Travel Counsellors says it will be the first retail travel company that controls the entire travel distribution process from end to end, thanks to a collection of direct relationships with sub-Saharan African DMCs.

Mladen Lukic, GM of Travel Counsellors SA, says the move, which is part of a global strategy, is unique because it will give customers access to “unvarnished” information. “Our travel counsellor in Liverpool is going to have access – without any filtering – directly to a game lodge in the Okavango Delta,” says Lukic, adding that the DMC will serve as a conduit. “The job of the DMC is to create content and negotiate rates on behalf of the customer.”

Chris Iuel, who has many years’ experience in the inbound business and is former product and contracts manager of Akilanga, has been appointed Commercial Manager at Travel Counsellors SA. He is tasked with managing the company’s business with suppliers in sub-Saharan Africa.

Lukic says this is the first time a retail travel company will control the end-to-end experience of the traveller. “Accommodation providers are concerned that their products are properly represented to potential customers. By removing the middle part from the transaction, we have full control of every touch in this high-touch business.”

“High touch” is what will be important in the future, according to Lukic. He says that by 2027, the number of companies still in business will be a fraction of what it is today. “Companies like Google will dominate the transactional space – and Google Travel has already entered the travel space at the end of 2016.”

He says this will result in fewer players in travel. But at the opposite end of the spectrum from the transactional arena, there will be the high-touch business – and that is where Travel Counsellors will be working. “There will always be two types of customers – those who are focused on the transaction, and those who are focused on the experience. TCs are people who understand we are not fixated on the transaction, but on outcomes of the conversations we have.”

Travel Counsellors has also established a new Cape Town-based IT development team. “This will serve TC’s need for bespoke development – TC frequently develops its own solutions, especially in the client-facing space – and it will also serve our ever-increasing IT maintenance needs,” says Rob Snelson, Chief Technology Officer.

“SA corporate travel is well developed; it employs sophisticated systems, often using similar or better tools than those available in the UK. SA history has created a culture of inventiveness, especially in the financial sector,” says Lukic. He believes that, through the Cape Town IT team, the global TCs will benefit from the high level of sophistication present in the SA travel business.

Travel Counsellors has over 1 600 independent travel consultants working in seven markets: the United Kingdom, Australia, Belgium, Ireland, The Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates and South Africa.

By Kate Nathan and Tessa Reed