier this year saw Venter and Comair launch a High Court legal action, challenging the South African government’s latest guarantee granted to SAA. Venter led the debate and said he believed the latest and previous bailouts received by SAA did not comply with either the Domestic Aviation Transport Policy or the law in South Africa, and that he remains committed to fighting for the rights of the South African commercial aviation industry and a level playing field.

That concluded a successful second annual Business Traveller Africa Awards, with the platform laid for this event to grow in stature in years to come, and a date already nailed down for next year.

Diarise the 28th of August 2014!