Strategic Meetings Summit London, 26 September,
September 29 2022, Kimpton Fitzroy London
Friday 30 September 2022, JW Marriott Grosvenor
ABTN editor Martin Ferguson talks to the travel management company's chief commercial officer
Travel management companies (TMCs) have spent the last two years streamlining their businesses and ramping up cost saving services for clients. Few stones have been left unturned in the search for efficiency. Like most TMCs, Wings Corporate Travel is hell-bent on finding an approach that makes it stand out from the crowd. For the company's chief commercial officer, they key to his clients' future success is simple: collaboration.
The South African agency has been present in the UK market for the last decade, plying its trade primarily in the oil and gas sector from its Aberdeen base. But after acquiring London TMC Travel Alliance last September, opening an office in Manchester and announcing a series of high-profile appointments (including that of Paul who was brought in from FCm Travel Management), Wings is well on its way to becoming an established part of the TMC community.
Talking to ABTN in central London this week, East says his account managers will be taking an increasingly proactive approach with customers in an attempt to make them more savings and keep their travellers on the road.
"We have started a thorough client review, and we are basically saying give us your wish list," he enthuses.
"Corporates need to engage with their account managers. There are savings to be made if clients are willing to share and take a collaborative approach. We need to look at everything from financial processes to the total cost of a trip."
East, who cut his TMC teeth at Britannic Travel, says it is important the TMC takes the lead and provides a more consultative role. He says his agency, so far, has had more success working with travel mangers who have a spend of between 700k and £2 million, claiming some larger accounts don't lend themselves as well to the introduction of new measures.
The ex-FCm man insists prudent travel managers and TMCs should still take a fine toothcomb to their programmes, given the lingering economic uncertainty and need for maximum savings. But he remains confident that growth will prevail across British industry.
"In the last six months we've had the crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, the ash cloud, the BA strikes and they've all had a damaging effect.
"If we had a more stable economic environment things would start to improve. In fact, we have seen and are seeing improvements, but the economy is still fragile. On top of that we are still waiting to see the net effect of the public sector spending cuts."
But any uncertainty about the future of the economy will not stand in the way of Wings' expansion plans. The headquarters in Johannesburg will always be the company's spiritual home, but such is its focus on UK expansion, London has already been bestowed the title ‘Dual HQ' .
"It's about setting the foundations and fulfilling our vision to grow over the next five to 10 years. We are never going to be mass market, or the size of a CWT or HRG, but we aim to establish ourselves as the UK's key niche player."
If anyone doubted the seriousness of Wings' intentions, the recent appointment of ex-HRG managing director, Peter Kite, as a non-executive director proved to many that it is a serious player.
"Peter was introduced to Tony [Sofianos - Wings' chief executive] and was very excited by the brand and its potential. He is one of the true gents and legends in the business. He has so much knowledge that will be invaluable to our growth and success," says East.
If East's demeanor is anything to go by, Wings' future in the UK market is decidedly bright. He is happy with the opportunities provided by memberships with the Guild of Travel Management Companies and, more significantly, Advantage Travel Centre's, and he predicts a period of sustained expansion over the coming years.
"We want to be in the £40 - £50 million turnover bracket. That will be through new business wins and a controlled acquisition strategy," he says.