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It’s well known that variety is the spice of life – it adds flavour and depth to any experience. Aligning with this concept and working on the tag line, ‘Spicing up your Travel Programme,’ The GBTA (Global Business Travel Association) Southern African Conference took place in Pretoria on the 21st and 22nd of October 2015. Over these two days, hundreds of delegates and speakers came together to discuss new and exciting ways to manage their travel programmes, ways of improving communication with travellers, and how to best leverage technology and social media to take their travel programmes to the next level.

From the moment the MC, Roderick Ross of Ross Consulting, opened the conference, it was clear that the two-day event would not be short on spice. Beginning each talk by associating the speaker with a specific spice, Ross succeeded in keeping the conference’s key question at the forefront of its attendees: How exactly can you spice up your Travel Programme? After a hearty breakfast and introduction, Catherine McGavock, the Regional Vice President of EMEA at GBTA from Ireland gave guests a warm welcome and the conference had officially begun.

The spirit and opportunities that day one of the conference offered were exactly as predicted by Kovilan Naidoo, Chairman of GBTA SA in his chairman’s welcome: delegates were given an opportunity to engage in robust debates surrounding concepts and best practices, allowing them to challenge the “business as usual” concept, and to bring innovation to their travel programmes and offerings. The day’s first talk involved a panel including Sarah Welton-Blake of Showgroup, Jonathan Gerber of TAG, and Howard Stephens, and it was moderated by Now Media’s Kate Nathan. Posed with the question: ‘ITC’s and event managers – Do they spice up your travel programme?,’ the panel talked in detail about exactly what ITC’s are, and how relationships with them should be approached. Read a report on this session here.

Next on the agenda, Thabani Ndlovu of Hilton Worldwide tackled the topic ‘The evolution of corporate travel buying behaviour: Hotel Approach.’ Delving into the specifics of the three trends that are shaping corporate hotel choice (namely loyalty programmes, economic factors, and new media), which can be accessed in more detail here. Following on from this, Nomonde Thethe of Standard Bank took the conference delegates through the issues associated with ‘Managing fraud as a corporate travel buyer,’ educating them through the key questions of ‘What is card fraud?’, ‘What can be done about it?’, and, ‘Why is it important for your business personality?’

After a short break, delegates returned to the conference room for a spice-heavy afternoon. Natasha Schmidt kicked the afternoon session off by inviting corporate travel buyers to reflect on what they have learnt and achieved in 2015, with the consensus amoung the panel being that educating yourself around technology and travel trends is key to keeping up with the travel buying environment. After this, Mike Stopforth, CEO of Cerebra, addressed the conference on the topic of ‘Future Traveller Tribes,’ referencing the Amadeus Future Traveller Tribes 2030 Report and the role that brands have to play in catering to these future travellers. Going into the four key principals that fuel the internet, (CATS: Conversation, Authenticity, Trust, and Sharing), Stopforth encouraged the crowd to familiarise themselves with the niche markets developing in travel, and to see these markets as tremendous opportunities for growth. Read more about his talk here.

Continuing the technology-based theme of the day, Joakim Everstin of Sabre tackled the topic of ‘The power of technology affecting our lives.’ Evestin began by looking into the past, pointing out just how far the world of technology has come in just seven years, and then transported the delegates to the future with him. He highlighted some of the technological innovations that are expected to alter the world of travel in the near future. Grouped together as four major tech clusters, these innovations include Smartwatches, augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, and robotics. Read a full summary of Evestin’s talk here.

To round off the day, Erik Venter of Comair continued the thread of trends running through the day, and spoke to the conference about ‘Travel distribution in Africa’ and how the airline business is evolving on the continent. Highlighting the concepts of personalised service through big data and analytics, beacon technology, and hybridisation of airlines as the Three Next Big Trends for the Airline Industry, Venter invited listeners to assess just how airlines can best keep up with the rapidly evolving habits of both corporate and leisure travellers. Read more on Venter’s talk here.

Full of both new questions and new knowledge, the delegates took the evening to explore the on-site travel expo, enjoy a wine tasting with Diners Club International, and then finally relax and enjoy the spices of the Sabre Gala Dinner. It was here that the well-deserved Business Travel Innovator Award was presented to Felicity Meyer and the GBTA travel auction raised over R100, 000 for charity.