2017 rewind

And that’s a wrap…

And that’s a wrap! Another year gone by and a bit of a mixed bag. Here’s to the year that was…

January

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.

February

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.

March

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.

April

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.

May

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.

June

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.

July

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.

August

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.

September

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.

October

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.

November  

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.

December

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.

 

 

Accreditated

The SAQA professional Designation – what you need to know

By now, you’ve probably heard that travel agents in South Africa will soon be able to apply for the official designation of Travel Practitioner (TPrac) following the accreditation of ASATA by the South African Qualifications Authority.

But, what does this mean exactly for travel agents? How and when can you apply? How much does it cost?

We’ve tried to answer your most pressing questions with regards to the SAQA designation here.

 

ASATA and its role as a professional body – what does this mean?

  • SAQA has recognised ASATA as a professional body. This means that ASATA can award (currently) the professional designation of Travel Practitioner. ASATA is not an accredited Training Provider.
  • SAQA has registered the initial designation of Travel Practitioner.
  • ASATA has revived the ASATA Professional Programme which is the process through which a travel consultant (agent) can seek to achieve the designation of Travel Practitioner.

What is APP?

It is an online platform that allows travel consultants to create a profile and update their skills, experience, qualifications and Continuous Professional Development (CPD) points to achieve a designation.

When can agents start applying for the TPrac designation

ASATA is currently testing APP with trade stakeholders who have volunteered to give feedback on the new system to refine it. Once this process has been concluded, we will launch the site to members and non-members seeking to participate and attain a designation. It is a web-based system, so there will be a URL that users can visit to register their profile. A neutral designation and appeal committee will be appointed, travel consultants will be able to start applying for their designation.

After TPrac, what’s the next designation that will be rolled out and when will agents be able to start applying?

ASATA has further listed their request for future submission to SAQA for the designations of Travel Professional (considered if you have a general certificate in travel or other travel qualification from an accredited training provider) and Certified Travel Professional, which would require the candidate to take exams. We envisage these designations to be registered in 2019/2020 subject to approval and SAQA process being followed.

Is there any cost to be recognised?

A participation fee pertains to all registrations and designations on the APP system. Registration costs for ASATA members are R175 pp annually, while non-ASATA members pay R295 pp annually, VAT inclusive. Registration fees will be valid until the end of 2018

To receive your designation, ASATA members pay an additional R340 pp, while non-ASATA members non-ASATA members pay R590 pp, VAT inclusive.

Why do we have to pay?

The development of the APP system, administration of the process by ASATA and the fact that participants must have paid-up fees to maintain designation, according to SAQA.

  • If one has to go through the RPL process there will be costs.

Will agents need to repeat or go through the process each year?

Designation requires Travel Practitioners to accumulate 60 CPD points over a 3-year period, so the Travel Practitioner will have to upskill themselves to ensure that these points are retained. There is a review after 5 years.

How does the actual vetting process work? Will someone at ASATA manually go through each application?

Once the applicant has updated their APP profile, this is then submitted to their line manager or supervisor to check. Once this is checked, the application is sent to ASATA and a neutral soon-to-be appointed designation and appeals committee will adjudicate each application.

I have been in travel for 15 years? Will this be considered for designation purposes? 

Yes, we will take this into consideration and apply what is called the ‘Grandfather clause’.

If you have a higher qualification e.g. Diploma in Travel Tourism/ MBA and relevant qualification with travel as an element, we can take this into account

Is it mandatory to apply for a designation? 

Currently it is voluntary to apply for a designation.

DHA: New Zealand visa restriction unfortunate

The South African Department of Home Affairs (DHA) has described the decision New Zealand to enforce a visa restriction for South Africans, as unfortunate, “given the vast improvements to DHA systems over the years”.

DHA Spokesperson Mayihlome Tshwete says the department has noted the decision by the government of New Zealand to introduce visa requirements for all South Africans wishing to travel to that country from 21 November, 2016.

“The Department will consider a response and communicate once it has been concluded.”

Currently South Africans qualify for a visa on arrival, however starting 21 November, travellers will need to acquire a visa at NZ$165.00 (about R1 637.07) when applying before 21 November 2016. From 21 November, the cost for paper applications will increase to NZ$184. The cost for applying online will however remain unchanged at NZ$165.

Travellers wanting to apply for a visa are urged to allow for an estimated six-week processing time for visa applications.

When announcing the change in the visa regime, the New Zealand embassy cited the issue of increased number of individuals trying to enter the country with either “counterfeit or fraudulently obtained South African passports”.

“We are committed to creating an immigration system that actively welcomes and encourages legitimate visitors to New Zealand, but at the same time is able to prevent those who do not meet immigration requirements”, say Immigration New Zealand (INZ) General Manager Peter Elms.

For more information about the New Zealand visas for South Africans, click here

Travel agents are back… here’s why

Customers are flocking back to the travel agent, according to a recent report in Travel Market Report. The article identified six reasons why travellers opt to book through their travel agent:

We offer guidance

Even the most seasoned travellers get a little nervous in these scary times where they are faced with Zika, terrorism and Ebola.  They appreciate our advice.

We offer savings

Agents have access to deals and promotions travellers do not, so we can still save our clients money.

OTAs are no longer flavour of the month

Travellers are frustrated with hidden fees and charges when they book through online travel agencies. There is just too much information out there to sort through.

We offer customer service

Travel agents help during the booking process and stay with you to make sure all goes right. And when there is a problem, we are there to intervene.

Deep knowledge of the destination, and personal understanding of your interests.
Agents often specialise in niche markets, so they can offer even more insight into a specific destination or segment of travel, like LGBT or destination weddings. And they spend a little time getting to know the customer, so they can make recommendations tailored to what you want to do. “It’s almost like your best friend is booking a trip for you,” says DiBernardo.

Travel agents’ customer base is skewing toward Millennials.
The percentage of travellers under the age of 35 who prefer to book their vacations through a travel agent increased 50% between 2014 and 2015, reports MMGY Global. They don’t have time to wade through all the options, and they understand there is only one chance to make a vacation perfect. Just as they hire an expert to do their taxes or maintain their garden, they want a knowledgeable professional to help them make this most important decision.

biometrics

Biometrics now required for Australian visas

All applicants, regardless of nationality, who are in South Africa at the time of making a visa application to enter Australia, will be required to provide their biometrics along with their application, unless otherwise excluded or exempted from doing so under Australian Government policy effective immediately.

Australian visa applicants will need to make an appointment at any one of the four Australian Visa Application Centres (AVACs) to provide their biometrics. These AVACs managed by the Australian Government’s Service Delivery Partner TLScontact, are located in Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and Pretoria. Appointments can be made by contacting an AVAC or by visiting their website https://au.tlscontact.com/

 

Applicants will still be able to lodge their visa application through any one of the AVACs located across South Africa, where they will also be able to provide biometrics at the same time. Alternatively, visa applicants who send their application by mail or lodge online will be sent a letter requiring them to attend an AVAC to provide their biometrics. Applicants will need to take this letter with them to an AVAC when providing biometrics so the AVAC is able to match their application with the biometrics collected.

 

Some applicants may be fully or partially exempt from providing biometrics under Australian Government policy. Applicants fully exempt from providing biometrics include diplomatic representatives and their dependants, and government officials acting as a representative of a foreign government. Applicants who may be partially exempt from biometric collection include minors less than five years old (photo only required) and mentally or physically incapable persons (photo only required).

 

Currently, Australia is collecting biometric data from visa applicants in 33 countries across Africa, Asia, Europe, the Pacific, the Middle East and the Americas and will continue to expand globally in the future. The collecting of biometrics from visa applicants will improve visa integrity, reduce identity fraud and improve security and safety for travellers and the Australian community.

 

A new fee structure has also been implemented:

 

  • Primary Applicant Service Delivery Fee                   1017 ZAR
  • Secondary Applicant(s) Service Delivery Fee             814 ZAR
  • Biometric collection only Service Delivery Fee          811 ZAR

Industry leaders commit to ASATA Charter

South Africa’s leading travel agent groupings have made a groundbreaking public commitment to the South African consumer to continue providing professional service, conduct themselves ethically and behave in a trustworthy manner, thus endorsing the Association of Southern African Travel Agents as the benchmark of professionalism in the region’s travel industry.

At this weekend’s ASATA Conference in Somerset West, travel consortia, comprising 85% of South Africa’s retail travel industry, signed the ASATA Charter which outlines their continued commitment to delivering fair and transparent business practices, the highest ethical standards to further the industry’s professionalism, providing high-quality service, and confronting inappropriate behaviour and practices when dealing with customers and partners, among other commitments.

This ongoing commitment ensures ASATA members continue to meet consumers’ needs of value and security by maintaining the highest level of expertise and professionalism.

“The ASATA Charter reflects members’ commitment to ensuring the South African consumer will ‘Travel with Peace of Mind’ when booking through an ASATA member,” explains Otto de Vries, ASATA CEO.

“By displaying the ASATA logo proudly, our members are saying that they believe in and are committed to delivering to their customers on the promise of providing professional service, conducting themselves ethically, behaving in a trustworthy manner and being a market leader.”

Members who sign this Charter furthermore commit to being accountable and responsible in rectifying any violation of the ASATA Charter and to strive to prevent any recurrence.

Comair and UASA reach settlement after weeklong strike

Comair has confirmed that the current industrial action by members, represented by UASA, has come to an end. An amicable resolution has been reached between UASA the Union, representing airport staff and the company.

Over the weekend, Comair implemented a defensive lock-out of its airport staff, who have been on strike since Wednesday, 13 April 2016. The lock-out was effective Sunday, 17 April 2016. On Monday, 18 April 2016, UASA the Union approached the South African Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) for an urgent Section 150 intervention.

Both parties were open to resolve the dispute and on Tuesday, 19 April 2016, the parties agreed to a wage increase of 10% in 2016, 7% in 2017 and 6% in 2018, a total of 23% over the three year period, effective 01 January 2016.

Airport ground staff are expected to report for duty on Thursday, 21 April 2016.

The trade union, which has a 58% membership in the airport unit, initially requested a 35% increase over 3 years, while Comair was offering an unconditional 7.5% increase for each of the three years (22,5% over three year period).

Domestic airfares to go up?

As ASATA has signed a formal agreement with SA Tourism to promote domestic tourism in South Africa, reports suggest that domestic airfares will skyrocket during the coming few months.

TIR reported this month that domestic suppliers have implemented significant rate increases, rendering domestic travel almost more expensive than international travel. eTNW has also predicted that airfares will increase from April 1.

Spokesperson for LCC Mango Hein Kaiser explains that the increases in airfares could likely be a latent impact of the significant weakening of the Rand. But, he was quick to point out that Mango’s fares have been consistent over this time period with peak and demand fares stable.

Said Kaiser: “Air fares and fare levels are governed by input costs which, again, are highly dependent on exchange rates. The bulk of an airline’s input costs are priced in foreign currency and, as such, with a weakened Rand, makes air travel particularly vulnerable.”

Shaun Pozyn, Head of Marketing: British Airways and kulula.com, said airlines would not be hiking their fares, despite increased demand during school holidays and long weekends.

Pozyn explains: “We are operating in a very highly competitive environment, which is currently displaying low growth and market demand with too much excess capacity on some of the routes. Owing to this, kulula.com has not increased nor will we be increasing our fares in the near future. kulula will continue to focus on efficiencies to ensure that we operate a sustainable business in the current market conditions.”

According to Kirby Gordon, Vice President: Sales and Distribution for Safair Operations, Safair prices its fares on a demand curve basis. “The first fare always goes for the best price, and then as the aircraft fills up, the seats become incrementally more expensive,” he explains, adding that during peak season, the aircraft fills up quickly, so those last fares reach their highest levels. “The most expensive fare on a half full flight might be R1000, while on a full flight it could be R2000.”

Says Gordon: “Late March and early April have proved to be incredibly high demand periods and we’ve been pleasantly surprised to see the number of people who appear to be taking advantage of the opportunity to fly over the holiday period – especially considering the state of the local economy.”

Gordon adds that airlines traditionally adjust their pricing in early April in accordance with the IATA season, usually aiming to go into winter at a slightly higher price point, because demand is low and so airlines need to charge slightly more for the tickets to cover the costs of less than full aircraft. However, he points out that Safair has not not adjusted its fares much, with the cheapest flights still selling at R499.

However, Gordon predicts there will eventually be a rise in the price of airfares, as much as there will also be a rise in the general cost of living. He says: “Economists are predicting a fairly heavy inflationary period driven by the currency, with interest rates and the cost of basic living driving inflation up to between 5% and 10%. Unfortunately, we are also heavily exposed to these factors (particularly the currency and the oil price) and so I believe it’s fare to assume that air fares will also rise to a similar quantum.”

 

 

 

passport stamps

SA to roll out immigration regulation concessions

South Africa will start to implement concessions surrounding the immigration regulations which have had serious “unintended” consequences for the country’s tourism and travel sectors.Home Affairs Director General Mkuseli Apleni confirmed this week that the concessions would be rolled out over the next three months, including:

  • South African passports will now include the names of both parents to eradicate the need for parents to carry birth certificates for children.
  • Sports bodies and schools may over the next three months write letters for minors to cross the South African borders.
  • Introduction of an Accredited Tourism Company Programme for China, India and Russia with the possible extension of this programme to other visa-requiring countries.
  • Implementation of biometrics collection starting with a pilot project at South Africa’s three main airports.
  • Increased visa facilitation centres in China, India, Zimbabwe and other countries.
  • Installation of pre-flight checks, including operational centres, at international airports.
  • Upgrading Advance Passenger Processing Systems and implementing a passenger name record to enhance risk assessment.

  

IMC recommendations shows collective industry efforts have paid off and government has listened

JOHANNESBURG – The Association of Southern African Travel Agents (ASATA) welcomes the recommendations made today by the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) instituting biometric visas on arrival for travellers from countries where there is no South Africa mission and amending the requirements around Unabridged Birth Certificates (UBCs) for inbound travellers under the age of 18 years.

The IMC was appointed in August 2015 to assess the “unintended consequences” that have arisen as a result of the implementation of new Immigration Regulations by the Department of Home Affairs, but no engagement with the travel community has taken place as part of their discussions, which are aimed at finding a “rational and implementable” method of bringing about a balance that does not sacrifice South Africa’s security, but that also deals with the “negative economic impact” that has arisen as a result.

Tourism arrival statistics from most of South Africa’s key source markets have reported significant declines since the new Immigration Regulations came into effect, with losses estimated to the South African economy estimated to be over R7.5bn.

While the IMC’s decision is very positive for the inbound tourism industry, South Africa’s outbound travel community will continue to be impacted by the requirement to present UBCs. “The decision shows that our relentless collective efforts have had a positive impact and that government has listened,” says Otto de Vries, CEO ASATA.

“It is disappointing however that travelling South African families will continue to be subjected to the UBC requirement even though it is clear that we are experiencing ongoing challenges with the timeous issuing of these.

“Child trafficking is a global issue and we do not believe in the effectiveness of this particular policy requirement to deliver on its intention to curb trafficking in South Africa.”

To read the full recommendations made by the IMC, click here: http://bit.ly/1kz7VTB