For non-governmental organizations, arranging air travel on a limited budget can be difficult. This is especially true during natural disasters and humanitarian emergencies, when infrastructure damage – not to mention security risks – add to the challenges aid workers face once they hit the ground.
Take the 2010 Haitian earthquake, for example. Secouristes Sans Frontières and Corps Mondial de Secours could not immediately join the international relief and rescue efforts because their scheduled flight to Port-au-Prince was canceled. Thanks to Raptim International Travel, the two groups were able to book alternative flights and help to save lives after arriving in the Caribbean island nation.
Raptim is a travel agency that caters to medium-size and large humanitarian and religious organizations. Founded in 1949 by a group of Dutch missionaries with the specific purpose of helping missionaries travel around the world, the company now offers services designed to make air travel easier, safer and more affordable for individuals and organizations with a mission to serve others.
Raptim’s mission of “serving those who serve the world” is the company’s way of staying true to its roots.
Raptim maintains more than 55 special contracts with airline companies around the world, allowing the company to offer discounted airfares for the exclusive use of their clients in the aid community.
The company’s airfare rates, which clients can access through one-on-one service from their international travel consultants or through an online booking tool, are all-inclusive and fixed, unlike those of traditional booking agents whose fares keep changing by the day. Raptim tries to make its airfares consistent for at least a year to help clients on humanitarian missions make realistic estimates when planning their travel itineraries, said Kimberly Tiberia, senior account manager at Raptim International Travel USA.
Access to a variety of discounted airfares is a major draw for Raptim’s clients, which are mostly donor-funded organizations operating on limited budgets. The savings accrued on administrative and operational costs, including travel, enable these groups to allocate more money for their actual field work.
“Having them working with us over the past many years, I would say [Raptim helped us save] an easy million dollars by the savings they have given us. And for World Vision and our donors, that is very valuable,” said Jane Bankester, global travel director of World Vision.
Raptim provides an extended ticketing window so their clients can reserve seats without paying immediately. Like traditional travel agencies, the company also allows clients to cancel or change flights should they need to revise their travel itineraries. But Raptim’s rebooking fees are lower than those requested by mainstream travel sites, Tiberia said.
Another way Raptim helps its clients save money is by arranging free transport of excess luggage on some carriers. When SSF and CMS flew to Haiti after the earthquake, Air Caraïbes waived fees for the staff’s luggage and the cargo they brought back to France. The two organizations were also allowed to carry as much as 60 kilograms of luggage per person by Thai Airways when they sent teams to Myanmar in the aftermath of cyclone Nargis in 2008.
Raptim also helps arrange hotel accommodation and car rentals. And, the company offers a travel insurance plan exclusively crafted to suit the humanitarian and religious community.
The company’s knack for providing flexible services at reasonable costs has won praise from the aid community.
“I have always found Raptim to be very efficient, service-oriented and with a reasonable cost,” said Mats Ahnlund, acting executive director of the International AIDS Society in Geneva. “Raptim’s historically good and its special relations with many airlines have often been very helpful. What I would like to highlight is their flexibility and personalized services.”
Ahlund said he had been a frequent Raptim client even before joining IAS, which first partnered with the travel agency to bring scholars to an international AIDS conference in Bangkok in 2004.
Personalized, 24/7 services
Raptim has a round-the-clock assistance desk that clients can call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The desk is manned by Raptim’s own staff, all well-versed in the nuances of humanitarian travel and aid work, Tiberia said.
Raptim’s account managers provide an additional level of support to the company’s clients. They regularly conduct travel seminars that can be broad (and cover various aspects of humanitarian travel) or specific (and zero in on a topic such as safety, for instance).
Raptim is also dedicated to assuring the safety of clients.
World Vision has relied repeatedly on Raptim to get staff out of harm’s way, particularly during strikes, coup attempts and other emergencies, according to Bankester. She recalled how earlier this year, Raptim was able to get her out of Europe at the height of the travel crisis caused by the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano. The president and vice president of Raptim USA personally made sure the World Vision team was able to travel out of Europe fast and safely even after most airlines canceled their flights, Bankester said.
Raptim’s expansive contacts and good relationships with airlines allow the company to book last-minute flights when necessary. Restoration DFW, a church organization in Texas, is among the companies that have benefited, when nine of its members were stranded in Kenya after their flight home was canceled. A Raptim travel consultant booked them on another flight bound for the United States within 24 hours.
Raptim’s clients are mostly start-ups or medium-sized organizations that are looking for personalized services beyond what they can get from regular commercial travel agencies or online booking services, Tiberia said. But Raptim is also capable of handling the travel requirements of large organizations.
The company caters exclusively to nonprofit organizations involved in humanitarian missions and religious groups that go on mission trips. In the United States, Raptim requires potential clients to show proof that they are registered as 501c(3) organizations. Non-U.S. groups are asked to submit an affidavit of purpose.
Individual consultants can also avail of Raptim’s discounted airfares if they can provide documentation that they work for a humanitarian or religious nonprofit group. Raptim has a special services department that processes and approves clients.
At present, Raptim’s international headquarters are in the Netherlands; offices are scattered across Europe and the United States.