A BRIEF HISTORY OF WINGS

Wings has carved a niche in the market over the last 26 years for managing complex travel and support services for customers globally, in particular to developing markets and high risk destinations. Founded in 1992 in Johannesburg, the company’s global reach has grown from one office and a handful of staff to span North America, South America, UK/Europe, Africa, Middle East and Asia Pacific where the company has 17 wholly owned and managed regional operations. Today Wings Travel Management employs almost 400 people around the world and has a global turnover of GBP £250M.

Founder and CEO Tony Sofianos has been instrumental in spearheading Wings Travel Management’s global growth and positioning the company as experts in providing high-touch bespoke services to clients across diverse sectors, such as oil and gas, marine,  security, specialist finance and engineering industries, where travel is a critical part of their business model.

 

Wings’ story began in 1992 when, having just graduated with a degree in finance, Tony established Acropolis Travel together with his mother and two aunts. Based in Johannesburg, his business was predominantly leisure travel, booking holidays for family and friends in the local Greek community.

 

But Tony spotted a gap in the local South African market for providing niche business travel services and in 1994 began operating as Wings Corporate Services. A leading global management consulting firm became Wings’ first corporate client after Tony positioned an office right next door to the firm’s African headquarters in Johannesburg.

 

In 1996, Tony first discovered his passion for the oil and gas sector and was the driving force behind courting and winning business from large multinational oil and gas companies, initially in West Africa before setting his sights on the rest of the globe. At this point, Tony recognised that in order to serve the oil and gas industry effectively, as well as expand in the worldwide corporate sector, a global presence for Wings was a prerequisite.

 

In 1998 Wings Corporate Services expanded in South Africa with a new operation in Cape Town. That was followed by the launch of WingsNaledi in 2000, a specialist division providing travel to public sector entities.  Further growth in South Africa came in 2003 with the launch of an operation in Durban to better serve the marine industry, after Wings acquired Global Marine Travel.

 

International expansion began in 2002 when Wings established a London operation.  Next came Houston, Texas in 2006 with the acquisition of marine specialist, Scandic World Travel. In the same year Wings also acquired Travel Alliance in London, a 30-year old traditional TMC, to further cement Wings’ operation in the UK capital. More expansion came in 2008 with an office in Aberdeen in Scotland, followed by Dubai and Angola in 2010. The company rebranded as Wings Travel Management in 2011.

 

Expansion in Brazil followed in 2013 with the acquisition of V7 Viagens – another strategically important location for Wings’ oil and gas clients. The following year, in 2014, Wings opened an operation in Lagos, Nigeria after a decade of servicing clients in the area remotely via other Wings’ operations. Establishing an office in Nigeria brought significant entry barriers – such as BSP not accepting credit cards, prohibitive bonding requirements and high operating costs – however it was hugely important that Wings established a wholly-owned base in the country in order to provide consistency of service, quality and data integrity, as well as local content compliance, local invoicing and payment solutions, which are fundamental requirements of many of our clients in the region.

 

In 2015 Wings acquired 40-year old Johannesburg-based Michelle’s Travel, one of the leading and longest-established independent TMCs on the African continent, in order to pursue a strategy of growing Wings corporate client business after the down turn in the oil and gas sector.

 

In 2016 Wings acquired Travelnet Stavanger in Norway, another key market for the oil and gas sector with close ties to Aberdeen, where Wings had an established operation. In the same year Wings commenced doing business in Saudi Arabia, strengthening the company’s presence in the Middle East significantly and enabling staff to provide more localised support to oil and gas clients in this region

 

Also in 2016, Wings acquired London-based Grosvenor Travel Management, giving Wings a consolidated UK annual turnover close to GBP £100M. This strategic takeover has significantly strengthened Wings UK presence and supports the company’s strategy of growing business in its corporate sector. This acquisition also laid the foundation for the transition of the global headquarters to London.

 

In 2017 Wings established an operation in Mozambique – a critically-important region for the energy sector – to support clients who are moving into this market, following the discovery of some 85 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves in 2011, said to be the most significant find in a decade.

 

Also in 2017, Wings commenced its first operation in Asia Pacific with the acquisition of Olympia Travel & Tours in Singapore. The significant new operation gives Wings the platform not only to grow its business in Asia Pacific but also the operational capabilities to fully service clients – both oil & gas and corporate – across the region via a hub and spoke model.

 

Wings Travel Management has grown significantly from its start as a small family business. Today the company has a turnover of £250m globally, it operates 17 offices in 12 countries over 6 continents and employs almost 400 people and continues to specialise in oil and gas, marine, corporate and government sectors.

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