Online travel on the rise in Africa

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The advent of the internet has brought much more convenience to the traveller. Now, as Africa’s economies burgeon, with an estimated 300 million middle class, the continent is the next massive market for the travel booking industry. The boom in online travel booking business is paving the way for smooth movement of people between multitudes of travel destinations from Cape Town to Cairo.

Most of the big online travel players are from South Africa, owing to the wealthy nature of the country though other countries throughout the continent have similar businesses that specialize in online travel.

For ease of space we shall focus on three major online travel booking companies, namely FlightSite, Flight Centre and Travelstart (not in any order).

FlightSite says on its website that it began seven years ago with the merger of two operators Venues4Africa led by Rian Bornman and Club Travel’s Wally Gaynor. Since then the company has grown in leaps and bounds providing a much needed service to countless customers.

According to the site the company “provides an innovative travel portal for South Africans to make local and worldwide travel arrangements. We constantly strive to improve our customers’ experiences by using cutting edge travel technologies. We offer our customers the best value for money and the widest choice of flights, car and accommodation available locally and abroad.”

It goes on to state that Flight Site’s “vision is to become South Africa’s first truly Online Travel Agency. Wally and Rian share a passion for travel and wanted to bring South Africans an easier way of making travel arrangements. With broad band becoming a reality in many South African households, the convenience of booking flights, car hire and accommodation in one portal was the next step in travel. Fully IATA licensed, FlightSite.co.za has experienced call centre agents who know travel and are able to assist.

“Because of our close ties with Club Travel, we have access to bulk buying power. This enables us to negotiate competitive airfares and preferential rates with airlines and other suppliers, such as hotels, car hire and cruise companies, tour operators, travel insurance and foreign exchange providers – worldwide.

“Club Travel, a Level One Contributor, is owned by Thebe Tourism Group, the first black empowerment group formed in South Africa.

“Since 2009 FlightSite has acquired many ‘white labels’, including, but not limited to Pick n Pay Travel, MySchool Travel, Sho’t Left Tourism and most recently Mweb Travel. These labels continue to grow as companies realize that their travel needs will be professionally managed by us”.

Another player that is established in the online travel booking industry is Flight Centre.This company is regarded as South Africa’s “leading travel retailer”, offering cheap flights (domestic and international), holiday packages, cruises, ski holidays, last minute hotel deals, travel insurance and much more.

Then there is Travelstart, which offers flights, hotel bookings, car rental, vacation packages and other travel services through their online booking engine.“We search and compare flight prices across all airlines so you don’t have do it yourself! Book cheap flights with Travelstart South Africa!” says its online information.

Since February 2016 Travelstart has had a pan-African footprint in countries such as Botswana, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, to name a few.

While one can imagine its humble roots in Sweden where it was founded by current CEO Stephan Ekbergh, Travelstart has now become the go to company in travel booking across the African continent. One can only praise its vast expansion into a large continent with boundless potential.

Stephan had made a bold move back in 2010 when he sold his Swedish entity, and decided to head down to Africa, to set up the company’s head office in the “Mother City” of Cape Town.

It seems he knew the business scope that was to be leveraged in the vast and expanse of the African continent. Today he must be looking back with a wide smile, as his idea has given the continent a truly pan-African operation that continues to grow in leaps and bounds.

Africa’s rising middle class are the source of its encouraging online bookings, and Stephan made the right choice to be based in the continent of the future.

Although the African continent is reportedly new business territories for Travelstart, the sense to set up shop here can only be lauded. It is reported that the company has from the early days of its operations in 2006, gone on to become a flourishing and robust business offering services in partnership with like-minded world renowned players.

The growth of Africa’s population, running into a billion according to estimates should keep the likes of Travelstart, FlightSite and Flight Centre happily on their toes, this as the cake that is the continent continues to expand for the operators.

As these companies increase in size continentally, regionally and nationally – not in any order – there are many positive spin offs to their presence – that of job creation for a continent badly in need of stability and economic freedom.

Also, the presence of these companies point to the fact online travel will never be the same again. The sector can only grow exponentially, with things such as those new applications that are popping up daily for the convenience of either making a cherished booking or choosing a holiday destination in the comfort of one’s home or even pocket.

Indeed the online travel booking industry is on the rise in Africa, and with the bravery, drive and tenacity shown by the above companies and more, there is no limit to what they can do to ensure a smooth holiday for those seeking the thrill or frill of Africa – whether one is a student traveller, business traveller or a safari connoisseur.

This article was written by MARTIN CHEMHERE.

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