Insights 21 December 2018 By: Ciaran Wilson

Open Skies and Digital Commerce: Takeaways from the 50th AFRAA Annual General Assembly

It was our company’s second year attending the African Airlines Association (AFRAA) Annual General Assembly (AGA) – this year hosted by Royal Air Maroc under the theme: “Strengthening African aviation in a liberalized environment.” Among the airlines in attendance that I had the chance to speak with were Tassili Airlines (Algerian), Hahn Air (German), and Air Senegal (the nation’s flag carrier).

I heard many of the same challenges as last year, particularly when it comes to digital and mobile technology and payments. Airlines are struggling with payment transaction costs, and despite a more liberalized environment in the skies (more on that here), they are finding it difficult to take a more “liberalized” approach to payments and digital commerce in general.

Even with the right route network and positioning in the market, an airline can face headwinds if it isn’t effectively able to process digital transactions in the geographies they serve. There are countless booking channels and alternative payment methods (APMs) across and outside Africa, and airlines need new digital strategies and partners to adapt to new market realities. That much was clear at this year’s 50th Annual General Assembly.

Working Together across Africa for a Better Passenger Experience

The other major topic we discussed in Morocco was the need for African airlines to work together across the continent to provide a better and more consistent passenger experience. The Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) “Open Skies” initiative by the African Union (AU) should pave the way for improved connectivity between markets, reduced ticket prices, and a better passenger experience overall.

But as discussed at the conference, there are still African airlines hesitant to join SAATM. That, unfortunately, reinforces the fragmentation of airline commerce between countries and continents and makes it unnecessarily difficult for passengers flying to, from or within Africa.

Our main goal as a member of the African Airlines Association is to build relationships with carriers in the region, helping them approach digital transactions (especially mobile booking and payments) as an area for sales enablement and profitability, by providing a more seamless and consistent customer and passenger experience across all digital channels.

Payments Are Key to Digital Commerce for Airlines

More African airlines are starting to think about which payment methods are most important in the markets they serve, and many are adding support for global wallets such as Apple Pay and Alipay.

My colleague Noel Connolly joined Wirecard on a panel to discuss the need for a clear digital strategy among African airlines. He emphasized how mobile is the growth channel and, in Africa as everywhere else, if users can’t access their preferred method of payment, it makes the likelihood of an abandoned purchase even higher. The customer and passenger experience demands a seamless payment flow in whatever channel the customer prefers.

African airlines are keen to put in place new mobile solutions, but first response seems always on the commercials or small airlines that need to manage costs closely. We can help these airlines by providing payments support that streamlines the path to purchase and more efficiently turns “lookers” into “bookers.” We can also provide airlines with a feature-rich mobile app that is user-friendly and can be used to enhance their sales numbers, while also shifting sales from the GDS to their direct channels.

The liberalization of air travel is making travel easier throughout the African continent, and that is precisely what CellPoint Mobile supports through the mobile solutions we provide.