Corporate travellers choose personalisation over the Internet
Just five years ago, newspaper headlines were flooded with stories about Richard Branson’s wild ambition to launch space travel and the death of the travel agent as consumers increasingly turned to ‘the web’ to book their holidays.
Anyone on the sidelines would have thought investing in the travel industry at this time would be unwise. But it was precisely at this time that Flight Centre Travel Group decided to prove all the pundits wrong, taking its business brand, Flight Centre Business Travel to market to tap into this niche that represents the majority of business that happens in South Africa.
The group’s goal: To offer corporate clients personalised services such as a dedicated travel manager, a transparent fee structure and 24-hour emergency support.
Fast forward to 2017 and we’re still waiting to jet off into outer space and the travel agent is more popular than ever. Today, the travel agent has turned travel consultant, advisor or professional – a more enhanced role that seeks to meet traveller demands for personalisation, customisation and expert advice.
In the business travel space, travellers are looking for peace of mind, says Innocent Manaka, FCBT account manager. “People are away from their families. As a travel consultant, you give them the peace of mind that when they travel, they don’t need to worry about anything. Yes, they are away from their families, but a travel consultant will make sure everything runs smoothly.”
And that means that for some companies, that an over-reliance on the web doesn’t deliver that peace of mind and personalisation.
“Airbus Helicopters Southern Africa moved to an online platform a couple of years ago, but it didn’t work out so well,” says the company’s Customer Support Administrator Monica Bridges. “We wanted a more personal approach and were looking for an offline, interactive travel agent. That’s how we found FCBT.”
Bridges explains the company needed a travel company that would adapt to the company’s specific travel needs, as well as help with the company’s financial visibility. “Our requirement is for an interactive platform that will help us make savings and achieve more visibility. You don’t get that online,” she says.
Penny P. MacDonald, Office Manager at Namakwa Diamonds, says as the travel needs of Namakwa Diamonds increased, the company also decided to look for a more personalised solution.
“When I want to know where my bosses are, I phone my travel manager,” she laughs, adding that relying on FCBT has helped her save a lot of time. “Why would I go online? I have these amazing people who do everything for me.”
For MacDonald, it is important that her travel manager knows every person in the company. “My travel manager knows that if the CFO doesn’t want a middle seat, so he will make sure he doesn’t book that seat. It’s those personal touches that make my life and my job a lot easier,” she says.
Bridges agrees and says: “I phoned my travel manager once at 12am. I received the same friendly service as during the day. That is incredible for me.”
1. From paper to phone
Mobile technology was definitely around in 2012 as it was the year that Apple launched it Passbook app, but travellers were not that keen on mobile yet. “Five years ago, people were not used to the idea of paperless. It scared them. They used to come into the store and want papers. Now, you can e-mail everything. People can book online, check-in online, get their boarding passes online… that has been the biggest change,” says FCBT’s Innocent Manaka. Also transfers are now a breeze. “With Uber, people today just get onto an app and book their transfers to the airport. Before, people needed to confirm their transport a few weeks in advance,” says Manaka.
2. Wi-Fi makes its way onboard
Wireless Internet in flight will be the industry standard in a few years,” Michael Trestl, business development manager of Edelweiss Air predicted in 2012. And boy, was he right! Most airlines today offer in-flight Internet to their customers. Customers love the option to connect in the air so much that airlines have had to put the brakes on data usage. Recent changes to the inflight Internet plans of Emirates, Etihad Airways and Finnair are reducing the amount of data that many travellers can download and the amount of time they can spend online, unless they’re willing to pay more for the same amount of connectivity.
3. Airlines are a lot more available online
Etihad Airways was very proud in 2012 to announce that the airline’s ‘new ‘Manage Booking’ online service will allow customers to add requirements such as special meals and seat location on board the aircraft, and to update personal information’. Also Emirates proclaimed that travellers could now change their travel booking at any time, from anywhere, with Emirates’ innovative website functionality. “This recently introduced innovation allows passengers to access their full flight itinerary, change their time or date of travel, add flights or upgrade by logging onto the website. Today, although we all have access to online booking portals, South African travellers still prefer the human touch and like to book their air travel through a travel consultant.
4. Chatbots create a seamless experience for travellers
Who would have believed five years ago that travellers would happily interact with robots and virtual assistants for their travel requirements? Futuristic and exciting, chatbots have made their entry in the travel world in 2017. With smartphone adoption nearing 100% and considering that an average business traveller checks their smartphone 34 times a day, it’s not difficult to understand the popularity and attraction a mobile or virtual assistant holds.