Q&A: Africa Needs Training

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Travelport is one of the world’s largest travel content aggregators and distributors, connecting buyers and sellers through agency, online and corporate travel channels. It is also predominantly a global distribution system business, operating in approximately 170 countries. President and CEO, Gordon Wilson and MD of Travelport Africa, Mark Meehan were recently in Johannesburg, and sat down with editor Dylan Rogers.

Q: What is Travelport’s focus in 2013?
GW: Aggregating even more content than we already do. For example, we’ve now got 375,000 hotel properties fully bookable in our system and this time last year we had 275,000. On the airline side, not only are we bringing more low-cost airlines into the system, but we’re also getting more and more ‘airline ancilliary content’. So, the ability to book baggage, pre-book a seat, meal etc.

Q: Are you seeing more of an appetite for this sort of information?
GW:
Yes. Firstly, from the airlines, who are saying, “we want to sell more of this stuff.” Secondly, from the corporations who are saying they want people to be able to buy this stuff if it’s in their policy, and, when they do buy it, they want to be able to track it, so that they can reconcile it. Likewise, travel agencies want to be able to offer it, along with the self-service corporate booking tool, whereby we can make the itinerary interactive, so that you can go into it and book an ancillary product, such as baggage, a seat etc.

Q: Who is driving this process?
GW:
A lot of the airlines have unbundled their product to make more money, as airfares have come down. So, the baseline airfare will get you a seat on the plane. If you want a particular seat, you can have it, but you need to pay for it. If you want to take a bag, you have to pay for it. Unbundling is more a dynamic of the airlines pursuing more profitability, and there’s no harm in that.

Q: What sort of progress have you made in African over the past year?
MM:
A lot of progress and we’ve invested significantly. Take our Rooms and More product. The breadth of offering is significant and it can be adapted and enriched with more local content. So, looking at certain markets, such as South Africa, we are looking at products such as lodging, bed and breakfasts etc, which perhaps some of the government departments may be using. We also have the GDS hospitality content and particularly more so in South Africa, it continues to be significant source of revenue and opportunity.

Q: What about East Africa?
MM:
It is a stronghold of ours, but we have other local focuses, as well. We’ve now got sub-regional structures, with a significant hub in Johannesburg, a Travelport regional office in Nairobi, one in Dakar and also one in North Africa. We need to look at the big markets – for example, Ethiopia, when we see what’s happening there economically and from a GDS growth perspective. We need to have distributors in place and be seen in the market alongside our representative partners. It’s working very well, as we’ve seen in Tanzania, where we changed our distributor and have already seen the benefits.

Q: How are Africa’s needs different to those of the rest of world?
MM:
The challenges in Africa are more around uncertainty, risk, airlines etc.
GW: One of the big dynamics about Africa and other developing parts of the world is training and staff. More has to be done to provide the kind of human resources that all of these countries are going to need, so they can capitalise on the benefits of travel and tourism, which could account for a large percentage of their GDP growth.

Q: What about technological challenges?
GW: It’s not as big an issue as you might think. Our products are connected through Internet connections and there’s enough bandwidth to enable Travelport to operate. Now we’re looking at our products on tablets and I don’t need to tell you that cellphone and smartphone usage in Africa is accelerating at a rate of knots. So, I don’t see that as a major impediment. Credit card usage is more of an impediment, because there’s less penetration. But, again, we’re developing different kinds of payment capabilities to make that less of an issue, through an investment we made in a company called eNett, which does virtual credit card payments.

Q: What would constitute a successful 2013?
GW: Greater traction in some of the new products we’ve been investing in, and Travelport being seen as the leader in our space.