Africa’s corporate travel sector is increasingly keen to take advantage of the benefits of e-commerce and online systems, according to an independent white paper commissioned by Amadeus.
“The Digital Savannah: Africa’s e-commerce promise” is an in-depth look at trends and opportunities in the e-commerce space, especially in the context of corporate travel booking and payment systems.

Market research company World Wide Worx, led by Arthur Goldstuck, polled more than 1 000 businesses across the continent to gauge their use of, and interest in, the opportunity presented by e-commerce.

“The research reveals a strong interest in online travel booking, with the roughly 50% of companies already doing so expected to grow to 70% in the short term,” comments Goldstuck.

The white paper identifies five trends shaping decision making and consumer behaviour as they relate to online shopping preferences and travel booking:

* Satisfying a special appetite – electronic commerce is growing in Africa, but not in exactly the same mould as developed economies. This is largely due to infrastructure and capacity constraints, but also because the concept is still developing its own personality that speaks to the way Africans wish to purchase goods and services.

* Africa is not a country – the differences in preferences, cultural tendencies and priorities are a hallmark of the e-commerce landscape. Regional and country-specific preferences mean that the trends overall are visible throughout the continent, but to varying degrees in individual countries. The mobile phone, however, is one constant across all territories.

* Ring it up – lacking conventional online access, millions of Africans have turned to their phones to take advantage of increasingly sophisticated mobile payment and banking services. Not surprisingly, this is revolution is being led by the mobile networks that have a strong physical presence even in the most remote areas, as well as access to millions of existing customers.

* Have passport, will travel – African business travel is strong and growing, with a preference for online booking. More than half of the companies surveyed have a significant international and cross-border business footprint that requires considerable air travel. The findings again display a diversity of preferences between the countries, although as many as 52% of companies prefer to handle such travel bookings online.

* Strong corporate policies – companies indicate a focus on centralised travel booking and corporate policies that drive their buying behaviour. With more than 80% of companies reporting strict policies and control over travel. One of the telling findings of the research is that as many as 83% of companies centralise their travel procurement, although only 66% of companies do so via a travel agency.

“We are committed to facilitating discussion on key industry trends around how the future of travel in Africa will be shaped,” says Santiago Jimenez, director: sub-Saharan Africa at Amadeus.

“This inaugural study out of our Regional Solution Centre shows that, despite the disparate preferences, environments and available infrastructure across the different countries, the overall potential for e-commerce is strong.”

Goldstuck concludes that the common theme of “Africa is not a country” is advice well heeded as clearly no one solution suits all countries, consumers or companies.