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The Importance of Not Being Earnest

Having fun should be an essential part of your business.

Richard Branson

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Richard Branson

The four Ps – people, product, price and promotion – are often cited as the keys to a successful business. Yet this list omits a vital ingredient that has characterised Virgin companies throughout our 40 years: Fun, with a capital F.

When we started Virgin Atlantic in 1984, we had some great people and a lot of good ideas about how to do things differently. Sadly, we did not have a lot of money to take it to the streets. Compared to the giant establishment players of the time – TWA, Pan-Am and British Airways – we had a tiny fleet, if one plane qualifies as a fleet, and a miniscule advertising budget.

We could not do much about the single plane – leased from a generous man at Boeing. We had to make the most of our meagre marketing money. At the urging of the late Sir Freddie Laker, who made an art form of grabbing the limelight for his airline, I quickly became a willing victim in all kinds of wild and crazy adventures to promote the fledgling Virgin Atlantic. You couldn’t buy a quarter-page ad on the front of The New York Times, but when my sinking boat or crashing balloon just happened to feature the distinctive Virgin logo, there we were.

We also started to run some funny, pretty direct and usually highly topical advertisements to grab the public’s attention.

Such ‘in your face’ ads were largely unknown in the stodgy world of airlines, so our approach quickly gained us notoriety, press coverage and, above all, visibility. The humour stood out against our moribund competitors, and soon Virgin Atlantic itself – not just the ads – became synonymous with a cheeky and upstart personality and, more importantly, a fresh, different approach to commercial aviation.

Ahead of the game

Marketing teams in London and New York frequently reacted quickly to the day’s news and, within 24 hours, placed tactical-response advertisements in key markets. The day after John Sununu, then White House chief of staff, was castigated for using public money for a limousine to take him on personal trips, Virgin ran a one-off ad saying if only he had booked Virgin Atlantic, he would have gotten the limo for free!

When General Manuel Noriega, the former leader of Panama, was extradited to Miami for trial, we ran a big picture of him, with the caption: “Only one person has flown to Miami cheaper than on Virgin Atlantic!” Sometimes the ads were close to the bone, especially when tweaking the tail of our favourite adversaries, like British Airways. Always, they were irreverent and cheeky. The ads gave the airline a real personality in its early years, which was a key to its success and growth.

The small touches

Our staff also liked the humour, and the sense of fun. They felt proud to be associated with a company that made people smile and that was seen as a good place to work. We made sure the same spirit ran through everything we did; it was not confined to the cute advertisements. It was crucial that we created an enjoyable atmosphere for crew and passengers alike, at 30 000 feet.

Little touches signified you were on a Virgin flight. Underneath the salt and pepper shakers, modelled on mini-airplanes, we stamped “Pinched from Virgin Atlantic.” The butter knife was engraved with the words “stainless steal.” We put a bar in the upper class cabin so people could chat and socialise – after all, travelling should be fun!

To entertain our passengers, we were the first to put in seat-back televisions. We served ice cream in the middle of the flights. We did everything we could to lighten the mood and the experience. Twenty-five years later, the airline retains that same sense of fun and the ability to surprise and make people smile.

Taking risks

When British Airways sponsored London’s Millennium Wheel in the late 1990s, they planned to make a big splash for the official opening. On the day the wheel was to be raised, the engineers had great trouble lifting it. We jumped at the chance to cause a stir.

We scrambled a small airship to drag a banner across London’s skyline emblazoned with “BA can’t get it up.” It was cheeky, all right, and we – not BA – grabbed the headlines that night.

This sense of humour and risk-taking has infused many of our other businesses. Virgin Mobile Canada produced a series of memorable advertisements poking fun at famous people. When Elliot Spitzer, the former governor of New York, resigned over a sex scandal, where he was identified as ‘client No. 9’, our ads that week showed a picture of Spitzer with a thought bubble proclaiming: “I’m tired of being treated like a number.”

The ads were all about Virgin Mobile’s personalised service. They went on to say: “At Virgin Mobile, you’re more than just a number. When you call us, we’ll treat you like a person, not a client. Whether you’re No. 9 or No. 900, you’ll get hooked up with somebody who’ll finally treat you just how you want to be treated.” Another ad in the series showed Hillary Clinton with a thought bubble saying: “I wish my bill wasn’t so out of control.” These ads ran for only short periods of time, but they were picked up in the media and raised the profile of the company and the service.

At the heart of it

My books’ titles continue the theme – Losing My Virginity, Screw It, Let’s Do It and Business Stripped Bare.Publishers, however, vetoed Getting It Up for my latest book on the history of flight and went for Reach for the Skies. We’ll see how it sells!

Over the years I have launched our companies while dressed in costumes to amuse our staff, our partners and the press. I have thrown myself off tall buildings, hung off bridges, driven tanks into Times Square and plunged (usually involuntarily) into oceans – all to grab attention and reinforce a sense of fun.

All of it has definitely made an impression and infused that ‘Virgin feeling’ into new ventures. While it is not enough just to be the joker in the pack, if your service and product excel, then making people smile will help you establish a place in their hearts as well as their minds. Try taking yourself and your business less seriously. You may be surprised that many others will take you more seriously.

Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active. He is the author of "Business Stripped Bare: Adventures of a Global Entrepreneur."

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Company Posts

Travel At The Touch Of A Button

The revolutionary Travelit app has been developed for the global marketplace to meet your business travel needs.

Tourvest

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Travelit has launched an easy-to-use mobile app that simplifies the trip approval process, provides a full trip itinerary and assists in management of travel expenses.

“The app is designed in South Africa, for the African and global marketplace,” says Wayne Muirhead Chief Sales Officer at Travelit. “We have developed the app locally with our own developers, and opted not to use a white labelling solution.”

The app interface enables the requirements of travellers, approvers, users, as well as finance and procurement role players to be met so each trip is seamlessly planned and executed.

Stress-free financial administration

“Expense management is an integral part of the complete travel cost; businesses want to understand their complete travel bill,” says Wayne. This is why the app incorporates features that facilitate:

  • Capturing of photographs of receipts real-time
  • Immediate allocation of expenses to the correct description
  • Uploading expenses for workflow approval
  • Attachment of an expense to a travel trip, or generating a non-travel related expense.

Simplified trip approval process

In addition, approvers’ features enable simple visibility into the trip’s cost and details:

  • Approval of booking requests
  • Trip confirmation once trip has been successfully approved
  • Managing alerts — approval notifications, pre-trip notification as well as travel notifications
  • Out of office activation for approvers.

Related: How Travelit Makes Travelling Affordable For Small Businesses

Trip management made easy

With Travelit’s new app, travellers have the ability to update, create new profiles directly from their phones and update and store all their information, including:

  • Updating of profile details
  • Personal information
  • Visas, passports, meal types, seating preferences
  • Loyalty programmes.

As a traveller, when you are travelling, you require information, updates and access to your travel documentation in real time. The Trip Manager function provides you with this through the following functions:

  • View current, pending and past trips
  • Trip itinerary information
  • View trips that are awaiting approval
  • View supplier vouchers
  • Locate properties via the Map option
  • Boarding passes are available
  • Real-time alerts to travellers.

Related: Save Up To 25% On Your Travel Costs

Happy travels

“We have done a soft launch with the app and offered it to strategic users and clients within our ecosystem,” says Wayne. These corporates have enjoyed the functions within the app, such as:

  • Real time information for the traveller (itineraries, vouchers, boarding passes)
  • Approval notifications and the approval capability
  • Notifications
  • Contact information for the consultants after-hours, and assistance
  • Access to the traveller profile to ensure their data is updated and correct
  • Check-in to the airline.

The Travelit app is available in the Google Play Store and iOS Store. Travelit will make monthly app releases by offering users ongoing functionality and features.

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Company Posts

Access To The Best In Travel Excellence

As a global company, business travel plays an important part in Hatch’s successful operation. Yolandi Coertze, facilities manager at Hatch, explains how switching to Travelit changed the way they travelled forever — for the better.

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Multinational engineering consultancy, Hatch requires a travel partner that provides easy access to its regional and international offices for meetings, conferences and client engagements. This is why Hatch chose Travelit, and has since experienced reliable and consistently superior service, says Yolandi Coertze, facilities manager.

“Travelit allows us to have the flexibility in terms of work sharing with global offices and makes it possible for us to attend to our client requirements in a professional and efficient manner.”

Here’s how partnering with Travelit has helped Hatch soar as a market leader.

What have Hatch’s biggest business travel challenges 
been to date?

Our biggest challenge has been to provide our travellers with an easy booking solution that gives them the best options available at a glance, in line with our travel policy for their travel arrangements, without taking up valuable time when booking their travel. In addition, managing cost against convenience and ease of travel is an ongoing challenge.

Why did you start using Travelit?

We were in the market for an online booking solution. Travelit made an impressive proposal by building the system around our specific needs and requirements. They incorporated our travel policy guidelines, while offering us an easy-to-use booking system which decreased our monthly expenditure. The platform also allows us to manage our travel more effectively.

Related: How Travelit Makes Travelling Affordable For Small Businesses

How has Travelit made doing business easier?

We have seen a big change in travel behaviour and travellers are more aware of unnecessary costs that can be avoided when booking travel. Travel booking time (once travel bookers became used to the system) has also decreased, which allows travel bookers to utilise the extra time 
more efficiently.

What benefits have you experienced as a Travelit client?

We have seen a big decrease in our missed savings, which means that our travellers are booking in line with our travel policy by utilising the parameters that have been set up in Travelit. Our contracts with certain suppliers are also maintained on the Travelit platform, which allows us to utilise the lowest rate to keep in line with our travel policy. The ease of booking online at any time when travel is required is an additional benefit. We have reduced our paperwork by being online, and uploading data into our accounting system has made the process simple and efficient.

Why would you recommend Travelit to other businesses?

Travelit is efficient in terms of booking travel, cost-effective and allows for flexibility where required.

What makes Travelit the best in the market?

  • Multi-leg international routings
  • Travel behaviour reports
  • Alternative solution to bill-backs
  • Tracked booking patterns
  • Accommodation feedback solution
  • Comprehensive fare calculator.

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Company Posts

Beyond Business Class

RwandAir, the national carrier of the Republic of Rwanda, is reputed for its excellent on-time performance, customer service and safety – and it has one of the youngest fleets on the African continent.

RwandAir

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Vital Stats

RwandAir has just celebrated yet another big milestone as the airline continues to expand its network. “Our aim is to provide to our customers seamless and better connections on the continent and beyond. Abuja and Cape Town come in as a boost to the different economies in terms of tourism and trade on one hand and enhance bilateral partnership between our countries on the other,” beams Chance Ndagano, previous CEO of RwandAir.

RwandAir, an IATA member, recently renewed its IOSA certification and has been ISAGO and EASA certified. With a fleet of twelve aircraft, including two wide-body Airbus A330 acquired last year, the airline currently reaches out to 26 destinations across East, Central, West and Southern Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Asia.

Related: ‘Shark Tank’ Investors Reveal Top 5 Tips To Make Your Business Famous

Rapid African advancement

Launched in December 2002 as RwandAir Express, RwandAir is among the continent’s the fastest-growing airlines, despite its recent entry into the market. Since its first flight took off, RwandAir has boasted unsurpassed, safe and reliable service, operating from the city of Kigali.

The Rwandan airline aims to connect Rwanda with the world and vice versa. This goal is being achieved through its network that currently covers a number of cities throughout Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. RwandAir’s most popular flight routes include flights from Johannesburg to Dubai, London and Mumbai.

A year of successes

Recently, RwandAir started flights from Kigali to Mumbai, London (Gatwick) and Brussels as well as Dakar from its new hub in Cotonou. The airline also introduced flights to Abidjan, Libreville and Brazzaville from its Cotonou hub. In May 2017 the airline started flying direct from Cape Town to Harare.

This year the airline will be introducing new routes to Addis, Tel Aviv, China and New York.

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