Value proposition sets us apart from other TMCs’, FCM boss, Adejoju Sikuade

Adejoju Sikuade is the Head of Business for FCM Travel, a subsidiary of Fincglow Holdings. FCM Travel Solutions is a global travel management provider spanning more than 98 countries worldwide. Sikuade and her team are committed to generating better travel ideas for their high-end clients. In this interview with WOLE SHADARE, she says FCM delivers strategic corporate travel and expense management services, offering its services to small, large, and multinational companies. She also speaks on why FCM is different from other TMCs’ and its value propositions to its clients among others.

What do you people do at FCM and what is the nature of the business you do?

I am in charge of FCM (Flight Centre Management) not Finchglow. There is Finchglow Holdings and under Finchglow Holdings; we have seven or eight subsidiaries underneath it and Finchglow Travels that you know is a subsidiary under Finchglow Holdings and FCM which you know is another. FCM came as a result of the need to have a travel management company attending to global brands. The way it works is that Mr. Bernard Bankole got a franchise which is another Flight Centre Travel Group which is another holding company and one of their subsidiaries is FCM. FCM is solely for multinational companies handling their travel management services. It is different from what Finchglow does which is a traditional travel agency; they are in charge of both trade partners and all that. Our own niche focus is on multinational clients. We are doing their business travels and their leisure. You could say that after your meeting, you want to see the town of the country that you have gone to, just to say you want to go on leisure and we add that to it. All other things we also do like the MICE which we call meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions, and if you have a large organization; maybe they want to do OTL (Exhibition for oil and gas). That is where Travel Management Companies (TMCs) like ours will come to play, making sure that we first all sort out the itinerary, the agenda, how are you going to get there, the hotel, the transportation, and the event putting together the event itself. We take that burden off you. It is literally like planning an event but this time, it is business inclined.

Sikuade

I will just talk about the Flight Centre Management (FCM) brand in itself. One thing that is very particular about us is that any country that you go to, they are supposed to look the same. The feel of the service is supposed to be the same; we have global business standards and we are in many parts of the world. In Africa alone, we are currently in about 32 countries and we are always expanding. The idea is when you have multi-national companies as clients who have a presence in other countries; they want to have the same tailored travel management company. They have a travel budget for the year. They want to make sure that the same travel management company is handling their travel. If you don’t have that scope and presence, it will be difficult for you to do that. That is hugely the essence of FCM, making sure that we are able to give you local expertise, however from a global perspective.

We have a lot of travel management companies in Nigeria, what is the market like because some of you are doing almost the same thing? What is the edge you have over others?

Let me correct this. We don’t have many travel management companies in Nigeria. What we have are travel agencies doing what they think travel management companies are supposed to do. For example, you have Wakanow; their focus is Online Travel Agency (OTA) but because it looks like what we are offering is the ticket, everybody says that it is a ticket but there is more to it. I will give you an example, I have a client that says that he wants to use an online booking tool. After that, he asked us to provide a report that says I want to know your travel policy and what their cost savings will be. It is my job to let them know that you could have saved $5000 if you had booked three days in advance. Travellers usually send their requests two or three days before their trip. Ideally, you should have a week or two weeks. Those are some of the consultancies that come with using a travel management company. Another thing that I would say again, is even the scope of business and especially during the time of COVID-19 when it was obvious who a travel management company was and who a travel agency was. When it was COVID when it just hit, we had booked tickets to several parts of the world and COVID just fell upon us. We did because we had SM secured; it was able to track the travelers that were in several parts of the world and how to extract them from where they were. Extraction does not mean that I send a plane from Nigeria to China; it meant that I invited FMC China to say that I have travelers from FCM Nigeria in Guangzhou for example, to help me get them out and put them in a safe place. Tell me who is going to do that if you don’t have that kind of scope. There is that difference. That brings me to the edge that you talked about. First of all, the global presence is an edge. It means that when we had the repatriation of funds, I didn’t have to worry. All I needed to do was ask my FCM booker to please issue me this ticket and we did the internal reconciliation within ourselves.

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Sikuade

There is that advantage. There is also the tool that we have; we are highly technology focused. We have what we call the FCM App. It is a mobile app that tries to try to tie the travel booker, travel arranger, and the traveller together in a way that you don’t have to call anybody. If you are going to Paris for example and you have booked a ticket, automatically, your ticket will be sent to your App. When you open up your App, you are able to see what you can do. It tells you what to pack, down to the adapter, what kind of adapter you use, it tells you the price of coffee, tells the restaurants around you and that is one side. It will also tell you if changes are made to your ticket. You do not have to wait for me to send you an email. It will pop up. It will let you know your boarding gate when you get to the airport. It is all about planning your journey even before you get to the airport. Once it gets to your App, your journey is already planned; you know where to go because we would have put it there including your work and house addresses. We have the FCM Hub. That is also another App because of the kind of business we do, we don’t want to be repetitive. I can’t be asking you for your data page all of the time; I can’t be asking you for the type of seat you like, or whether you are vegetarian all of that. Once we have gotten our information, it is plugged in. I don’t need to type it in again. If I type your name, all the information comes out. When that happens, you will have a better travel experience. It feels personalized. Those are a few of the edges that we have. It is important for me to say that we have won the world travel award for ten years running. It differentiates the FCM brand. We are one of the newest in the market. FCM itself came into existence in 2004 about 18 years now compared to the likes of American Express, CWT, and all of that. We are the underdogs but it is amazing how gradually we are becoming the most recognized. We are constantly been talked about, and constantly getting awards. It is amazing to see multinationals that are changed their travel management companies to FCM. We are really doing well.

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Looking at the economy, COVID, travel hasn’t recovered fully to what it was in 2019, does it not have an impact on travel management companies like yours, do people still patronize TMCs?

That is a very interesting question. COVID affected everybody both TMCs, travel agencies, and everybody. When I was doing a presentation last year, I was telling them that it affected businesses. What we were selling then was to make sure that our travelers were safe. At that time, we had to do a lot to bring back customers’ confidence to begin to travel. The era that we are in now in Nigeria is the fact that COVID also made people very aware of what the aviation sector is about because a lot of people were doing research. They are very aware of what is attainable in the industry. What used to be luxury before is now basic. We are affected, I have to be honest. My volumes have come back but they have not come back to where it was. We have done more than pre-COVID. I would say two things happened; one, the value of the transactions because of the forex. If in 2019 I did for example, maybe N1b and I am doing N1b now or N1.5b or N2billion, will I say that I have really grown? Not much so. What was the value of the dollar then and what is the dollar now? That has also contributed. The ticket statistics have also grown. A lot of people were indoors. What I am hearing a lot is the fact that people want to do things themselves. If you are not adopting online booking, you are behind. Just like the economy affected us, the economy also affected them. All of us are affected. Now that all of us are affected, they are saying how can you help us manage cost? The amount of money that they spent before, they are not willing to spend now and still want to get the same value. You have to start thinking about the value of it. You can’t really drop your cost but you can let them get more value for money. That is where you start thinking of value propositions. Those are the conversations that we are having on our tools and of course, better service offerings for the client. There has to be a seamless experience from where they start to where they come back on their journey.

Finchglow is a conglomerate, what is the synergy between your company and some other subsidiaries of finchglow, how do you inter-relate for business?

That is interesting. Even within the group, sometimes we find ourselves overlapping. I can say that Mr. Bernard Bankole is a visionary. He has invested in his leaders. When your leaders have the right vision and share the same goal, it is easy for them to cascade down to the people that they are leading. When we just came out of COVID, we were all hungry for business. All of us did anything that could bring money. But we later came back to say to ourselves that is not the reason we were created so that we can focus on what we were created for and be good at it because they say Jack of all trades and master of none but you can be master of one; to be a master of the market that I am in. That is what we are doing now.

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What is the volume of this market and what percentage of the market do you control?

The market is very big. Nigeria is a commercial centre unfortunately, we do not provide, we import. It means that are foreign companies in Nigeria. If they are foreign, they must also have a base. That’s how large the market is. There are so many multi-national organizations that are here. If you are a multinational organization, you are my target audience. In terms of market share, that is a very difficult question because every time I send a mail to IATA to provide that information, they don’t help me, but I can tell that we are top 20 in terms of all the travel agencies because that is the feedback that the airlines give you in Nigeria. When the airlines are paying you a visit, it means you are doing some right and when they are renegotiating your commission, you are doing something right. I remember there was a time I was begging the airlines to come and visit me and they said to me, who are you but now, they keep knocking on my door because obviously, they are beginning to see an improvement. The brand FCM in terms of Travel Management Companies globally is top four.

What is your relationship with foreign airlines in terms of trapped funds and how can we stem this because definitely if it continues like that, what impact would it have on the travel business? What are the feedbacks you get from them?

I don’t want to lie, it has a huge effect. We can’t have synergy when the economy is not favourable to the citizens even with people with deep pockets. They make this money but they still want to spend it wisely. If I am spending N3 million on a business class ticket, it is not working. We are not a country where we earn in foreign currency. We earn in Naira. You are asking us to take our hard-earned money and spend it on a currency that the value does not match. The Naira is so weak against the Dollar. I got to a point where I was defending a ticket of N15 million for Business class and the person was going to two countries. I advised the person if he would not fly Economy class. The sale is coming to me but I could not imagine selling a ticket for N15 million. Where are we going? It got to a point where I started feeling for my client. It is not easy. When you speak with the airlines, you also understand where they are coming from. They are not ready to bulge until the Nigerian government does something. I have to keep selling their tickets. It is a function of let’s keep convincing these people that when they buy your ticket, don’t tell us they double-booked or overbooked, and let’s ensure they get good services.

 

Sikuade

Where do you see FCM, Finchglow in the next ten years?

Whoever is going to survive in the next ten years has to invest in technology. We need to start automating the process that we are doing manually, and more data so that we can understand consumer behavior and consumer purchases and trends. It is difficult now. If not, we are going to be redundant.

Wole Shadare