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Special report: African Business Travel Conference

Hubbing – consolidating regional travel management resources and services in ‘centres of excellence’ – was high on the agenda at the African Business Travel Conference in Pretoria. Kim Cochrane reports.

The debate about whether to hub or not generally comes out of management of a global travel programme where the primary concern is the standardisation of process and integration of data, believes Carole Graaff, global travel manager at Ericsson.

Graaff was speaking during a panel discussion on centralised travel partners, programmes and policies at the African Business Travel Association’s inaugural Africa Business Travel Conference in Pretoria, South Africa. She admitted to being in a “contemplative phase”, in the midst of a global RFP process where the question of hubbing in Africa had come under review.

“Our travel programme is mature globally, and we are at a crossroads in terms of how best to take the programme to the next level,” said Graaff. “One reason hubs are attractive for managing travel in Africa relates to the disparity of services on offer; as a global organisation, we aim to offer a seamless type of experience for our travellers.

“Customer experience is essential; you want to stop the noise of those travellers arriving from abroad and complaining that Africa is unable to provide services similar to those received in the US or Europe, for example.”

Johannesburg-based Graaff said often Africa was compared with South America, yet they were very different markets. “If we decided to set up a hub for the African markets, it would be very complicated to work through the various challenges for each country, particularly issues pertaining to cross-border payments, tax issues and government regulations, unless we as a corporation changed some of our processes and cost allocation systems.”

Graaff said one benefit of hubbing was that centralisation of travel services and greater control over bookings in a hub model could simplify the payment process for markets such as Nigeria where credit card facilities were mostly unavailable. But she was concerned about booking fulfilment and the fair distribution of fees for local agencies that partnered with global TMCs.

Global standards
Taking the subject of hubs further to incorporate the impact of such investment on local markets, Chinedu Ememanka, corporate procurement manager at Delta Afrik Engineering in Lagos, alluded to a key conference theme by describing his company as “local global”.

“We identify local partners and organisations which have the capacity to deliver international standards,” he said. “For us in Nigeria, it is compulsory to develop and empower local communities, which is why training and capacity management is essential. For example, our global category manager for travel assists in developing policies that are applied to build capacity in a local environment.”

Gustavo Brandberg, commercial director at BCD Travel in Mozambique, told delegates that while it was important to have global standards applied locally, this was not always realistic in terms of the local challenges faced at every level.

“But therein lies the opportunity to do something, such as re-, re-, and re-confirming reservations,” he said. “In Mozambique, it is not enough to be a standard TMC; you have to be a logistics operation.”

Dianna Games, CEO at Africa @ Work and honorary CEO of the South Africa-Nigeria Chamber of Commerce, said that despite African markets seeing promising economic growth, they were still vulnerable to ignorance both inside and outside Africa.

This was in addition to continuing challenges such as visa regimes, lack of air access, air safety concerns, the high cost of hotel rooms and lack of hotel grading, security, lack of automation, high taxes and airport fees, as well as health concerns.

“The Ebola outbreak really set us back and I believe disease and fever control should be essential for all airports these days, particularly since London is closer in distance to the outbreak area than Cape Town,” added Games.

Aderoju Omololu, principal consultant at Aptegy Consulting in Lagos, agreed things were changing around the continent and that travel buyers needed to increase their knowledge of Africa. “We must move past old perceptions and educate people as to what is actually happening,” she said.

Chris Pouney, director of business travel at Severnside Consulting, reminded buyers of the fine line between informing travellers and terrifying them. He said: “The world needs Africa to be successful, but is ignorant about the nuances of travelling across the different countries – which are often viewed as one, with a single story.”

Research findings

Pouney released findings of his new research paper at the ABTA conference. The paper, entitled Neemaunderstanding business travel in Sub Saharan Africa, analyses the results of interviews, workshops and focus-group sessions conducted in African countries including Angola, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa – as well as with travel professionals in Europe, the US and UAE.

Some key findings from the Neema paper include:

  • Consolidating TMC services is a goal for many buyers – but is seen as a challenge because of inconsistent levels of service delivery, and capabilities such as data consolidation. 30 per cent of companies are planning to consolidate their TMCs immediately, and 57 per cent are planning to expand use of online booking tools in the next 12 months.
  • Technology: Mobile is a key differentiator for Africa – it is a global frontrunner in mobile internet usage. But apart from online booking for South Africa domestic travel, take-up of technology within travel programmes is poor.
  • Safety and security: companies tend to consider the headline disaster scenarios, but more focus is needed on more ‘mundane’ issues such as road accidents and illness. Too many companies have gaps in their traveller tracking policies. Travellers should be briefed and tracked at all stages of the trip, and managers should test their processes.
  • A single payment method is unrealistic in Africa, but more consideration should be given to card solutions, to improve efficiency and manage risk. Buyers should assess all payment solutions, looking at actionable data, transparency and auditability.

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