South Africa-based online travel agency Travelstart has expanded into the media business, with the launch of Travelstart Media Hub.

The new service aims to offer travel brands and destination marketing organizations access to Travelstart’s audience and channels: a reported 2 million direct visitors per month in South Africa, Nigeria, and the Middle East; and a further 50-million-plus worldwide through data partnerships.

The launch of the Travelstart Media Hub “is not a shift, it’s simply an extension of what we already do,” said Jerome Touze, managing director of Travelstart. Touze joined the company in mid-2018 from the Lastminute.com Group, where he had been chief operating officer of the social travel network WAYN.com. “We provide a platform for travelers, and 90 percent of what we do is centered around providing flight and hotel services. But why not, equally, allow us to offer a network for tourism companies and destinations?”

Why not indeed? Travelstart isn’t reinventing the wheel here, with the likes of the Expedia Group Media Solutions, TripAdvisor, and Lastminute.com’s Travel People offering a similar suite of services.

Travelstart marks 20 years in business this year, and the Travelstart Media Hub is a subtle evolution into not simply processing travel bookings, but actively impacting consumer behavior through more travel advertising. The site dominates the online travel space in South Africa, claiming 70 percent of all online bookings and roughly 25 percent of all leisure travel sold.

“We have the power in our hands to influence the travel decision, to educate the market and influence them to consider new destinations,” said Touze. “It’s completely complementary to what we already do, and from a business standpoint it’s extremely profitable. Aside from our established audience, we have our own production and content resources in-house, so we can leverage those.”

Convenience is one selling point, but for clients the real value will be the ability to accurately track how — or if — advertising spend translates into confirmed bookings.

“The beauty of the online travel space is that there is a complete correlation with bookings,” said Touze. “The content is relevant, because it’s a travel audience, but we will be able to directly measure, in a very specific way, how we are able to influence the level of arrivals. Our performance-driven campaigns compare average level of bookings pre- and post-campaign.”

One of the Media Hub’s first clients is South African Tourism. The tourism board’s InstaMeet, hosted by Travelstart, sees local and international influencers creating content at 25 locations around South Africa, a subtle nod to South Africa celebrating 25 years of democratic rule on April 27.

“We could replicate this kind of content with almost anybody, but it’s the convergence of content, audience, and packaged deals that really come together. It gives a point of transaction. It closes the link between content and conversion,” explained Bronwen Auret, general manager, brand and marketing, for South African Tourism. “They’re in the audience business, the media business, and the data business. Strategically, from a destination marketing organization perspective, it makes a lot of sense.”

The second launch client is Norwegian Cruise Lines, which is taking advantage of Travelstart’s expanding team of in-house consultants.

“From a cost point of view it was attractive to gain a whole new distribution channel into the South African market,” said Jane Davidson, director of Development Promotions, one of the sales agents for Norwegian in South Africa. “They have huge numbers on their database, great social media, and great traction. They also open a number of other media channels, which — in the future — makes it more affordable for us to utilize their volumes to access other media such as radio or television.”

The Norwegian partnership includes the creation of a micro-site, with content and coding managed by Travelstart’s in-house team.

“It works for us because we don’t have to dedicate our own resources to it, and fulfillment is handled by Travelstart’s office,” added Davidson. “We’re not trying to shift business away from one particular channel, we want to reach more consumers and grow the market.”

For Touze, SAT and Norwegian are the tip of the iceberg: “We are starting with the obvious — airlines, cruise, and tourist boards — but as long we have content of relevance to the consumer journey, we can roll this out across any travel-related vertical, whether it’s travel cards or insurance.”

Of course, Travelstart will have to prove that it can produce what it promises to advertisers in terms of effectively reaching an audience.

Richard Holmes is a Skift contributor based in Cape Town, South Africa.

Photo Credit: Visitors play beach tennis and sit beneath parasols on Lagoon beach in Cape Town, South Africa, the kind of travelers Travelstart's new media hub aims to target. Kevin Sutherland / Bloomberg