‘Why local airlines lag behind in GDS, travel technology’
Sabre targets 30% market share in Nigeria
Low uptake of emerging technology in the air travel sector has been blamed for poor visibility and stuttering growth of local airlines in the country.The Guardian learnt that local airlines, unlike their foreign counterparts, are either unreceptive or unwilling to pay for technology like Global Distribution System (GDS) that is the in-thing in air travel business globally.
GDS is a network operated by a company that enables automated transactions between travel service providers (mainly airlines, hotels and car rental companies) and travel agencies. This enables a travel agent with a connection to a single GDS to choose and book various flights, hotels, activities and associated services on all the vendors operating in the same route who are part of that GDS network.
President, Sabre West Africa, Gabriel Olowo, said the importance of GDS among other innovations in global aviation cannot be over-emphasized, but Nigeria has really not come onboard despite huge potentials in the travelling population.
Olowo, at the 10th year anniversary of Sabre West Africa, recently in Lagos, said the industry has realized the importance of technology, “but our local operators can’t buy it or pay for it.”
According to him, “Some of them that bought it couldn’t pay. But all the international airlines are there; talk of the Emirates, Qatar, British Airways, and United and so on, because Global Distribution technology is about taking your products beyond your sovereign area.
“For instance, who knows www.arikair.com in Australia? It is only in Nigeria that you known www.arikair.com, www.medview.com. Even in Nigeria, some people don’t know, talk-less of a place like Australia. So, how do you sell an Arik or Aero Contractor flight ticket, if you are not in GDS?”
Global Distribution S ystem enables real-time link to the vendor’s database. For example, when a travel agency requests a reservation on the service of a particular airline company, the GDS system routes the request to the appropriate airline’s computer reservations system.
Olowo added that Sabre West Africa, in the last 10 years had been promoting aviation technology in Nigeria and offering travel solutions amidst the challenges of doing business in Africa.
He recalled that Sabre UK was quite reluctant to have a partner in Nigeria, when it was approached about 13 years ago. Sabre Nigeria has, however, found ways around the problems to break into the market in the last 10 years.
“It is indeed a long journey that has not been smooth in terms of infrastructure support, especially power and internet challenges. But here we are today delivering solutions. Today, we are between 18 to 20 per cent market penetration and by 2020, it will be 30 per cent.
“Almost all IATA agents now distribute on Sabre. From zero, we have moved to almost 1000 agents. Non-IATA agents are many. Almost all the airlines are on Sabre, except our Nigerian airlines, because some of them are so weak. ,” he said.
Senior Vice President, Europe, Middle-East and Africa, Dean Bibb, congratulated Sabre West Africa, for a market share of zero to over 20 per cent and production of over 700,000 bookings per year.
Bibb said: “The background to this achievement should not be underestimated. The combination of currency fluctuations, an unstable aviation sector, fuel shortages, fragile technology infrastructure and political changes, is a challenging and demanding environment to do business in.”
He added that coming into Nigerian market to offer the travel solution was a stepping stone to entering Ghana, South Africa, Kenya, North Africa and the whole African market.
Bibb explained that the mobile (phone) is the vehicle for the travel industry, and Sabre has built a platform that allows travellers to get any available solution using the mobile phone.
“So, we can tell you if the flight is late, what gate to go to and others right on your mobile phone. The future is very bright for the continent. Nigeria is just getting out of recession but it has a growing population, with fantastic coverage of internet and wireless and 94 per cent of mobile penetration in the market. Out of the 170 or 180 million, to see four million travelling on the technology platform is a potential market for us. This is an area that we will grow in the future,” Bibb said.
Managing Director of Spring fountain, Babatunde Fagbemi, said the problems in the aviation sector would have been minimal if operators are really getting involved and sourcing right technical information from people that know.