When the country was plunged into hard lockdown in March, South African companies adapted swiftly and efficiently to a work-from-home model. As restrictions started to ease, employees in many industries returned to their offices (with new safety precautions in place) but there was also a move from many large corporates, such as banks, to continue with a more flexible home and office work model on a permanent basis. As international travel fully reopens, and agencies and operators reopen their doors, Travel News has spoken to industry leaders to find out if if travel will follow suit.
Md of World Leisure Holidays, Ramesh Jeenarain, predicts that the travel industry will adopt a hybrid workplace model. He says World Leisure Holidays reopened its office months ago, and the sense of confidence that it instilled during such an uncertain time was appreciated by both employees and clients. But the cost efficiencies of reducing office overheads through a work-from-home model could not be overlooked.
“There are advantages to both an office-bound environment and a remote work environment and, as such, it makes sense for the industry to adopt a hybrid model where more flexibility is given to staff to work from home on either a permanent or part-time basis. At the same time, most business models will still benefit from a professional office environment, which allows them to bounce ideas off one another and to provide clients with a sense of their businesses’ credibility,” says Ramesh.
The sales team for World Leisure Holidays is still working from home, with most sales calls taking place telephonically or virtually. Ramesh says this move has been driven by their travel agent clients, many of whom are still in self-isolation and do not want sales reps introduced into their home environment. Ramesh hopes to introduce more face-to-face sales meetings in the new year, however, convinced that the travel supply chain is still extensively driven by relationships, which are still to some extent reliant on face-to-face contact.
Product manager of Holiday Packages by AfricaStay, Jacqui Carr, says the majority of the AfricaStay team have also been back in the office for a while. Some elements of a hybrid model have been incorporated at their office too, with a few team members still choosing to work from home due to personal circumstances or the requirements of particular job positions, which are more suited to working from home.
“I know a lot of travel offices that have downscaled their offices during lockdown and are making this work successfully on a permanent basis and technology certainly makes this easier to do than in the past. However, we found that one could not overlook the advantage of quick, easy and regular interaction with our team members,” says Jacqui.
“Our sales representatives are still mostly interacting with clients virtually. While we still hope to reintroduce more face-to-face client interactions when our clients are more comfortable with this, we have found that virtual meetings save on petrol and travelling costs and make it far easier to reach remote agents. There has also been a huge uptake in virtual product training sessions in the industry, which are easier to co-ordinate with team members who are geographically spread out. Virtual training sessions can also be recorded and used to build-up a training video library,” she adds.
Md of Sure Travkor Travel, Anthea Fasulakis, told Travel News that they had found that their team worked extremely effectively remotely and that this had spurred them to rent out a portion of their Sandton Drive office, realising that they no longer needed as much office space.
“While we still believe that a professional physical office is important for our business, this only needs to be a repository to interact with our clients. Reducing our office expenses and other overheads has allowed us to remain profitable this year, despite the vast reduction in 2020 travel sales,” says Anthea.
Director of XL International Travels, Marco Tomasicchio, also advocates a hybrid model, saying the industry is adapting to allow more flexibility to those whose circumstances or personalities are more suited to working from home, while those who thrive in an office could return to this environment. Marco says while many of its corporate clients are happy to interact virtually, the older leisure clients still enjoy visiting the office and that these differing preferences can easily be catered for with the introduction of a more flexible workplace model.