And that’s a wrap! Another year gone by and a bit of a mixed bag. Here’s to the year that was…
At the end of 2016, the Flight Centre Travel Group (FCTG) joined ASATA, and in January of this year, its MD Andrew Stark joined the ASATA board, along with Holiday Factory Director Jackie Turnbull.
It was with great sadness that ASATA also shared the news of the passing of two industry icons during this month: Usman Ahmed of Flywell Travel and Izy Etkin of Wings Travel Management.
The controversial UBC requirements for travellers with children continued to cause havoc for South African and foreign families travelling together.
February also saw US President Donald Trump signing an executive order imposing a 90-day ban on visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries. The ban was suspended just a week later.
Various airlines suspended operations to Abuja, Nigeria, as a result of upgrades and repairs to the runway, while Arik Air suspended its flights to Johannesburg.
The South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) first published ASATA’s application to be recognised as a professional body in the Government Gazette for comment.
Thanks to ASATA, the possible (self) regulation of South Africa’s travel industry took a step forward as ASATA embarked on an intensive research study with EXP Regulatory Compliance Consulting to review how various industries and countries have tackled the issue of regulation and to identify best-practice examples that South Africa’s travel industry could emulate.
Furthermore, ASATA, as part of the World Travel Agent Associations Alliance, participated in an important project in conjunction with IATA, called the ADM Reduction Project.
At the end of May, we toured the country to meet with our members and outlined ASATA’s strategy as well as provided updates on PCI DSS compliance.
March also saw the introduction of the electronics ban on flights to the US and the UK via the Middle East. And, in what was described as a “here we go again” scenario, US President, Donald Trump, on 6 March, again signed a new executive order imposing a 90-day suspension of entry to the US for nationals from six majority Muslim countries.
ASATA was instrumental in helping push back the implementation date from June 2017 to March 15 for PCI DSS compliance as a mandatory condition to obtain and retain accreditation as an IATA Accredited Agent.
Russia and South Africa scrapped visa requirements on April 1. Since that time, South Africans travelling to Russia can stay or transit without a visa for a duration of up to 90 days.
ASATA and the African Business Travel Association also held their first Corporate-TMC Focus Group to devise practical strategies and actions that the two associations and industry could take to bridge the gaps in relationship between TMCs and corporates. Themes that were discussed during the Focus Group included:
- The understanding of value
- Getting the RFP journey right
- What role the TMC should play
- What expectations both TMCs and Corporates have from each other
ASATA’s mobile app, sponsored by Amadeus, became available for download from the Apple and Android stores. It has become an important communication platform used by ASATA to communicate with members and partners.
Standard Bank advised ASATA in April that taking an imprint of a MasterCard or VISA card would no longer protect merchants against chargebacks for manually entered transactions.
And, a media storm broke out surrounding a passenger who was forcibly removed from United Airlines when he refused to give up his seat voluntarily. As a result, airlines started reviewing and adjusting their overbooking policies.
ASATA continued to remind its members that the clock is ticking on the new POPI Act and that travel agents needed to make it a priority.
ASATA held its annual conference in Sun City with as theme ‘Power in Unity’. The theme was chosen at a time when dynamic change and strong leadership were needed to navigate a disrupted industry.
The question of regulation received a great deal of airtime at the ASATA conference with EXP Regulatory Compliance Consulting providing feedback on a research study into the merits of South Africa’s travel sector becoming regulated.
At the heart of regulation was the need to protect consumers, not only from the standpoint of regulating consultants in their individual capacity, but also TMCs and travel agencies.
South African corporates also indicated they placed ASATA and ABTA membership as a top consideration when selecting a TMC partner.
ASATA hosted workshops in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban to gather travel-industry stakeholder feedback with regards to its study into the possible regulation of South Africa’s travel industry.
British Airways announced that it would impose a distribution fee on all bookings made through any Global Distribution System (GDS). And the UK started charging for all visa enquiries through its new commercial partner, Sitel UK. The cost for an e-mail enquiry was set at R91.
In what media reports called ‘the biggest political crisis in the Middle East in years’, several Arab countries also severed ties with Qatar in June with far-reaching effects for the travel industry.
It was with great sadness that ASATA acknowledged the passing of Laurie Wilkinson, owner of Sure Travel Studio, in July this year. Laurie will be remembered as a passionate mentor in the South African travel industry.
The controversial US laptop was scrapped in favour of increased security measures on all direct flights to the US from 105 countries around the world, including South Africa.
Travel agents in South Africa were also advised to warn their clients to be vigilant when travelling via OR Tambo International Airport following a spate of criminal incidents and follow-home robberies from the airport.
British Airways’ mixed cabin crew embarked upon a marathon 16-day strike, and visa requirements for India became stricter as South African travellers were required to submit biometrics when applying for an Indian visa.
ASATA once again showed its commitment to the Business Traveller Africa Conference & Awards by signing up to be a corporate event partner.
As part of its efforts to be recognised by SAQA as a Professional Body and to promote professionalism within travel, ASATA revamped the ASATA Professional Programme (APP) in August. The new APP system allows travel consultants to update their information, including qualifications and competencies, which are then verified by their supervisor before they can be awarded the designation of Travel Practitioner.
Airports around the world increased their security measures with travellers being warned to expect major delays, while Southern Europe rallied against what it called ‘overtourism’.
In terms of airlines SAA appointed Vodacom group executive, Vuyani Jarana, as its new CEO, while Airberlin announced it was filing for insolvency and Ethiopian Airlines scrapped its Durban flights.
Qatar waived entry visa requirements for the citizens of 80 countries including South Africa, and Lanseria International Airport became the first airport in Africa to introduce self-service technology for passengers.
Great news emerged for the industry as ASATA received accreditation from the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) and it was announced agents could soon apply for the official designation of Travel Practitioner (TPrac).
Through ongoing consumer awareness campaigns, ASATA continued to make sure that travel agents are being talked about across the media. Thanks to our efforts, newspaper headlines changed from “Is the travel agent dead?” to “Why are travel agents still a thing?” and “Travellers are embracing human agents again”.
During September as well, ASATA commissioned Grant Thornton to create an Annual South African Travel Market Index Report to determine the state and size of South Africa’s travel sector.
In the US, Hurricane Irma caused havoc to many travel plans.
ASATA appointed Monique Diez in October to drive its ASATA Professional Programme and related projects that include the ASATA Awards and Young Professionals in Travel. The appointment came as Jacqui McKnight announced her retirement.
Madagascar was shaken by a deadly Plague outbreak, which saw airlines suspending their services to the country.
Cape Town on the other hand announced increased air access from October 29, with one new route and two route expansions.
The new SAA CEO took over the reins of the national carrier and announced he would start looking for an equity partner for SAA from within the aviation industry.
Air France-KLM became the latest airline group to announce it would start levying a surcharge for GDS bookings from 2018, while Alitalia confirmed it would launch flights to Johannesburg in the coming year.
Also in November, the Passenger Agency Conference (PAConf) saw the adoption of New Gen ISS, which introduced additional complexities for travel agencies, and attempts by ASATA at PAConf to defer the deadline date for PCI DSS compliance in BSPZA were dismissed.
In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe officially resigned as president of Zimbabwe after 37 years ruling the African nation.
ASATA appointed a panel of dynamic and well-respected industry leaders to select the best of best among the nominees for the ASATA Awards 2018.
ASATA appointed its new board for 2017/2018, reflecting representation from all of South Africa’s major retail travel groupings. The President, Vice-President and Treasurer will be elected by the board at its first board meeting at the end of January 2018.
Bali experienced increased volcanic activity leading to the FCO warning that ash clouds from the volcano could cause the airport to close on short notice.