By Oz Desai, GM Corporate Traveller
After a tough and uncertain year, it appears that South African corporates are ready to take to the skies again and conduct business with partners across the world face-to-face. We have seen corporate travel business in South Africa steadily recovering and consumer confidence continuing to grow. Domestic business travel has already reached 30% of pre- COVID volumes.
Unfortunately, logistics can be somewhat complex as international airlines are still operating very restricted routes to and from South Africa. 60% of international airlines have yet to resume flights since the discovery of the 501Y.V2 COVID-19 variant in the country in December 2020.
Here is a look at how the changing airspace and international travel restrictions are impacting on corporate travel and why access to a reputable Travel Management Company (TMC) is more vital than ever.
The changing airspace
Domestic flight availability remains restrained with SAA flights suspended until 30 June 2021, and SAA subsidiary Mango facing an unsure future. The reduced flight options in certain South African destinations, including Durban and Port Elizabeth, has resulted in higher airfares as well as uncertainty in the market.
Factoring in the uncertainty of the market, corporates have become far more cautious when it comes to where they spend their money. They are demanding far more flexibility around terms and conditions, payment terms, etc., seeking out those companies that will provide them with peace of mind that they’ll get their money back if their travel plans are curtailed or have to be cancelled as a result of COVID.
From an international perspective, the news at United Airlines would launch flights to Johannesburg was a cause for celebration in the travel industry. A number of other airlines have also resumed flights, including Air France, Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways, Lufthansa, Qatar Airways, Swiss, Singapore Airlines, Taag and Turkish Airlines. Most countries to which these airlines are flying have, however, severe restrictions in place on South African travellers.
A great number of airlines have also opted to extend their travel bans to and from South Africa. Emirates has opted to extend its travel ban until the end of June 2021, and Virgin Atlantic only has tentative plans to resume South African services from June 2021. Others have placed significant restrictions on flights from South Africa. For example, Singapore Airlines is now operational, but only for South African travellers in transit.
The reality is that airlines need to constantly adjust their schedules in a bid to anticipate traveller demand and government changes to border closures. These restrictions have left businesses and employees with limited options when it comes to making direct contact with existing and prospective international clients, suppliers, and partners. While some have decided to wait it out and conduct their international business dealings using various digital channels, others have opted to look for the silver lining. There are, after all, certain advantages to reducing the scope of a company’s international business endeavours – at least for the time being.
South African enterprises now have the opportunity to pursue a more focused approach to chasing international growth . By focusing corporate travellers’ closer to home or African countries the chances are greater of both landing and retaining clients.
How a TMC can help
It is still too early to know what changes airlines will adopt for corporates in a more flexible environment. In 2021 and beyond, it will become increasingly important for airlines to communicate their inventory plans transparently with customers. Last-minute schedule changes can have far-reaching consequences for companies who need to rotate staff on mining sites for example.
A TMC is constantly ‘plugged in’ to the various changes that occur in the travel industry. This up-to-the-minute information can assist business owners in carefully planning their employees’ upcoming movements and strategies.
TMCs aren’t only there to help corporate travellers solve problems if and when they happen. Their job is to pre-empt potential issues and tackle them before they have any consequences for the business in question or its travelling employees. This type of support and peace of mind is critical when numerous aspects of travel are so up in the air.
Creating a ‘new normal’ for corporate travel
Corporate travellers are ready to hit the road again. Almost all (96%) of business travellers participating in an SAP Concur survey recently said they are willing to travel. Recognising the value of business travel, they said that if business travel does not increase, it will be more difficult for their company to build new relationships (38 per cent), and it would result in fewer new deals signed (37 per cent) and fewer contract renewals with existing clients (34 per cent).
The benefits of business travel are undeniable. And with professional advice, information and assistance, your next trip can be even more seamless and productive as before COVID-19.