The travel industry in South Africa is no stranger to hardship.
Industry players that Travel News spoke to confirmed that they had had a lot to juggle – keeping their heads above water while remaining focused on long-term growth and having to act and react quickly and flexibly. How are industry members dealing with the volatile rate of sales and recovery while anticipating the possibility of future restrictions and shut-downs?
Some consultants are looking for niches and a different way of doing business to protect themselves from future boom-slump cycles. Travel Counsellor, Lize Roodt told Travel News she had been upskilling and expanding herself with online workshops, seeking a niche with a focus on wellness, sustainability and regenerative travel practices. “It has been a very tough couple of years. I struggled to find a ‘side hustle’ that I could put my heart into, and so I focused on where I wanted to take my business post-pandemic. I believe this will be the way forward as everyone becomes more aware of their own impact on the world when they travel.”
Whether or not we are in a cycle of highs and lows, travel businesses are best served by keeping a positive and optimistic attitude all the time. Joanne Visagie, Sales and Marketing Director of Beachcomber Tours, told Travel News that you cannot prepare for the next stoppage should it arise. “We have to work with it if it happens. This is a great opportunity and we are super eager and very well prepared. We are concentrating on marketing our products and upskilling our agents. For the coming year we are expecting huge business. This we can already gauge from the high demand for Beachcomber holidays that we are already experiencing. March and April demand is exceptionally high so we have even increased the seat capacity for these months with Air Mauritius. Beachcomber has always kept reserves for a rainy day and this policy will continue.”
Rainy day savings
If we were to be tested again by conditions like the highs and lows of the past two years, the value of keeping cash in the business could not be overestimated, said Debbie Joubert, MD of Sure 24-7.
“Fortunately, we have always kept as much money as possible in the business and used it for cash flow to take on smaller accounts that did not work on credit cards. That cash saved us, because we had the finances to survive the last 22 months on minimal salaries and keep the company going. I have always had a home office and avoided rental costs. Going paperless as far as possible has also cut my costs drastically.” Said Joubert: “As travel improves, which it seems to be doing, and I am once again making a profit, I will look to take on another staff member to assist with the workload. I will continue to ensure that we build up our savings so that we have that much-needed cash flow for another rainy day in the future.”
Fast reactions could be the key to survival in a volatile roller-coaster travel landscape. Tracey van den Berg, Communications, Events and Facilities Manager of Tourvest Travel Services, said that, at the start of the pandemic, TTS had anticipated the worst-case scenario and acted quickly to ensure that its business was in the best position to not only recover but to thrive. Every decision was made to rationalise the business with this in mind.
“During the hard lockdown, our management team worked on a new business strategy and invested heavily in our technology to ensure that we improved every area of our business – from increased productivity, technology advancements and streamlined back-office processes. The key focus was in providing a superior customer experience, backed by great technology, supported by top staff.
“Whilst several companies sat idly, waiting and watching what the pandemic would bring, we worked hard on implementing our strategies and new diversified technology to ensure that our business was geared to succeed, no matter what came. In fact, we have invested more in technology in the last two years than in the years prior to the pandemic. We believe that we are very well positioned for the opening-up of the South African corporate travel market, as well as the sub-Saharan market, which we see opening up in the next few months.”
Van den Berg added: “Although markets may not return to the same levels we saw in 2019, we believe that TTS will perform remarkably well in 2022.
There is no handbook for what may or may not come in the future, we believe that what we have put in place over this time will see our business flourish.”