Like Amadeus, South Africa’s Club Travel is this year celebrating 30 years in travel. We decided to chat to CEO Wally Gaynor about his experiences in the travel industry over the past 30 years.
What have been the main changes in the way people travel 30 years ago and now?
When I opened Club in 1987 my first negotiated Airline deal was with Sabena Belgium Airlines. It caused a stir as the Industry which was still regulated in 1987 by IATA.
The “discounted fare” I negotiated was R3 750 Jo’burg to London return. This translates in today’s money to R34 000. Nowadays, you can still get to London for around R8 000. This goes to prove that the biggest change is that Travel has become more affordable to average people over the last 30 years.
What are you missing about the ‘good old times’ of travel 30 years ago? What has been the good, the bad and the ugly?
The good for me – who is passionate about travel and who believes that everyone should have that opportunity to explore the World – is that Travel now is more accessible to more people.
The bad and the ugly is the way the traditional airlines have forgotten how to be human. They have used technology to cut costs, the most expensive cost being humans. The result is very profitable entities, but they have now gone so far that it’s affecting the product and customer experience and the clients are deserting them.
What are you definitely not missing?
I’m definitely not missing the way IATA controlled pricing 30 years ago!
Which technology has made the most impact on travel in the past 30 years?
The Internet is the greatest revolution to hit the world in the 20th century and changed the entire Travel Industry. Like most other industries, access to information and technology has changes all our lives completely.
What has been the scariest development in travel over the past 30 years?
The scariest thing is the perception that automation and technology can or will completely replace humans and not just the repetitive functions that humans don’t like doing anyway.
How has the role of the travel agent changed over the last 30 years?
Then, Travel Agents generally made their money selling air tickets and little else. Today that basic A to B air ticket is more efficiently done by technology. Yes, A to B to C to D to E is often more better done by a human, but generally agents are selling more diverse services/products then they were 30 years ago.
An agent today is either taking away the pain of a traveller or company having to do everything themselves and hopefully saving and adding value in the process, or they are specialising promoting and selling aspirational Travel.
What were the biggest fears in the travel industry 30 years ago? How has the industry dealt with these fears?
I think 30 years ago there was a much smaller pool of travellers and a lot more agents chasing them. Then, the rumours of commission capping started, which horrified and scared the Industry. At that time, you earned 9% on the base fare which was 95% of the ticket. Today, I would hate to be living on 9% of a base fare which is now often 10% of the ticket with the rest made up of Taxes. How funny is that?
Thirty years ago, we were agents of the airlines now we are consultants to travellers.
A bit more about yourself: where were you 30 years ago? What were your dreams at that time? Have you accomplished your goals?
My aim was to have just one very successful Travel Agency that challenged the status quo in a very regulated Travel Industry. However, human nature being what it is, the success of the first shop led to another.
My regret – and possibly my saving grace – was that I never borrowed money to expand more quickly when Flight Centre arrived and changed the face of traditional leisure Travel in South Africa. There is nothing like great competition to make you re-look at and re-engineer your business.
I quickly saw that technology and not Travel shops was where Club’s future lay.
Where do you see travel in 30 years?
From the Club point of view, we are now a technology company selling Travel while recognising that accessible humans behind the technology is the key to future success. Now or in 30 years, we will never forget about the client experience.