The disruption of transport sector by digital technologies is having significant impact in Africa.
The revolution can be felt in air travel especially in the once lucrative business of air agency. With the 24 percent of Africans able to access mobile phones and internet according to Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA), E-commerce has made it easy to access airline services and make online payments.
Africa has over 100 airlines operating in its skies with more coming up, but even with all this great growth in the aviation industry in Africa, travel agency, a very critical player in the sector is facing major business decline.
One of the oldest global travel agency company, Thomas Cook, is battling to stay afloat after incurring major debts partly blamed on customers switch to digital flight platforms.
I sat down with a travel agency owner, Sami Chege, here in Pointe Noire to understand what is going on with the travel agents ; Is the business being replaced by the internet of things?
“Most of the time we used to expect people to come into our offices to make travel requests and travel bookings. But now with technology, everyone can go online and make their own decisions and make their hotel bookings and make their travel itenanary which has made everything much easier. So we as travel agencies are loosing business to all these travel platforms.
What used to happen before is that airlines for a time,they would rely a lot on the travel agencies because they had more exposure and they had more access to the clients but now with the technology that is coming up now, the airlines are able to access the clients directly,they are able to talk directly to the client. Travel agencies were the ones that were able to talk to people and convince them to use this airline instead of this airline,” said sammi Chege, director, Travel World.
But what does the future hold for the business?
“The future of travel is going to be consolidation and going online. Its going to be offering more solutions and what you can do better than your competition, because it is not going to be more of the pricing because really at the end of the day, travel is more of a service,“said Sammi Chege, director, Travel World.
Efforts to get comments from airlines were futile,however the South african Airlines did manage to get back to me saying
‘‘the internet has not made travel agencies irrelevant or redundant.
Customers have their own preferences in terms of which channels they use to book, be they direct or indirect. The market allows for the existence of both direct and indirect sales & distribution channels.’
‘We ran a survey to understand if you, as the travelers are leaning towards digital platforms or travel agency. From the 32 responses that we got; 59 percent said they would rather book their flights online or on Apps. Also 27 of the 32 respondents said they believe that digital flight platforms are overtaking travel agencies.
When we asked if they would use travel agencies to book their flights these were some the responses we got:
‘Only during rush hour’
‘Yes only for what is not found online. Tailor made special destination and packages’
‘They have the knowledge to recommend the best hotels / airlines to fly.’
‘No. I can easily book it with any app’
‘If my journey is complicated (several connecting flights)’
‘Not really, sometimes they are not truthful’
‘No, because there are cheaper alternatives.’
Then we turned the question and asked if they would book online and why…
‘To get air mile points’
‘Only through the official website of the airline.’
‘Yes. Quick, easy, controllable, price options clear’
‘Yes. Less stress and at your comfort ‘
‘But the most common answer we got was ; Yes. Its convenient’
One thing is clear, travel agencies will have to evolve with the rate at which technologies and airlines are growing to survive the industry.