Why SAA needs a digital makeover

SAA Chief Commercial Officer Sylvain Bosc says the airline is changing its digital strategy. (Gareth van Zyl)
SAA Chief Commercial Officer Sylvain Bosc says the airline is changing its digital strategy. (Gareth van Zyl)
Gareth van Zyl

Johannesburg - Unprofitable South African Airlines (SAA) has not adapted well to the technology revolution in travel, according to the carrier’s new Chief Commercial Officer Sylvain Bosc.

Speaking at an event hosted by travel tech firm Sabre in Johannesburg on Thursday, Bosc said that SAA - which is currently undergoing a 90-day turnaround strategy - is not providing the right digital tools for customers to help manage their travel properly.

Bosc, who joined SAA six months ago from France, told Fin24 that the airline needs a “decent mobile app”, “a good booking engine” and that it can better market “our fares online”.

“As far as SAA is concerned, we have not adapted to the technology revolution in travel,” Bosc said.

“We're not providing the tools to consumers to manage their travel properly,” he added.

Online bookings are at lower levels in South Africa as compared to more developed markets, Bosc said.

Nevertheless, he explained that SAA should still be using technology better to understand its passengers.

“When we take a passenger from a travel agency, we have no idea who this passenger is,” he said.

But he said the “good news” is that “it’s not such a big deal” because technology solutions are easier to implement now than 15 years ago thanks to the likes of cloud tech.

Advances in technology means that hi-tech solutions available in the US can be accessed in South Africa in almost real-time thanks to cloud computing.

Bosc also noted that under his watch, a digital division has been created at SAA to help the airline tap into consumer demands in improved ways.

Sabre, for example, is already an SAA partner in terms of offering its marketplace technology.

Sabre - which says it touches 40% of travellers around the world - has also started to unlock big data to understand which consumers would be willing, for example, to pay for an upgraded seat.

"Technology can help you focus on your customer in a much more different way than you're doing today," Harald Eisenächer, senior vice president for Sabre in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said on Thursday in Johannesburg.

SAA attempts rescue plan

SAA is dependent on state loans but it has presented a 90-day rescue strategy to government that targets R1.3bn in savings.

Earlier this week, acting SAA Chief Executive Officer Nico Bezuidenhout also said Gulf carrier Etihad Airways has the option of taking a stake in the struggling South African airline.

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