OLUFUNSO EKUNDAYO is the chief operating officer, Touchdown Travels, a travel management company that takes care of the entire spectrum of the journey from ticket to hotel services, car hire services, protocols, and other auxiliary services. In this interview with ZEBULON AGOMUO, he spoke on the impact of Coronavirus (Covid-19) impact and innovations in the aviation industry, activities of the company in using technology to render services and drive processes; high rates of Forex and high operating cost amongst other issues affecting the industry in Nigeria. Excerpts:
When people think about COVID-19, they remember the travel restrictions, the health challenges it brought, and how it affected the aviation industry negatively. In what ways did COVID influence innovations in the industry?
Those who refuse to learn from history will always repeat the mistakes of the past. COVID-19 taught us that there is a need for us to always think and plan. It shows us that if your business is not affected by the weather of the day; it might be affected by the climate. Who would have thought then that the industry would move to no flight – bringing global economies to a standstill? Nobody expected it. Some people still find it hard to believe that there were some positives. COVID-19 brought a new mindset to the people who are willing to embrace change. It came with the fact that there is a need to innovate or you die. It came with the understanding that we need to channel our lives to solve problems. COVID-19 gave us the opportunity to think and rebuild and these are what we are doing at Touchdown today.
Touchdown has rebranded to say that, yes, we are old, we have the knowledge, we have the expertise of the past but at the same time, we are still innovative, and we are still taking you to the future. COVID-19 gave us time to reflect and see where exactly we are. What are the customers saying? What do they need? How do we move and channel them into the future? I tell you that the flight that will take us to the future is technology so we need to get on board with it, understand it, master it, and use it to solve problems as we go.
The travel industry appears to be struggling with increased operational costs due to inflation. How is that affecting the demand in the industry and what do you think can be done to stabilise the situation?
The current prevailing challenges are not affecting only the Travel industry. It’s affecting Nigeria as a whole viz-a-viz the businesses. In the Aviation industry, you have the issue of the unstable prices of aviation fuel and you need to understand that every single thing has a ripple effect and that’s what we are experiencing regarding some of the airlines that have issues with aviation fuel prices. Access to Foreign exchange is another challenge that is affecting businesses in Nigeria. Everything that we do in the aviation industry revolves around Forex; airliners that are doing their business in the dollar cannot repatriate their funds back so I will say the solution here is going to be internal for us as a country, and there must be a policy change.
We need to understand that for things to work, the ease of doing business needs to be improved. Ease of doing business cuts across Forex, it cuts across remittances of funds, it cuts across operational cost, it cuts across everything.
Q: Ease of doing business cuts across Forex, it cuts across remittances of funds, it cuts across operational cost, it cuts across everything.
Because of the inability to remit its funds, some airline companies are threatening to pull out of the country soon and you might say why? Are they not making money? They are making money but if all your expenses are in dollars but you are making money in Naira and you cannot access forex It gets to the point that the money does not make any sense. That is what is happening in the industry. In the end, customers are the people to pay for all these and that is what it is at the moment.
Touchdown recently launched its Corporate Self-Booking Tool (CSBT). What are the major features of the tool and what benefits does it bring to your clients, prospects, and the industry at large?
The CSBT is the first of its kind of this magnitude. CSBT is a functional tool that navigates the different services that the corporate world requires, as it relates to flights, hotel packages, and transfers, among others. What it does is that it automates all the components of travel; fusing them all into one solution and what that means is Self-Booking! CSBT bundles all the traveling processes together in such a way that an employee of an organisation can make a traveling request because they have enough information to be able to make informed decisions. You don’t need to send emails back and forth with CSBT. Within minutes, you are done.
CSBT is also able to seamlessly integrate with the existing approval systems within various organisations, which is key because we know very well that most organisations have what we call travel policies. CSBT application is smart, it understands the travel policy that applies to you, but more importantly, the approvals that are within the system, it can also imbibe them.
We have integrated the system for large corporations such as banks, and multinationals. We have done this for about 7000 travel-enabled staff, and we have been able to integrate this with these organisations. Infinite possibilities of approvals can be accommodated by the system so no matter how complex your approval system is; CSBT can take care of it.
What other innovative tools or ideas are in place at Touchdown Travels?
As said earlier, we leverage a whole lot on technology. Apart from CSBT, which is for Business-to-Business (B-B), we also have packages for business-to-customer (B-C). We have the Application Interface (API) that allows us to connect and integrate with third-party solutions seamlessly and this has helped us with some integration with the Internet banking applications of some banks to book flights. We are the android of the travel industry. We are opening up our systems without enclosing anything because we believe access to travel should be easy. We believe everybody should be able to make informed decisions. Travel is not a luxury as they say; it is something that we should do as a culture.
Another innovation we have out there is EasyPay, which enables installment payment for flight tickets. Some might want to travel but by the time they check the prices and the prices are not what they can afford at that time, they give up. They don’t know that there are high and low seasons. However, with the introduction of Easy Pay, we allow you to look at those prices and we lock it down for you to give you minimal fees and you can pay in installments. For example, a ticket that is sold at N350, 000 in the low season, can be sold for N700,000 to N800,000 in the high season. With Easy Pay, the rates are unbelievable. This enables you to make your payment over time. So imagine you have N365,000 you have to pay over three months and in three months you end up paying your N365,000. That is the convenience we are bringing because we want to get more people to travel. Easy pay cuts across everything we do – It’s available for flight, and it’s also available for packaging. We understand that it’s not just sufficient that people want to travel. Easy Pay takes care of the entire experience of your travels
Also, our website, www.touchdowntravels.net, is one of the technologically advanced websites you will see in terms of innovation. With the website, we can provide the cheapest price rates for tickets on different routes for every airline. What am I trying to say? When you check our website, what you will always find is the cheapest price. That is our corporate proposition because we want to get more people. We want to give people a trusted partner who will be fair enough to show them the best destinations and routes at the cheapest price. That is basically what we are offering.
What Policy do you think should be put in place to boost activity in the aviation sector?
It should start with the policy on the Forex because right now most companies cannot access it at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) rate. There has to be a balance. The government should sit down with the industry stakeholders and experts to draft a new policy because sometimes when a policy is drafted without input from the insiders or taking into consideration the insiders’ perspective such policies end up not being useful.
We should also understand that we do not have a national carrier. If we have a national carrier we will say that there is a plan to expand the reach of that carrier to every location but everything we have is impotent in this case.