I have travelled extensively through Africa over the past 8 months to visit the Amadeus teams across the continent, and have in fact visited four of our five regions during my travels.
When you visit Africa, you realise the extent to which people have the misconception that everything is more or less the same across this huge content of Africa. Of course it’s not. Rather, it’s extremely diverse, with a real potpourri of cultures, which I feel is one of the most exciting and attractive things about Africa.
What strikes me the most about Africa, and the people of Africa, is the spirit of entrepreneurship. There is an exceptional desire to get ahead and an ambition to be successful, and this drives innovation and growth.
I visited Kenya at the beginning of February and what I loved most about that trip, having met both our team in Kenya and our regional East African commercial team, was the undeniable spirit of innovation in the region; an example of which is reflected in Kenya’s M-Pesa solution.
This technology, which has seen telecom operators venturing into the banking business, has had a huge success, largely because it is not smartphone dependent, as it is based on SMS technology. It is interesting to see how they combine relatively old technology and are able to get such a high level of adoption in the market.
After Kenya, I visited South Africa to attend the Amadeus Shape Awards . It was a super event and fantastic to meet our customers. South Africa is probably the most developed and advanced country in terms of technological maturity within the travel and tourism world. There are some technologies in South Africa, which I haven’t even seen in Europe, for example to pay in a restaurant via your mobile and receive the inbox in your inbox.
Next on my list was Nigeria. This trip was very interesting because I was able to meet some very big customers and attend the opening of our new office in Lagos. This opening is all part of our programme to continue investing in Nigeria and Ghana.
Senegal was my last visit. It was a bit more difficult for me as it is Francophone region and my knowledge of French is limited. From Dakar, we are managing Amadeus’ presence in 22 countries in the region. It is a very complex territory, which has been affected by political unrest, but from an Amadeus perspective, this region is performing exceptionally well.
The whole of Africa shows great promise. Although in the immediate future I foresee mainly good organic growth, the true success will come within the next 10 years. I expect that we’ll see an explosion of travel in Africa, primarily regional. As the economies develop, there will be a growing need for intra-regional travel. The younger generation – a generation that is keen to explore Africa – will start having the disposable income to travel.
International travel could remain more problematic. One of the biggest difficulties African travellers continue to face is the difficulty in obtaining visas. As long as countries in Europe don’t recognise the potential of the affluent African travel market, this problem is likely to persist for some time.
There are other challenges facing the continent. Traffic is a major obstacle for anyone trying to get around Lagos or Johannesburg. Electricity supply is a further major challenge, and diesel generators have become a fundamental requirement for business continuity. Security can also be an issue in Africa, that needs to be taken into consideration.
In my opinion, the biggest opportunity in Africa is for the online travel agencies. Today, Amadeus has two of the biggest online travel agencies in Africa as customers: Travelstart and Wakanow . But I would say there is still huge potential for online growth in Africa.
It’s important to note, however, that the potential for online growth is linked to the ability to provide secure and safe payment solutions. This is something we’re currently working on as a key project at Amadeus.
With different realities and challenges but the same enthusiasm to grow, I think that Amadeus innovative technology can make a difference in Africa for travel agencies that want to shape the future of travel.