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Club Travel Group FEATURE

Wally Gaynor, Founding Managing Director of Club Travel Group, tells Jane Bordenave how a personalised approach to customers’ needs has driven forward his business.


ally Gaynor is something of a pioneer in the South African Travel Industry. Having gained considerable experience working for Thomas Cook and Aer Lingus Travel Agent/Tour Operating divisions in his native Ireland, followed by two years in Australia, he established Club Travel Group in 1987. Since then, the company has grown from being just Wally to employing 160 staff and being the largest Independent Travel Group in South Africa. “Club has three divisions: Corporate/ Retail Travel Agencies/Travel Management Companies, a Franchise Division and an online Travel Division,” Gaynor says. “The Thebe Tourism Group part of Thebe Investment Corporation the oldest Black empowerment company in South Africa purchased 51 percent of the Club Group in 2009.”


Club Travel Group FEATURE

The firm owns and operates many online travel websites, such as, and it remains one of the premier online travel operators in the country, he adds. “I saw the potential of online travel long ago, I don’t believe in reinventing the wheel and in 2007 approached Expedia to get the rights to their Technology in Africa and modify it to suit the local conditions. However they were focussed on markets that were growing at that time, such as Australia, China, etc. So we set about developing our own search and booking engine and, while it wasn’t an easy task, it has really benefitted our business.” As well as operating its own travel websites, it operates other companies Travel websites such as the retail giant Pick & Pay and Travel Latitude who use the engine on a white label basis. 4

Doing what is best What really differentiates Club Travel Group from its competitors is its philosophy that it should always give the client what is best for them. “We do not try to over sell,” says Gaynor. “If the customer is a young guy looking to travel to the UK then we would find him the cheapest option often with multiple changes, as he will almost certainly have a small budget. On the other hand, if it’s an older person then we would advise them to go non-stop as it may be a bit more expensive but will be more suitable to their needs.” Online customers can also get personalised help by contacting the company’s call centre if they cannot find the results they are looking for through internet.










This philosophy of personalisation extends to all its business divisions; in addition to online, the company also works in the areas of corporate travel, leisure travel and franchises. These three areas operate in quite different ways. “In terms of corporate travel, we are a travel management company working with companies to better manage their travel spend. Leisure travel requires a different approach but one area is common to both, dedicated, professional staff who care.” The franchise division includes branded and non-branded travel agencies as well as independent travel consultants, they have access to the Club buying power, technology and infrastructure. “We have been voted Africa’s leading travel agency for the past four years running and feel that our personalised approach has definitely been a major factor in that.” Having different divisions has a knockon effect for competition, too. “It varies by business area,” explains Gaynor. “In the area of corporate travel, we are up against big names 6

like American Express. In high street we are up against other travel agency chains and, but we fare well in all these areas. We are fortunate because, for most travel agents, the main threat is from travel websites, but we already have a very significant presence in that area.”

Growth “slower than expected” While the company has continued to grow, the recession has had an impact. “Growth was slower than expected, but in some ways it has been a good year,” says Gaynor. “The global downturn made us look again at our business and to tighten up the areas that needed it. So we will be coming out of the recession stronger than we went in.” Gaynor also sees his employees and franchisees as an important asset in the pursuit of new business, tapping their knowledge in order to take advantage of niche markets, such as the gay community. “With a change to traditional buying habits and a move to online, the traditional agents

Club Travel Group FEATURE

have to specialise, we have branches that tap into the gay market others target the Islamic community, focussing on these customers’ particular interests and needs, such as transport Hajj and Umrah Pilgrimage Travel.”

Club cares The employees are all actively involved in Club Travel’s corporate responsibility programme Club Cares. In the last 12 months, volunteers have helped to transform the grounds of Stepping Stones crèche in Athlone, it has donated computer equipment to Assist a Learner Trust in Cape Town and staff helped erect and run a ‘food tent’ with not-forprofit organisation Heart, “For us it is very important to give back to our community and our country. In Africa, there is a huge gap between rich and poor and we want to do something to help out. It is something that we do because we love where we live and we feel that there is a lot of need for it. Even if we can just give a small amount back, we believe that

every little bit helps.” The future is looking bright for Club Travel Group. “Over the next five years, we see our main growth coming from the corporate division, as well as the continued growth of online business, we see continued organic growth and possible acquisitions,” says Gaynor. “We also have plans move into Africa with our online brands. However we feel that our human approach – that no matter what part of our company you come into contact with you can always speak to a real person who can help you – defines our organisation and is the main driver of our growth and continued success.” By maintaining this personal touch through the transition into the digital era, when many companies have abandoned it, the company has differentiated itself in a way that serves the customer. It is this personalised and innovative nature that will see Club Travel Group providing personal travel services to all sections of the community for a long time to come. END


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