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Driverless cars, the impact of disrupters such as Uber and new booking technology were just a few of the topics covered during a panel discussion at the GBTA Conference focused on the future of ground transportation.

Currently, car rental in South Africa is a R5 billion industry – with corporates accounting for 45% of all business. But Marc Corcoran of SAVRALA says this is being threatened by a number of alternative solutions that have entered the marketplace. “In fact, the corporate market is in decline,” he says.

This decline is in part due to the growing popularity of on-demand services such as Uber. Guyck van Heerden of EZ Shuttle says the transfer leg is actually one of the most high-risk aspects of corporate travel. “When the corporate traveller gets into a place, you know the pilot is qualified and the aircraft is serviced regularly. Do you really want to outsource the most high risk part of a trip to a third party that you don’t know?”

Dorian Toussaint of Professional Passenger Services agrees and says corporates should be wary of sacrificing compliance for convenience.That being said – we do need to find ways of moving towards on-demand services as the next generation are expecting immediate gratification,” he adds.

In terms of changes in booking behaviour, van Heerden says that there is increasing pressure to provide online systems that work on whatever platform the client chooses to work in and this is one of the areas where ground transportation providers will be able to stand ahead of competitors.

“We all have to provide a clean vehicle that arrives on time with the correct permits, so the only option to differentiate is in our interaction with agents. It has to be fast, seamless and we need to eliminate turnaround times. One of the most difficult aspects of transfers is that there are a lot of variables from traffic congestions to power outages, which makes it difficult to automate the process. We are already taking 40% of our bookings through APIs and system-to-system bookings and we’d like to see this grow to 75% in the next few years,” says van Heerden.

Another trend the ground transportation industry will be watching closely in the future is driverless cars. Corcoran believes that this technology will result in the convergence between car rental and transfer businesses. “However there are regulatory issues that come into play and the technology is probably another 10 – 15 years off,” he adds.