Airlines eye lucrative SME market

While small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) do not have the bulk buying power of a larger company, in South Africa they continue to make up an important part of an airline’s business model.

Local South African carriers have identified SMEs as a strategic market on which to focus, and have identified certain needs, specific to SMEs. Beyond that, airlines are looking at how to address these SME-specific business travel needs.

At Airlink, Rodger Foster, ceo and md says: “We recognise SMEs and their needs.” He notes there are some routes that cater mostly for SME travellers. “Nelspruit and Pietermaritzburg are crucial for small businesses. Pietermaritzburg’s business community is made up mostly of small businesses.”

In terms of engagement, airlines are using channels like local Chambers of Business to target small businesses. Foster says: “We try to get to meet SMEs one-on-one through the local chambers. We have foot soldiers visiting small businesses at a one-on-one level all the time. This is part of our ongoing sales and marketing drive.” 

Kirby Gordon, head of sales and distribution at FlySafair, notes that one example is FlySafair’s work with the Border Kei Chamber of Business that has facilitated air access into the Eastern Cape. “We know air access stimulates business and this is true for airlines and local businesses. We have seen growth in East London and Port Elizabeth.” 

Dawn Weir, head of kulula work, agrees that one-on-one interactions help develop this market: “We aim to build a one-on-one relationship with customers directly, understanding their nuances and ensuring we cater for their exact requirements – where possible – which are not broken or lost in the chain of communication when dealing with multiple parties in one transaction.” She adds that at kulula, an after-hours service has proved successful, given the nature of business travel in South Africa.

Additionally, Weir says kulula has identified ‘bleisure’ as a growing sector among SME travellers. “In the SME market, business and leisure travel are very blurred, so trips are often combined for work and play, and at kulula work, with our kulula network, we have all the necessary scope to cater or refer them within our business to cater for all their needs.”

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