Q&A: Wings Travel – Demonstrating value

From humble Johannesburg-based TMC to global provider of travel and support services, Wings Travel Management has undergone tremendous growth in its 27 years of operation. Wings COO: Africa & Middle East, Frank Palapies, made some time in his busy schedule to provide an update on the company and his thoughts on the TMC industry.

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Q: How would you describe the past five years of operations for Wings Travel?

A: The downturn in the oil and gas sector in 2014 led Wings to pursue a strategy of growing our business in other client sectors, such as construction, security and technology, as well as expansion into other geographies. The last five years have seen considerable expansion either via acquisition or opening up new operations in additional markets. In 2015 we acquired 40-year-old Michelle’s Travel, one of the leading and longest-established independent TMCs on the African continent. In 2016 Wings acquired Travelnet Stavanger in Norway to renew our focus on servicing clients on the production side of the oil and gas industry, which had been less affected by the downturn compared with exploration. We also commenced doing business in Saudi Arabia to further strengthen our capabilities in servicing the oil and gas market in the Middle East. In 2016, Wings also acquired London-based Grosvenor Travel Management. This strategic takeover significantly strengthened our UK presence and laid the foundation for the transition of our global headquarters to London last year. In 2017 Wings established an operation in Mozambique to support clients who were moving into this market, following the discovery of some 85 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves. In the same year we expanded our presence in the Asia-Pacific region by acquiring Olympia Travel & Tours in Singapore.

Q: What are the biggest challenges facing TMCs in the oil and gas space today?

A: Oil and natural minerals have been key components in the growth of the African continent and the slump in the energy sector over the last few years did have a knock-on effect. 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 – but this is one of Wings’ strengths compared with other TMCs, because all of our operations are wholly-owned and we don’t operate on a franchised basis. Any organisation that is operating in countries where travel cannot be undertaken smoothly should be looking for a TMC with a central database, as this allows reporting and tracking in real time and access to on-demand, reliable data in order to streamline reporting.

Q: Can you pinpoint some of the current trends in the TMC space?

A: The value chain of distribution was always from supplier to GDS to TMC to consumer. Disintermediation is changing this, where each supplier wants to reach the end consumer directly and many question how they can do this. The industry certainly is evolving and TMCs need to establish a value proposition that adds the most value to end consumer.

Q: What’s your view on IATA’s New Distribution Capability (NDC) and its impact on the TMC space?

A: Much has been said about TMCs moving away from the GDS systems as their sole content aggregator. When industry suppliers, like airlines, move away from the GDS as their sole distribution channel and go direct, the ultimate benefit is to provide a more cost-effective travel solution to clients. However, it also promises faster delivery of content more suited to the exact needs of the traveller. It will no longer be about getting a seat for a client, but more about the most cost-effective way of doing so and to have access to the best fares available across all distribution channels.

Q: Is Wings finding itself under pressure from its clients to justify its fees and show ‘value’? If so, how are you responding?

A: As a service provider we are permanently challenged to provide value, so this is nothing new to us. For an end consumer it is incredibly daunting to navigate through the jungle of content that is available, so Wings is able to provide this value to them. By consolidating, providing admin support in terms of reporting and invoicing, Wings can provide this infrastructure locally, as well as on global level.

Q: Where would you like to see Wings Travel in 10 years’ time?

A: Wings will continue to grow and consolidate its operations, not just in Africa, but globally. Our aim is be the leading independent global TMC with wholly-owned operations in all the markets where we operate, providing our clients with a level of service, expertise, value and support that they wouldn’t get from another TMC.