Keeping Shipshape

Wings Travel Management successfully manages five daily crew changeovers year round for a client plying a fleet of cargo vessels docked in remote places. Read on for the details of its bespoke ‘follow the sun’ servicing solution.

Wings Travel Management was appointed in 2017 to manage the complex logistics of one of the largest operators of vessels, providing customers with cargo transportation around the world. It transports commodities such as coal, grain, iron ore, steel and forest products.

The chartering and operation teams work with customers and engage the freight markets 24/7, 365 days a year, while actively monitoring and operating the company’s fleet. As far as travel is concerned, Wings handles travel for all the marine crew rotations which means arrangements for hundreds of crew members to travel to and from vessels all over the world. 

If that wasn’t challenging enough, the client is headquartered in the USA, but the majority of crew members are from Russia, the Ukraine and Georgia. Travel takes place from those countries to join vessels anywhere in the world. 

This arrangement obviously proposed a servicing challenge from a daytime perspective and means that the account could not be handled purely out of Wings’ office in Houston. 

The logistics are incredibly complex as on a daily basis Wings is managing travel for at least five crew changeovers which involves up to ten travellers boarding a vessel, and ten travellers leaving the same vessel. 

Furthermore, dates when vessels will dock in port are also constantly changing due to weather conditions, cargo delays, technical problems or just the complexity of managing crews joining from several locations when travel on route is delayed. 

Crew members originate from obscure destinations such as Krasnador in Russia, Novosibirsk in Siberia and Kherson in Ukraine. They need to join ships docked in remote places like Doula in Cameroon, Yang Tai in China, Namibia and Mozambique. Because most crew members are Russian, Georgian or Ukrainian passport holders, visa issues are commonplace. For example, they can’t transit via the USA, which makes travel to Central/South America practically impossible. Travel via Europe is extremely difficult without a Schengen visa which the majority of these seafarers do not hold due to the high cost of obtaining them.

Despite these challenges, Wings created a bespoke solution. Wings set up a ‘follow the sun’ servicing solution, taking advantage of the company’s wholly-owned operations in Durban, Houston, London and Singapore to provide 24-hour servicing across the world’s time zones. 

At 8.00am local time in Durban, South Africa, Wings’ consultants start providing service booking and amending travel requests until 10.30am. The advantage is that South Africa is in the same time zone as Russia. Servicing then switches to Wings in London at 8.30am local time where the London, UK operations manage the account through until 6:30pm. By then, it’s midday in Houston, where Wings’ US office is based. Servicing switches to the Houston team who continue until 5:00pm local time, when Wings’ office in Singapore then picks up, until Durban comes back online again the next morning. All bookings are managed via one phone number through Skype and one single email address to ensure the process is seamless and travel requests are centralised. 

Multi-country booking is another facet of this particular client’s set-up. Although the client is based in the US and serviced by Wings travel consultants around the globe, air travel reservations are not solely made in the Global Distribution System (GDS) in the USA. Wings’ consultants have the ability to book flights via the GDS in their own markets. This gives the company the edge when capturing local market fares and seats that may not be available due to capacity control in just one county. 

Wings operates on a single global platform so that wherever reservations are made, the system recognises the account as being based in the USA and converts the fare/cost accordingly. This process is 100% seamless and is a huge benefit to the client in terms of cost savings. A recent example would be where seats in a specific class (being the lowest), were not available to the consultant in the UK. The consultant switched immediately to the US system, checked available classes and was able to pick up that class at $125 cheaper fare.

Wings has implemented a ‘Marine Traffic’ tool that utilises GPS tracking of vessels. The tool can be tailored to advise of specific details pertaining to the vessels such as a change of course due to severe weather or a delay to the berthing schedule which keeps the vessel at anchor out at sea. The alert will be sent to the Wings operations mailbox, thus notifying the consultants. Wings can proactively take action by informing the client of revised pricing/flights/schedules etc for transferring crews to and from the vessel. This enables Wings to stay ahead of the game and manage costs more effectively. As most of the flights do not operate daily to many of the obscure destinations it is even more important to plan ahead as much as possible.

By proactively managing logistics in this way, and tailoring solutions to each client, Wings has secured an enviable slice of corporates operating in the oil and gas sector.

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