Ebola Outbreak Update

With much of South Africa’s outbound travel focused on African destinations, the recent Ebola outbreak has raised some concerns among business travellers preparing to do business within the continent.

The 2014 outbreak is one of the largest in history and currently affects several countries in West Africa, including Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo.

So severe is this particular outbreak, that several airlines have cancelled their outbound flights to affected destination, while countries like Kenya and Botswana are on high alert and have instituted measures to secure their borders against the threat of the Ebola spread. Corporate travel is largely being suspended or delayed, unless essential.

The South African government for its part has taken measures to enhance surveillance, distribute guidelines to all hospitals, designate health facilities for the treatment of Ebola patients, deployed personal protective equipment to designated facilities, conducted training, activated outbreak response teams and is operating a hotline for clinicians through the National Institute for Communicable Diseases. 

Countries have been divided into three risk categories with measures such as travel bans for all non-citizens from high-risk countries or strict screening process for South African citizens returning from these countries.  See this update for full details. ACSA has also released standard operating procedures, that you can read here.

The situation is evolving quickly and ASATA will continue to monitor it in detail so as to ensure our members are kept informed on the latest educated advice.

The World Health Organization recommends that all contact be avoided with Ebola patients and their bodily fluid. Do not touch anything, such as shared towels, which could have become contaminated in a public place.

Symptoms of the disease include the sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat, followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding. The incubation period, i.e. the time interval from infection with the virus to onset of symptoms, is two to 21 days.

Fast facts

  • Ebola outbreaks have a case fatality rate of up to 90%
  • Outbreaks occur primarily in remote villages in Central and West Africa, near tropical rainforests
  • The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads through human-to-human transmission
  • No licenced specific treatment or vaccine is available for use in people or animals

Keeping safe while on the road

It has been a tumultuous few months in the world of travel. We have seen airliners shot down, deadly virus outbreaks and violent protests emerge, raising concerns over the safety and security of corporate travellers as they jet off to do business around the world.

While corporate travel managers focus on their legal and ethical responsibilities for managing travel risk and desperately seek solutions to keep their travellers safe, there are several contingencies travellers themselves can take to minimise their risk and you can advise them accordingly.

First and foremost, informing the right people where they are at all times. They may have no issue telling their Facebook friends where they are every minute of the day, but often do not extend the same courtesy to their travel manager or TMC.

They should also register on the Department of International Relations and Cooperation’s free ‘Registration of South Africans Abroad’ (ROSA) system allowing the government to locate them during an emergency – crime, natural or manmade disasters, civil unrest, etc. – verifying their status and liaising with their next-of-kin. For more information, visit http://bit.ly/1uCzr5P.

Here are some handy tips you can give your clients to keep safe while on the road:

  • Vaccinations and medication: Check that you have all the necessary vaccinations and medication, including malaria prophylaxis, appropriate to the destination well before date of travel.
  • Travel documents: Ensure you have scanned and emailed yourself a copy of your travel documents to an email address that can be accessed online from anywhere, e.g. Gmail.
  • Pack right: Pack versatile and appropriate clothing for the destination you are travelling to, observing the local customs and culture whenever possible. Respect their culture and you’re less likely to be harassed.
  • Learn your ABCs: Learn some key phrases – numbers, greetings and common travel terms – prior to visiting the destination.
  • Get insured: Travel insurance is very important if you’re travelling to a high-risk destination. You should be prepared for the worst and procure insurance that covers the cost of illness, injury or medical evacuation.

Lastly, forearmed is forewarned. Just a few minutes researching their destination prior to travel – the location of the South African Embassy, their hotel in relation to the airport, city landmarks and the best restaurants in the area – go some way to equipping them to proactively to manage travel risks.

 

 

 

Book direct, but what if…?

YouTube MarriottThe latest travel supplier to attract the ire of travel agents the world over is international hotel chain Marriott with their latest advertising campaign aimed at encouraging travellers to bypass intermediaries.

The #ItPaysToBookDirect video campaign features an American celebrity Grace Helbig talking about the financial advantages of booking direct with the chain; benefits that include access to rates and the most accurate information about a property.

American travel agents have come out strongly against the advertising campaign questioning whether it is legal and truthful. The American Society of Travel Agents says it is “disparaging to travel agents, but also misleading to the travelling public”.

So while we all know what the benefits of customers booking direct would be to Marriott, an interesting article in Forbes this week asked customers to think about what’s in it for them. Particularly since the access to rates and accurate information, claims ASTA, aren’t any better than what a customer would receive from a travel agent selling the chain.

In his article “If You Like Good Service, Here’s Why You Need A Good Travel Advisor”, Forbes contributor Doug Gollan, presents the “what if” case.

“What if you book via the website or an online travel agency, you get to the hotel, and something goes wrong. Let’s say you are not one of Marriott Rewards’ top members who spend 100 plus nights a year. Yet, it’s your long-awaited, hard-earned vacation with family and loved ones. Let’s say you bought in at the best, or lowest rates, and you aren’t a regular customer for the company, and it’s your first time to this hotel. How much clout do you think you will have to get whatever your problem is resolved?”

Doug ends of his very eloquent article saying: “For the travelling public, the best way to make sure your vacation goes off without a hitch, or that if there is a problem, it gets corrected, is to have a good travel advisor a phone call away to make the phone call you need.  One thing I will bet on, is if there is a problem, you won’t be able to get ahold of Grace Helbig.”

So what do you think of Marriott’s new campaign? Misplaced or brilliant?

Immigration Regulations – The journey thus far…

In June, Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba dropped a bombshell on the tourism and travel industries: Anyone travelling from or to South Africa with children under 18 must be in possession of a fully unabridged birth certificate, in addition to a valid passport. Without this, travel will be denied.

Fortunately the initial 1 July implementation date was postponed to 1 October after a veritable outcry from all quarters of the industry.

Industry associations such as the Tourism Business Council of South Africa, Southern African Tourism Services Association and Board of Airline Representatives, as well as ASATA, have banded together and launched a series of initiatives to express their concerns. These include writing to Minister Gigaba and appealing to Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom to intervene, as well as vocal press commentary regarding their concerns about the impact these new immigration regulations could have on the inbound tourism and outbound travel sector.  The TBCSA also released a letter that it sent to Minister Gigaba in July regarding the Immigration Regulations. So concerned are they, that they’ve even commissioned Grant Thornton to conduct a study on it. The Ministry of Home Affairs has acknowledged concerns and says it is willing to host discussions.

ASATA CEO Otto de Vries has been quoted prominently throughout the media and even wrote a Business Day Opinion Piece calling for rationality when imposing such regulations. Industry leaders have written personally to Minister Gigaba appealing the regulations and ASATA’s blog post last week further raised concerns following Minister Gigaba’s own acknowledgement of short falls in Home Affairs’ ability to meet their own objectives regarding various amendments to the Immigration Act.

To assist its members, ASATA has created an Immigration Quick Guide, while Travel News Weekly also released a FAQ for travel agents.

ASATA have been working alongside other partner associations to drive engagement with our industry to ensure better understanding of the issues, practical implications and minimal confusion and disruption to the travelling public and will continue to do so, updating its members on any progress achieved.

 

Industry concern over unintended consequences of new immigration legislation

Association of Southern African Travel Agents’ response to joint statement by the Department of Home Affairs and Department of Tourism

It is with growing concern that ASATA took note of the recently released joint press statement that was issued 31 July by the Ministers of Tourism and Home Affairs, confirming an implementation date of 1 October, despite acknowledging short falls in the ability of Home Affairs to meet their own objectives regarding various amendments to the Immigration Act.

On behalf of its members and South African travellers, who are now required to apply for unabridged birth certificates to travel internationally with their children under the age of 18, ASATA has repeatedly asked Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba to consider a 12-month deferment of the implantation date and to meet with industry bodies to discuss the impact that this will have on our sectors.

A letter, signed by five of the countries top travel industry leaders, highlighting the concerns of the travel industry and the impact the new ruling would have, was also sent to Minister Gigaba 10 days ago. We have not received acknowledgement of receipt nor our request to meet.  Furthermore, a request for assistance in clarifying some of the concerns raised, e.g. “travellers departing before the end of September but arriving back after the 1 October will they (the child) require an unabridged birth certificate?” has been sent to relevant Home Affairs representatives three weeks ago, to which we have yet to receive a response.

Although the Department of Home Affairs has stated a turn-around time of four to eight weeks to issue a new unabridged birth certificate, practice suggests these timelines are closer to between four and six months, depending on which Home Affairs office to apply too.

This and the lack of a clear communication has created a lot of confusion in our industry and for our clients, who are turning to us to assist in providing clarity.

While we stand behind any efforts to secure our borders and to protect our children in all instances, we have yet to see what research has informed government to introduce a requirement to carry an unabridged birth certificate as an additional travel document.  Our extensive research has shown that no other country in the world has implemented a similar requirement.

In light of this, we question the effectiveness of this new requirement in meeting the Home Affairs’ objective to reduce child trafficking. A birth certificate is not a recognised travel document anywhere in the world; passports and visa’s serve that purpose, with the necessary process behind acquiring one to ensure that it is fit for that purpose.

Please let us be sure that the policies in place serve that purpose and do not have undue consequences.

Furthermore, we must ask that such an onerous new administrative regulation have an appropriate lead in time and a structured and collective consultative process with the travel and airline industries to avoid the inevitable confusion the premature implementation of said new rules will cause to the travelling public and our industry at large.

We therefore re-assert our call for a 12-month grace period in order to ensure minimal short-term disruption to our industry whilst maintaining the Department of Home Affairs objectives.