Streamlining Business Travel


Technology has become such a big part of our lives, from the laptops or PCs that we conduct our daily business on, through to the tablets and smartphones that make up our tools on the move. No surprise then that these devices, along with the more traditional travel tools and GDS systems, are playing even bigger roles in modern day business travel. Richard Holmes takes a look at some of the latest developments in this space, covering, among others, booking tools, reconciliation products, mobile applications, lodged card products and travel apps.

When cruising from Johannesburg to Lagos at 35,000 feet, it might be tempting to believe it’s the turbofans pushing you northwards that is the technology driving business travel on the African continent. But in many senses you’d be wrong.

The days of mechanics driving industry are long gone. Today the make-up of the engine room of corporate travel in Africa resembles a series of simple 1s and 0s – the building blocks of the binary code that drives the modern day travel industry.

That’s because technology is becoming ever more important in today’s low margin, time pressured, return-on-investment climate of corporate travel. Quite simply, straightforward trips from A to B no longer cut it. If you can’t maximise your travel budget using advanced flight searches, access your itinerary through your mobile phone or tablet, make changes on the move and reconcile all the expenses at the click of a button when it’s all done… well, you might as well stay in the office.

Happily, Africa is holding its own when it comes to cutting-edge technology in the travel sphere. With some of the fastest-growing economies on the planet, corporate travel into and across Africa is seen as a vital growth point for multi-national travel companies, as global distribution systems, travel management companies and financial services brands tap into Africa’s jet-setting corporate customers.

At the leading edge of the travel technology curve are the travel management companies (TMCs) that manage and optimise travel arrangements and budgets for large corporate customers.

“Technology plays a critical role at nearly every stage of the trip lifecycle— from planning to booking, to driving saving on unmanaged spending, to traveller safety, to expense management,” says Kananelo Makhetha, Managing Director of BCD Travel. “Many of our innovations come in the form of improved processes that create efficiencies that lead to cost savings. Some of our recent work focuses on helping companies influence the decisions travellers make during a trip.”

“Technology is absolutely vital in meeting the expectations of an increasingly sophisticated client base, and can be a key differentiator,” says Maurice De Vries, Business Solutions Director for HRG Rennies Travel, a multi-national TMC that holds a major share of the corporate travel market on the continent. “Online booking systems that are truly touchless, aggregated content, customised web-based information portals for travellers and bookers, traveller tracking tools, mobile access and DRP systems are all critical elements of the travel solution that are dependent on technology innovation.”

In a nutshell, it’s a changing world and the means of getting product – whether it’s a seat on a plane, a last-minute hotel room close to clients, or a hire car that can tackle the roads of West Africa – has changed drastically, with suppliers not always opting for the tried and trusted methods of distribution.

“Forty percent of the world’s airlines are no longer available on the global distribution systems used by TMCs,” says Collin Austen, Technology Champion for Club Travel. “TMCs that want to remain relevant need to ensure that they have the tools available to access these new channels, thereby ensuring they can offer their clients all possible options available.”

TMCs that don’t keep up with the technological ‘Joneses’ risk being left behind in this fast-paced environment, agrees Marc de Jager, General Manager Global Network for Travel With Flair: “On the client side, we have just completed our management information system, which now provides a more holistic view of our clients’ trends, and is also able to drill down to specific information with dashboards of comprehensive travel information like never before.  Our new global fares platform also allows us to source the best global fares for our clients locally.  This solution has also been proven to provide true last seat availability and provide really impressive savings for our clients.”

The quirks of doing business in Africa most certainly affect the technology required for facilitating corporate travel, and savvy TMCs take this into account when creating products and services for their African clients.

“Technologies that are developed for the African market are developed with a clear understanding of the needs in each African market,” explains Claude Vankeirsbilck, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer for Tourvest Travel Services, which holds the master franchise rights for American Express Travel Services in sub-Saharan Africa. The brand is currently represented in 22 countries including Kenya, Ghana, Angola, Mozambique, Namibia and Nigeria. The brand will also grow its footprint into Gabon and Togo before the end of the year.

“In South Africa, American Express Travel Services has developed online travel management technology that embraces local South African and African nuances, understanding that not all inventory is accessible through the global distribution systems, along with a lack of local market hotel content,” adds Vankeirsbilck. “This technology is being widely rolled out in South Africa and has the capability to meet the specific needs of other African markets.”

But equally important is the notion that technology shouldn’t be implemented for technology’s sake. Centralising technology into a single access point often simplifies the process for corporate travellers and travel managers – a strategy Tourvest Travel Services sees as the future.

Its travel portal is being rolled out to clients, and will be a “gateway to all our technological innovations and offerings to our corporate travel customers,” explains Chief Information Officer Louis Van Zyl, who adds that the system includes an automatic traveller profile update system, the tools to electronically requisition and approve travel, and the ability to check in online directly from the portal.

Empowering travellers to make their own bookings – with the safety net of a travel management company in the wings if things go wrong – is a popular route for corporates and their travellers, providing a perfect mix of flexibility and professional back-up.

“Our experience in terms of introducing new technologies into the market is considerable and we were first to market with a completely touchless online travel booking system, Rennies Travel Online,” adds De Vries. “Automated pre-trip approval is a critical element of this solution and can also be sold as a stand-alone module for clients. It can integrate into client ERP systems to improve travel programme compliance and provides an end-to-end flow of documentation, without manual intervention, supporting cost management and savings.”

“Self-booking tools allow corporate staff to make their own bookings whilst enjoying the fact that their TMC is available to them should they run into a problem,” says Austen from Club Travel. “These tools can offer a very simple solution for just checking flights and returning with answers, or they can be far more complex. It is very important that corporations exploring installing a self-booking tool engage with their TMC to explore the best fit for their company.”

The Future is Mobile

With the proliferation of 3G Internet access across Africa, it’s perhaps no surprise that technological innovations – particularly those aimed at time-scarce corporate travellers – are increasingly diverging into the mobile landscape.

In a recent study of e-commerce trends in the African travel industry, market research company World Wide Worx – led by South Africa’s leading expert on Internet and mobile technology trends, Arthur Goldstuck – found that although there were regional and country-specific preferences for purchasing travel online, the emergence of Internet access via mobile phones was constant across all territories.

“For travellers, mobile technology is playing an increasingly important role – the mobile device is quickly becoming the connection point that drives our engagement. Social collaboration tools also have opened up great new channels for communication,” says Makhetha, who adds that BCD Travel is currently developing its bespoke TripSource® app, “an engaging multi-modal platform that travellers can use to improve the quality of trips while working within company policy.”

With a world of knowledge at your smartphone-enabled fingertips, mobile applications allow travellers to tweak itineraries on the road, as well as access up-to-the minute information on anything from security alerts to local weather conditions. Bespoke applications also help travellers make smarter buying decisions – the quickest cost-effective way to get from the airport to the hotel, how to avoid exorbitant roaming costs, as well as simply avoiding costly disruptions to the best-laid travel plans.

“If you are not thinking mobile, you’d better start,” says De Jager emphatically. “Members of the Y-generation are the new travellers and everything is done on the go. Desktops have become laptops, which in turn have become tablets and smartphones, and offices have become coffee shops and airport lounges.  At Travel with Flair, we have a mobile booking solution that includes a mobile authorisation process flow.  Expense management can be added on to that, should the client require it.”

American Express Travel Services is similarly focused firmly on online applications that are accessible from any location through any device, says Vankeirsbilck: “We have developed online travel management technology which is entirely web-based with a key focus on mobile access, requisitioning and covering the approval process.  This technology has the capability of integrating into most expense management systems and many ERP systems.”

“Our clients are on the move all the time. Because they are, our technology is the medium that we use to reach them – so it has to be reliable, efficient and easy to use,” says Lisa Larsen, Director of Technology for Wings Travel Management, adding that mobile is the platform travel managers need to focus on.

“It is the future and the future is here,” she says. “And, I think it’s going to stay here for a while. I think it’s going to evolve and become bigger. And who knows what is beyond the app – but I think we are going to live in the mobile world. People are very comfortable having their work with them – and we want to go along.”

Home Sweet Home

Access on the road is crucial, but just as important is what happens when the jet touches down at your home airport.

Reconciliation of expenses and reimbursing staff when necessary is a crucial area of travel management where technology is increasingly coming to the fore. A host of applications and tools – both bespoke and third party offerings – are available, and knowledgeable TMCs are usually well-placed to advise corporate clients on the ideal system for their needs.

“We have two products that we work with, namely KDS expense management and Concur expense management,” says De Jager. “They are both very good products in that they provide credit card reconciliation as well as the ability to scan your slips on the go with your phone, and provide reports on your expenses.

Cape Town-based TMC Travel Manor uses document management solution Papertrail, MIS reporting and the use of lodged card accounts to help clients keep track of expenses, adds Managing Director Julie Fevrier.

Reducing the labour-intensive process of sifting through reams of receipts and invoices is a key focus for Wings Travel Management, says Larsen: “Our most exciting development has been the deployment of a software application that can reconcile data from multiple sources. For our clients, the greatest benefit has been the automated reconciliation of their credit card statement, something that traditionally is a labour-intensive process. Matching credit card charges and checking statements to data like lodged credit cards and third-party systems by hand wastes a lot of time and energy.”

 “The growing demand by our clients for an integrated ‘end-to-end’ travel and expense management solution is met by our credit card matching service,” comments De Vries from HRG Rennies Travel. “The objective of credit card matching is for HRG Rennies Travel to effectively and efficiently reconcile credit card statements with available travel management information. A statement is provided, showing reconciled and irreconcilable information, as well as the balance between the two.”

Crucially, the information is provided electronically, allowing the data to be uploaded directly into the client’s own financial systems, in order to streamline payments. HRG Rennies Travel also offers an invoice repository system for archiving invoices that may go astray, and the group’s Traveller Profile system allows for personal cards to be integrated into the system to speed up the reconciliation of expenses.

With a suite of tools available in the marketplace, it comes down to finding a solution that fits with precisely the scale and nature of your corporate travel, say the experts. 

“Managed travel is made up of a collection of capabilities and services that can be combined in various ways to meet travel programme and business goals. That includes payment and expense management. The best solution is the one that works best for an individual company, given its unique set of needs, challenges and culture,” adds Makhetha. “To help clients navigate the large number of combinations of tools available on the market, we’ve created a solution network map. It simplifies the conversation around managed travel, showing how capabilities and services can

combine to deliver or improve on programme goals.”

While innovations save time and money for corporate travellers, they’re only as powerful as the human being operating it.

There’s an old chestnut of a joke amongst computer programmers, in that when a system isn’t functioning the reason is all too often a case of PEBKAC: Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair. And yes, that means you, the user.

A silly joke perhaps, but one with a nugget of truth. That’s because corporate travellers often resist migrating away from familiar – yet outdated – systems they’ve used for years, and travel managers may need to coax users to toss out the old and embrace the new. Unless, that is, you make it worthwhile.

“On the whole, people generally resist change,” agrees Makhetha. “But when it comes to technology that provides clear benefits without too steep a learning curve, our clients tend to embrace change.”

“The only time clients are resistant to any enhancements or tools are when it is of no real use or value to them,” agrees De Jager, a sentiment echoed by De Vries from HRG Rennies Travel: “Clients are keen to embrace the benefits that new technology brings. This is driven by their business objectives, which almost always include improved efficiencies and cost containment. They are also increasingly conscious of their traveller needs for information 24/7, and safety and security.”

Ensuring new technology is aligned with those “business objectives” is key, for there’s little point spending time and money implementing a system that nobody uses.

“The true return on investment of any technology solution is heavily dependent on the adoption rate enjoyed,” says Austen from Club Travel. “Corporations need to carefully consider their own staff complement and their love of – or aversion to – technology before making costly decisions to adopt new technology.”

For Tourvest Travel Services, clients can also be the driving force behind technological change, notes Van Zyl: “As our customers become more aware of the potential of technological advances, they tend to demand more which leads to an expectation that we position ourselves at the forefront of innovation.”

But while technology can drive efficiencies and trim costs, it’s by no means a replacement for human interaction. When travel plans go awry, time-pressed corporate travellers want a human being at the end of the line, not an automated voice.

And, perhaps counter-intuitively, it’s precisely the growth of technology that is enabling increased human interaction for Tourvest clients, says Van Zyl: “We view technology as the medium through which we can afford our customers more ‘face time’ with our consultants. By having technology facilitate the aspects of our service offering to our clients, and taking this away from our consultants, it frees them up to provide more of the value-add components and spend the maximum time consulting.”

HRG Rennies Travel is also trialling a combination of technology and human interaction with the introduction of working through Microsoft Lync, an instant messaging system that is aimed squarely at corporate users.

“Once we are happy with this, we plan to engage with clients that want to move to the next level and interface with our consultants in a live chat environment,” says De Vries.

Technology needs to enable travellers and travel managers, says Lisa Larsen from Wings, who describes their approach as “technology with human attention”.

“Let’s face it, everyone can go online and book a flight,” she says. “But, the key question is: what level of service will you get after the flight – or hotel or car – is booked? Do you need to make changes? How simple will that be? Will you be able to use that ticket in the future if it goes unused? Will there be someone to help you out of a tough situation at two in the morning?”

It’s about ensuring the systems are built to fit the traveller, whether they’re an accomplished globetrotter or nervous first-time flyer.

“Our suite of online tools simplifies just about every facet of travel management, from scheduling and communication to invoicing and logistics. For ultimate efficiency, these tools are tied into one central database, which keeps track of every transaction, no matter where in the world it happens,” says Larsen. “We have clients who are happy to book their travel by the traditional phone call or email, and those who prefer self-booking tools or automated travel requests. In order to meet our clients’ individual needs, we need to have a system in place that is flexible and adaptable to their requirements.”

When looking to streamline your travel management, it’s tempting to jump on the first shiny technology bandwagon that comes along, but the question to ask before you sign on the dotted line is, simply, ‘will it work for me?’

Technology for the sake of technology does nobody any favours, and managers need to remember that there’s no one single solution – it’s about tailoring the array of tools and services to fit the precise needs of your business travel. Everyone on-board certainly needs those turbofans to keep them heading for Lagos, but when it comes to 1s and 0s, the answer isn’t nearly so clear-cut.

If cash is king, then plastic is prince

Although cash is still king in many parts of Africa, credit card brands are also increasingly investing in technology to make business travel more seamless.

American Express, Diners Club and Absa are some of the leading card brands on the continent for travellers, with lodged corporate cards a major component of the industry.

“Seventy percent of our revenue comes from business travel spend, of which the majority is derived from our travel lodged card product,” says Leáne Walters, Manager: Travel for Diners Club SA. Although the current focus for Diners Club is on South Africa, the brand is accepted at over two million merchant outlets across 15 African countries.

“As a wholly-owned subsidiary of Standard Bank, we believe we are well-placed to make a big impact in the rest of Africa and have aspirations to start issuing cards in those markets as well. Local regulation in Africa is a major challenge however, and there is still some way to go before it moves away from a cash-based economy, particularly when it comes to travel payments.”

“Internationally, there is a preference for corporate card in wallet, which makes it easier to settle direct in order to track and account for travel spend. However, the local market has not matured to this trend yet, due to the perceived possibility of card misuse,” adds Walters. “The Diners Club corporate card is however ideally positioned to limit misuse, as the company can elect to either issue the card with the liability resting on the company or in the cardholder’s personal capacity, thereby ensuring that the necessary documentation to claim for business spend is submitted in time for payment.”

Absa similarly has an eye on expanding into Africa.

“As part of Barclays Africa, the card business is positioning itself for growth in South Africa and the African continent, supported by technological innovation,” notes Riaan van Niekerk, Head Absa Commercial Card. “We have a number of products that cater for different needs, including a business card suitable for small to medium-sized businesses to pay for any business expense; a corporate card for individual payment of hotel, car rental and ad hoc expenses while travelling; a travel lodge card which efficiently  centralises payments at a travel management company; and a purchasing card which is used for low-value payment, high-value business purchases with invoice expense reconciliation.”

Reconciling expenses is one of the key areas where card companies are working to make business travel more efficient.

“The process of reconciling travel spend is still a major challenge and is the next big area that is looked to for cost-savings and change. How organisations pay for their travel is also vital in terms of tracking, monitoring and accounting for travel spend,” says Walters. “Travel expenses are one of the largest controllable expenses after salaries and information technology. However, data systems are vital – not just for the company, but also their suppliers.”

Diners Club’s solution is a system called Diners Club Advantage (DCA), which is available at no additional cost to corporates. The online business services solution allows the user to view yesterday’s local transactions today at any time and from any location – save, print or email the monthly invoice as a PDF and/or download it in CSV format for spreadsheets, to simplify the matching process and access Corporate Card Account Management Information Reports. Diners Club is also planning an enhanced web-based offering called DCA Plus, which will – for a minimal once-off set-up cost – allow users additional functionality including air, hotel and accommodation summaries; customised reporting and streamlined expense management.

“We have been focusing on alleviating the burden that is currently put on the TMC when it comes to the matching and reconciliation of travel spend,” says Walters. “By giving the company access to their own data and enabling them to do with it what they please, it allows the TMC and the company to focus on what is really important: finding cost-savings within the company’s overall travel management programme, not in the 10% that it costs to run it.”

Going Global

Global distribution systems (GDS) have long been the backbone of the worldwide travel industry – collating product and funnelling vast amounts of inventory to consumers via the travel trade.

But far from resting on their laurels, the world’s dominant GDS companies are constantly innovating in both systems and inventory to keep up with the times. And happily, African markets are riding the crest of that innovation wave.

“Africa is an important market for Amadeus,” says Jannine Adams, Senior Manager: Marketing for Amadeus GTD Southern Africa, which operates in 48 countries across sub-Saharan Africa. “Africa is seen as a prime growth market for the travel industry, characterised by widespread infrastructure projects and investments that are helping to drive economic activity and development. As a technology partner, we would like to support growth and are committed to the region.”

Evidence of that commitment came in early-2013, when Amadeus opened a Regional Solution Centre in Johannesburg to support the industry across the continent and Indian Ocean islands.

“Amadeus customers in the region will benefit from the increased attention and support due to the closer proximity of resources and solutions more suited to their market requirements,” explains Adams.

Travelport, the other major GDS in the African market, says it has similarly “seen tremendous growth and opportunity in Africa, and it is a key focus region for the business. We have invested heavily in launching direct operations in South Africa and Kenya to provide directly managed hubs,” says Darryl Erasmus, who is responsible for Regional Marketing and Communications – Africa for Travelport GDS. Travelport operates in almost every country in Africa, expanding to 11 new territories in the past three years, and is a market leader in Southern and East Africa.

“We are rolling out products to Africa at the same time as other regions and working to support the industry in these developing countries by providing the latest technology, to ensure that the travel agents are well set to meet the growing demands of the traveller,” says Erasmus.

Those products include solutions for the mobile space – ViewTrip Mobile and Travelport Mobile Agent.

“Travel Mobile Agent (TMA) is an easy, fast and hassle-free way for agents to connect to Galileo anywhere, anytime using their tablet/iPad or smartphone,” explains Erasmus. “TMA enables the modern travel agent to be faster and more productive even when outside the office. Travellers also have access to their up-to-date travel itineraries on their smart devices with Travelport ViewTrip Mobile.  ViewTrip Mobile is more than an itinerary tool – using GPS technology, travellers can receive up-to-the-minute flight alerts, city guides, maps, directions, weather forecasts and events, which is a bit like having a concierge in your pocket.”

In 2011 Travelport also launched its innovative ‘Rooms and More’ functionality to expand the products and services available to agents and travel managers via the GDS.

“Since Travelport Rooms and More was launched we have experienced significant adoption of the world class product across the sub-continent,” says Erasmus. “Africa, and specifically southern Africa, is one of the fastest-growing regions for Rooms and More with an increase in bookings year-to-date of 205% year-on-year and a 35% increase in agent sign-ups.”

GDS systems are all about inventory, and with the airline industry evolving to stay profitable, GDS providers have had to evolve alongside. For Travelport, that means enhancing the way airlines share their inventory via the new Travelport Merchandising Platform.

“Travelport Merchandising Platform is transforming the way airlines deliver their products to Travelport and the way that these products are displayed to our travel consultants, by empowering airlines to distribute all of their products as they choose and agents to access all airline content within their normal workflow,” says Erasmus.

The platform “paves the way for significant change in the distribution landscape by enabling airlines to go to market with all of their products in the right place, at the right time, in every channel,” adds Derek Sharp, Managing Director, Global Distribution and Sales for Travelport. “It provides complete consistency in how an airline’s product portfolio is presented and sold across all channels.”

As airlines look to maximise revenue, those ancillaries – from exit-row seats to additional baggage allowances – have become increasingly widespread, and a key addition to GDS inventory.

“Amadeus is making it easier for travel agents to book ancillaries through a unique interactive catalogue which clearly displays the range of additional airline services available,” says Adams. “Our solution allows airlines to optimise choice and value for the customer. Ancillary services are also available through Amadeus e-Travel Management, our corporate booking tool used by over 6,000 corporations worldwide.”

The proliferation of low-cost airlines – which have traditionally steered clear of the major GDS systems citing concerns over fees – is another factor, and with the growth in low-cost carriers worldwide GDS owners have had to find ways to bring these airlines into the fold of available inventory.

“Travelport is the only GDS that enables agents to shop API-connected carriers – typically low-cost carriers – in the same way as traditional carriers,” says Erasmus. “Ancillary services can be sold within the agent’s desktop, eliminating the need for agents to visit the airline’s website to sell ancillaries.”

While low-cost carriers have traditionally built their growth in leisure markets, as these reach saturation – or become sensitive to tough economic times – airlines are increasingly looking to the lucrative corporate market.

“GDS distribution is an important way to reach the higher-yield business travel market, as corporations use TMCs and travel agents to manage their requirements,” says Adams. “Amadeus works with over 70 low-cost and hybrid carriers to distribute their fares via travel agencies. On a year-on-year basis, total bookings on low-cost carriers by travel agencies using Amadeus increased by 31.3% in the second quarter of 2013 and by 25.9% during the first half of the year.”

Feeding airline inventory seamlessly into GDS systems has become something of a talking point recently, with the GDS companies and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) disagreeing over how to bring technical protocols into the 21st-century.

While the inner complexities of the system – and the disagreements about it – are of little use to the traveller-in-the-street, it mostly boils down to a disagreement over the type of digital language the various airline and industry systems should use to communicate with each other.

“At present, the industry is operating on a pre-Internet standard that no longer meets the way people like to shop online. Consumers today expect access to detailed information about their purchase and a customised experience,” explains Eric Leopold, Director: Passengers for IATA. “New Distribution Capability (NDC) is an IATA-led, industry-supported project to develop an XML-based data transmission standard for communications between airlines and travel agents, that will allow the industry project to modernise the way tickets are sold and distributed through travel agents.”

While the end-goal is admirable, it has attracted strong criticism from certain quarters over claims that the changes will endanger privacy and comparison shopping.

IATA disputes these claims, however, and insists that “the entire industry is moving towards XML,” albeit on individual stand-alone projects.

“But in the absence of a single standard such as NDC, we will have a number of one-off proprietary, non-interchangeable solutions. Standards increase efficiency, encourage competition and reduce costs,” says Leopold.

“NDC is all about giving travellers – who still buy 60% of their tickets (by value) from travel agents – access to the same choices and flexibility that they are offered when they browse an airline website. With NDC, the travel agent or the online shopper will be able to see all the options available, check photos, descriptions and reviews, and compare the costs among different airlines.

“So, instead of just being able to see the base fare and schedule, travellers will also be able to compare the full value of the offer and make a more informed purchase decision. It is all about empowering the consumer.”

Don’t worry, be appy

So, your company’s too small to contract a TMC and you prefer to arrange your own travel, often while you’re on the road? Here are five apps your smartphone shouldn’t leave home without.


Apple’s virtual wallet is super-handy when travelling on airlines that support its boarding pass functionality – no more losing your paper stub en route to the gate. It’ll take time for African airlines to catch on, but why not be an early-adopter.

iOS only. Free.

Stop worrying about where you saved your car, hotel and flight reservations. Simply forward all of your travel reservations to TripIt and it’ll collate them into a simple, info-packed itinerary.

Available for iOS and Android. Free


Not sure what the weather’s like in Lagos, or if it’ll be rainy in Rwanda? Plug the destination and the duration of your trip into the app and it’ll suggest what you’ll need to pack. Of course, it might not know you look better in the charcoal suit.

iOS only. $2,50


Need to catch up on some sleep during that flight from Nairobi to Accra? Hop onto SeatGuru to check the best spot on the plane for a little shut-eye. It’ll also help you avoid the noisy galley seats, and the devilish rows where you can’t recline.

Available for iOS and Android. Free

XE Currency

Simply the best currency converter app on the market, with live tracking of currency markets.

Available for iOS and Android. Free

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