Todd Neuman began his career in the airline industry in 1979 in Chicago, working for Delta Air Lines while also attending college and earning certification as a private pilot. He is a graduate of the University of Dubuque in Dubuque, Iowa, with a degree in Business and Aviation Administration.
An airline industry veteran with more than 30 years experience, Todd has held senior management positions with World Travel Holdings, a leisure travel company based in Burlington, Massachusetts. Prior to his engagement with World Travel Holdings, he also served 22 years with US Airways in several management positions in the sales and marketing departments. During his tenure there, Todd was instrumental in business development to support the airline’s aggressive expansion into the Caribbean, Latin America, and Europe.
Neuman was appointed as Vice President, Commercial in North America for South African Airways (SAA) in April 2013. Based at the carrier’s North American headquarters in Plantation (Fort Lauderdale), Florida, Todd oversees functions for passenger sales and pricing, marketing, e-commerce, public relations, and social media. Todd began his career with South African Airways in 2006, as Vice President of Sales, responsible for passenger sales strategies and business development. Todd currently resides in Miami, Florida.
Travel Research Online (TRO): What motivated you personally to pursue a career in the travel industry?
Todd Neuman (TN): I have had a life-long passion for the aviation and airline business and have always worked towards the goal of a career in the airline industry. I love airplanes and can proudly proclaim myself as an “airline geek”. Initially, I had a desire to be a commercial pilot, but in later years decided to keep my airline career more “grounded”, with focus on sales, marketing, and customer service.
TRO: Tell us about your day-to-day role at South African Airways (SAA).
TN: My role as Vice President of Commercial for SAA in North America does provide for a lot of variety. My colleagues and I oversee marketing in North America, which include pricing, advertising, promotions, digital marketing, e-commerce, social media, and public relations. Our goal is to position South African Airways as the best way to travel to Southern Africa from North America, while promoting the unique onboard SAA experience.
While I also have responsibilities for sales, Mr. Stroebel Bekker, our Vice President of Sales in North America oversees that particular channel, with a primary role of business development through our travel partners in North America.
TRO: What sets SAA apart from other airlines traveling to Africa?
TN: SAA is one of the oldest airlines in the world, having started service 82 years ago. We have been serving the U.S. for 47 years and currently offers the most daily service between the country and South Africa, including the only nonstop between New York-JFK and Johannesburg, which is the largest source market from the U.S. SAA also operates daily flights from Washington, D.C.-Dulles Airport to West Africa, with service four days per week to Accra, Ghana and three days per week to Dakar, Senegal.
In addition to the level of service that we offer from the U.S., we believe one of the most significant strengths of SAA is our extensive network throughout sub-Saharan Africa. SAA and our regional partners, South African Express, Airlink, and Mango fly to over 65 destinations on the continent. Our route network provides the convenience of online connections and a seamless travel experience for our customers between the U.S. to popular business and leisure destinations throughout Africa.
TRO: What can travel agents expect when initiating their relationship with SAA to book their clients on their flight?
TN: We believe first and foremost, that our travel partners can feel very confident in selling SAA, based on our strong reputation for safety and high-quality service. We have been in business for 82 years and have consistently been ranked as Africa’s most awarded airline for offering world-class service and warm South African hospitality to our customers. SAA is the only Skytrax 4-star awarded airline flying between the U.S. and Africa and has been honored with the distinction as “Best Airline to Africa” for 13 consecutive years.
Our travel partners are very important to SAA, accounting for nearly 85% of the business generated from North America. In the case of both business and leisure travel, when it comes to booking Africa, many consumers still rely on the knowledge and expertise of professional travel consultants. We have a team of eight Sales Directors in North America who are dedicated to collaborating with our travel partners to provide support, education, and expertise on the destinations we serve, while assisting them in further developing business to Africa. In addition, SAA has Inside Sales and Group Sales Departments that are located in our North America Regional Office in Plantation, Florida to offer additional sales support.
Also, as the national carrier, our role at South African Airways is to not only promote our service and sell seats, but to be a catalyst for growth and further development of tourism and business commerce in the destinations we serve in Africa. In line with this objective, we have developed strong partnerships with South African Tourism and other destination tourism organizations on the continent, as well as hotels, safari lodges, destination management companies, and business organizations to help foster new business opportunities.
TRO: What services or aspects of SAA do you want more travel agents and consumers to be more aware of?
TN: We feel we have built a strong reputation for providing our customers with a high-level of service that is uniquely South African. Our customer’s African travel experience begins onboard our aircraft, before they even arrive in Africa. Our onboard service is designed to deliver the flavor of Africa, with specially designed menus by renowned South African Chefs in our Premium Business Class, and complimentary award-winning South African wines that are served to all passengers. Additionally, our on-demand audio and visual entertainment features a selection of African-themed movies, music, and destination programming.
The majority of SAA’s international flights to and from our Johannesburg hub are in excess of 12 hours in duration, so our modern aircraft are specially designed with passenger comfort in mind for long-haul travel. SAA was one of the first airlines in the world to install 180-degree lie-flat seats in our Premium Business Class cabins that are fitted with a mattress pad and thick duvet for extra comfort. Economy Class customers on SAA can enjoy a little extra legroom with our aircraft configured with up to 34 inches of pitch (legroom), which is 2-3 more inches of legroom than many of our competitors, or the industry standard.
However, in addition to our high service levels, onboard comfort, extensive route network and unique South African style, one of the key sales and marketing messages that we are currently communicating to both our travel partners and consumers is the great value that South Africa currently offers. With the very favorable exchange rate between the U.S. Dollar and the South African Rand, never before has the destination been more affordable for American travelers. Now is a great time to visit South Africa and it offers one of the best values of any destination in the world.
TRO: How have you seen SAA grow and change since you were appointed Vice President of Commercial in North America in 2013?
TN: Since joining SAA, we have added nonstop service on a year-round basis between New York-JFK and our hub in Johannesburg. This flight has been very popular with both business and leisure customers, and is conveniently timed to provide onward connections to our network through Southern and East Africa. SAA also expanded service to West Africa in August 2015, with the addition of flights between Washington, D.C. and Accra, Ghana. We have also grown our footprint in North America through the development of a code share and interline agreement with United Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Air Canada, American Airlines, and Virgin America, to provide more convenient options for customers traveling between the U.S., Canada, and Africa through our New York and Washington, D.C. gateways.
TRO: What is your favorite travel destination to date?
TN: I would be remiss if I did not say that Africa is one of my favorite travel destinations. In the early 2000’s I was invited to visit South Africa for the first time. I went on the trip and spent 10 days in Cape Town, the wine region, and on safari in Kruger National Park. I came back from that trip and could not stop talking about South Africa and, in particular, the beautiful scenery, rich culture, the warm and friendly people, and of course, the spectacular wildlife. It was the experience that I enjoyed in South Africa that helped draw me to South African Airways, five years later.
TRO: What is on the horizon for South African Airways?
TN: As part our ongoing commitment educational efforts for the trade, in early 2016 will we be introducing a new travel partner web portal that will be a valuable resource for information on South African Airways. The new website will feature product information on SAA, as well as information on destinations we serve throughout Africa, and will provide our travel partners with the tools they need to sell SAA and further develop their business to Africa. We are also planning a series of travel partner webinars in 2016, hosted by TRO, and in collaboration with our leisure division, South African Airways Vacations (SAA Vacations).
In 2016, SAA and our regional partners will continue to expand our route network in Africa with new service between Johannesburg and Abuja, Nigeria, beginning January 26, and Airlink will introduce new nonstop service between Cape Town and Maun, Botswana, the gateway to the Okavango Delta, on March 12.
For more information on Todd Neuman and South African Airways, visit them online at www.flysaa.com.