Chloé Balanos
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While Amadeus is celebrating its 30th anniversary, Inter-Voyages in Cameroon is celebrating a milestone of 40 years in the travel industry. We chatted to GM of Inter-Voyages Chloé Balanos about her experiences in the travel industry during the past 40 years.

You are celebrating 40 years this year. What are the main changes you have witnessed in the travel industry?

In 40 years in the industry, we’ve seen a lot of changes. The main change has been the emergence of new technologies aimed to simplify our lives. These technologies have been both fascinating and terrifying. Fascinating because the progress and modernity technology symbolises, and terrifying because of the possible consequences it entails.

As no one of us had any experience with technology, we imagined terrifying future scenarios of what technological innovation would entail. We needed a time of adaptation to feel that we were in control again. With the arrival of the computer, the Internet and the GDS, we moved from the physical to the virtual. No more exchanges with different industry players on the phone, by fax or by post.

What are you missing most about the ‘good old times’ of travel?

What we are missing most about the good old times are the human relations. The increased usage of Internet that replaced direct human contact was disturbing for us at first.

Another shock was the end of commission on air tickets, which had always allowed us to live comfortably. The educationals offered by airlines, the direct invoicing with airlines… we are missing all of this today.

What are you definitely not missing?

What we’re missing the least is the tedious exercise of drafting and transmitting monthly sales statements as well as telephonic bookings.

What are the three technologies you feel have had the most impact on the travel industry over the past years?

The incredible evolution of hardware has played an important role in the development of data processing. When the computer was invented, it was a curiosity. The first computer was a huge machine, which was then replaced by flatscreens with a lot more capacity and today, we can even work from mobile computers and laptops.

The Internet, one of the greatest advancement in science and technology, emerged and we saw a complete upset of the industry. Today, thanks the Internet, we’re connected with the world, we’re connected with everything that’s happening globally and thanks to the Internet we can be reached everywhere we are, which is a huge benefit for travel agents.

It’s clear that the rise of new technologies and the Internet has radically changed the way we interpret and consume the world of travel.

Then, the GDS appeared. Thanks to graphic interfaces, the use of the GDS was simplified. With Sell Connect, Amadeus has given us the possibility to run and manage our travel agency from anywhere.

What have been some of the greatest challenges in the travel industry during these last decennia? And how has the travel industry responded to these challenges?

There was no shortage of challenges for travel agents: we’ve seen the erosion of margins, the fickleness of clients who are increasingly informed and demand from us that we compete with the Internet and we’ve seen the digitalisation of the relationship with the client.

As a result of the advancements of mobile technology, some clients are now looking for holidays online, planning online and booking online and on mobile. The world of travel was quick to adapt to all the new technologies.

The arrival of the online travel agent, who sells airline tickets and accommodation as well as other services, has been a huge competition for the traditional agent as well. But, the challenges for travel agents over the years are actually more strategic than technological. The solution has been to innovate. Making the right investments in new technologies has been a necessity.

Another great challenge has been cash management. Offering credit to customers has been easy but paying IATA has been a challenge. We had to appeal to banks to get loans or use our cash reserves to balance the accounts.

A bit more about you: where were you 30 years ago? What were your dreams? Do you feel you’ve reached your goals?

Thirty years ago, I was in Cameroon. I dedicated a great part of my life to my travel agency.

It was my livelihood, it was the pleasure of travelling, the satisfaction of meeting and serving clients from all walks of life. It was my passion and my joy.

I’ve reached my goal of building a successful travel agency in the Cameroon market, but then new technologies arrived. We were faced with BSP and the payment of invoices every two weeks. After we recovered from that shock, we acknowledged and saw the benefits of new technologies, we adopted them and evolved with them.

What are you planning for the next 30 years?

For the next 30 years, we want to be able to implement a completely redesigned strategy that will allow us to withstand the increased competition from new agencies and airlines by providing new services, building partnerships, exploring new customer niches and developing our online presence.

We need to renew and adapt, offer more personalised services, offer advice to our customers and remain an added value that technology can’t match.

We must create a new commercial dynamic, meet the challenges of globalisation and become a new generation agency.

These are my plans for the future.