In November, Federal Airlines (FedAir) announced a 50% discount as a South African Residents fare to safari landing strips as part of what they call a revolutionary new approach. I spoke to Julian Edmunds, CCO at FastJet, Zimbabwe and Federal Airlines in Johannesburg about this new approach and what we can expect in the coming months…
Having had the Coronavirus himself, Edmunds understands the frustration around the pandemic and its impact on the travel industry pretty well. “The tourism industry is having a bloodbath,” he says. Between 26 March 2020 and 1 October 2020, both FastJet and FedAir flew very limited flights. With FedAir they did the odd charter for DHL and FastJet assisted in moving Zimbabweans between South Africa and Zimbabwe. “We repatriated about 1000 people and I got to speak to each and every one of them,” says Edmunds. This allowed him to get to know the passengers and understand their frustrations and fears.
From a FedAir perspective, Edmunds says that the South African tourism industry was obviously battered, with a lot of travel suppliers focusing on international tourists pre-COVID. All of the sudden, they found themselves with nobody at the destinations. Some DMCs moved from having thousands of tourists in the month of November to only seven in November 2020. “It made the industry think and look at our products and how we transact,” he says. “At Federal we have put a lot of our principles on their head.”
“I’m a great believer in there being a reset and using this positively.”– Julian Edmunds
At the beginning of lockdown, it was pretty much a guessing game in terms of what was going to happen. What can be seen now, is that the passenger needs felxibility. Like Edmunds says: “The biggest thing about COVID-19 is the worry, because you don’t know how bad you’re going to have it.” If you get the Coronavirus, travel will need to be cancelled. Without travel insurance, you’ll lose all your money. The ability to move bookings to a later stage is very important to current travellers and Edmunds says that they realised that they had to make all bookings flexible at both FedAir and FastJet. You can now move your flight bookings as many times as you want, at no charge. “People need that sense of flexibility.”
In terms of flight cancellations, Edmunds says that they also softened the terms. You can cancel your flight 15 days out at no charge. The closer the cancellation is to the departure date, the higher the charge. If you cancel due to being infected with the Coronavirus, you won’t be charged and they will move your booking. “It has made us listen to the client and look at what they are looking for,” says Edmunds about the pandemic.
International and local travel in 2021
Edmunds says that their target client is not really travelling at the moment, but that there will be a few intrepid clients who feel that they can travel, because they can still work from home while under quarantine. Still, realistically, the few that will travel to South Africa for leisure purposes are really just a few. Which is why many, if not most tourism suppliers have started to tap into the domestic market, which is huge. “What we looked at with all the lodges, is to keep us operating and keep staff doing something,” says Edmunds. They started concentrating on targeting the local market. Federal Airlines brought in the new special rate through travel trade partners (which is more than a 50% reduction on the usual shuttle rate to luxury lodges). This is for all flights until the 31st of December 2021.
“We’re looking forward to embracing domestic tourism.”– Julian Edmunds
Travel predictions for 2021
Edmunds says that in South Africa we enjoy a good quality life at a much lower cost in real terms. He refers to the BigMac Index and then says that things are undoubtedly much cheaper in Johannesburg than in Dusseldorf. “It’s a question of looking at what people will look at and take seriously,” he says.
According to Edmunds, the South African traveller can be quite materialistic at times. He says this is a golden opportunity. While South Africans cannot go on their annual 10-day ski holiday this year, they still want to go somewhere. They will start considering options in Africa that are easy to get to: Timbavati, Manyaleti, Sabi Sands…
There are flights between the SADAC countries and there is a reasonable standard. There are brilliant opportunities for that market, says Edmunds. Particularly in South Africa. Many regular South African travellers would want to treat themselves to a luxury safari (in the absence of a ski holiday) and would rather fly as the roads are known to be unsafe during the travel season.
Edmunds also says that he predicts that the travel industry will stay quiet until mid 2021. “The traditional peak selling period (January to March) will be delayed, I feel,” he says. “There are some encouraging signs – people are talking with greater confidence, with more accuracy. We are anticipating that Easter will be busy-ish and we hope that, that will continue growing in May and June.” He says he can’t see July and August back at 2019 levels, though. “A lot will depend on the vaccine. Remember that people throughout the world lost their jobs – there’s a lot of economic hardship. The very high end of our business will come back reasonably strongly, but the core volume we find more difficult to read,” says Edmunds.
Tips for travelling in 2021
Edmunds suggests the following for if you’re planning on travelling in 2021:
- Research as much as possible
- Read a lot (planning is one of the most fun parts of a holiday)
- Talk to people
- Understand the testing regimes that may be in place
- Look at what needs to be done, where and when
- Plan the routing of your holiday that you can get the most efficiency