It’s a business relationship that was conceived over a long lunch 17 years ago, and Travel with Flair MD Johanna Mukoki and Operations Director Tibor Zsadanyi are a little like an old married couple. But together with CEO Robert Wilke and fellow director Basetsana Kumalo, they’ve grown TWF into a South African-based travel management company with serious clout and big dreams.
Not much appears to have changed since the pair in question first shared a bite to eat in the mid-1990s. Well, at least in terms of their relationship. But what has taken on a different form is the very competitive space they play in. Specifically and very simply, how travel is booked, according to Zsadanyi.
“On the corporate side, there’s the adoption of self-booking tools,” he says. “In the next three to five years, you’re going to find most corporates will have gone this route. The only problem is that we don’t have a reliable, home-grown South African product. So, what we’ve done is develop our own product, in conjunction with Travelport and KDS.”
So, how will this change the role of the travel management company?
“You’ll be able to focus on quality,” says Zsadanyi. “It’s going to free up a lot of time for the consultant, and I also think that lead times are going to play a greater role, because the person booking has full control and knows that once they’ve done the booking, they are going to get an authorisation quickly and it pushes the price down.”
Those last few words will no doubt please South African corporate clients, who, it appears, are still cashing in on a system that has moved forward at a much quicker rate overseas.
“I’ve just come back from a conference in New York, and they were shocked that we still do invoicing,” says Mukoki. “We’re definitely about eight years behind, and they cannot understand that we are still bridging our clients’ finance.”
Never mind carrying their clients financially, both Mukoki and Zsadanyi have concerns about the South African travel industry as a whole, particularly in terms of skills development.
“What we’re finding is that the skill of people coming out of universities and technikons is not what it should be,” says Zsadanyi.
“So, what we’ve been done is come up with our own training academy,” adds Mukoki. “The graduates that come out of some of these institutions are not actually employable. So, we train them our way, and once they’ve been through our programme, they are fully employable and are actually fully-fledged consultants.”
Now, that definitely seems like a more proactive approach, and Mukoki and Zsadanyi are naturally proud of TWF’s organic growth, which has seen the likes of cleaners and receptionists grow into travel consultants, off the back of an internal training programme.
“It’s definitely an industry with great potential, in terms of job creation, and, as business owners in the travel industry, we also need to be able to not only look at the problem, but see how we can be part of the solution,” says Mukoki.
That might be how home base operates, but what about the bigger African picture and TWF’s expansion plan? There are currently seven partners in the TWF Global stable, in the form of Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Botswana, whilst there’s also a partnership in Nigeria, through TWF’s Travel Solutions International (TSI) affiliation.
“With our partners, we give them our technology, we put them through a lot of training, and we engage with them on a regular basis,” says Mukoki.
“Having those partners in place with the proper technology means we can use them to do bookings and actually service clients of ours on the ground,” says Zsadanyi, who also admits to having his eye on Mauritius, Ghana and Angola.
Never mind African expansion, what both Mukoki and Zsadanyi are sensitive to is the future role of the travel management company, in a modern age where everyone wants control of their own travel, and technology, often in the form of just a cellphone, is playing an increasingly bigger role.
So, where does that leave Travel with Flair?
“People still believe that ultimately there needs to be somebody out there or behind that functionality who will be able to untie the knots,” says Mukoki.
And that’s where you’re bound to find this pair, behind the scenes, looking after your travel and untying the knots.