And that’s a wrap…

Another year… some shockers and some highlights. Of course the world of travel is never impervious to, well… the world, and what happens in it, and so 2015 has been an exceptionally challenging one, with all estimations that 2016 will be even harder. Here are some of our low and highlights!

January

We kicked off 2015 with our 21st century Travel Agent theme which underpinned many of ASATA’s activities from our national conference to the launch of a major study into how the industry needs to evolve to suit the 21st century needs of our leisure, corporate and corporate buyer customers.

ASATA and IATA began to work through a joint working group to meet with Commercial Banks to identify a solution to ensure compliance with the New Global Template.

Efforts to lobby Home Affairs to postpone its June 2015 implementation of the new immigration regulations continued in conjunction with the TBCSA member associations, with CEO Otto de Vries heading up the TBCSA Immigration Regulations task team.

February

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After months of nominations, judging and organisation, it was all glitz and glamour in February as the ASATA Diners Club Awards winners were celebrated at a gala event held in Johannesburg. Walking away with the award for Exceptional Commitment was Tourvest Travel Services’ Lidia Folli while Club Travel’s Minette Fourie won the Tomorrow’s Leader award.

Also in February was the launch of the new hand baggage regulations in South Africa, which had many passengers in a bit of a tizzy, but turned out to have few serious repercussions.

ASATA began working on a comprehensive study regarding airlines’ levying of fuel surcharges in an environment where the price of oil had fallen significantly.

March

In March, home-based travel agency group Travel Counsellors joined ASATA and the discussions around  ITC business models began to emerge. Members of the travel industry were also asked to participate in a review of South African Tourism.

ASATA expressed concern over the delays on the adoption of the amended Tourism Sector B-BBEE Scorecard and sought recommendation of the measurement of the entity size. The current definition of turnover placed many travel agencies and tour operators as generic rated entities when they might well be either EMEs or QSEs when rated on service fee income.

April

The issue of fuel surcharges came under scrutiny in April with the launch of ASATA’s comprehensive Fuel Surcharge Study, which was tabled at the World Travel Agents Association Alliance first board meeting and adopted as a global study to be used to lobby airlines to incorporate the fuel surcharge component into their base fares. ASATA’s view is that it is no longer acceptable for airlines to levy a fuel surcharge given the many changes to consumer laws, inclusive pricing and the oil price’s fall.

ASATA’s Member Advisory Forum and National Treasury continued consultations around 30-day payment transgressions and further issues of non/ late payments to ASATA members.

May

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May was conference month and ASATA’s theme of the 21st century Travel Agent underpinned much of the content, including the first-ever Young Professionals In Travel stream. Delegates were given strategic insight and practical tools to ensure their business’ success in the 21st century. The ASATA Mobile App was also launched, as was the first phase of the 21st century travel agent study.

In May, ASATA announced it had concluded a detailed analysis of the pricing transparency concerns raised by members. The findings indicated that ASATA could not regulate prices in itself and that the marking up of surcharges was in direct conflict with the CPA. As a result it was agreed that ASATA would outlaw this and amend its Constitution and Code of Conduct, introducing a special purpose audit that would ensure that members did not contravene this.

June

After months of lobbying, the Immigration Regulation deadline arrived and the tourism and travel sectors began to grapple with the fallout of the “unintended consequences” that the legislation had on the industry.

Travel CEOs took to the streets and braved the bitter Jozi cold to join the CEO Sleepout initiative, helping to raise over R250m for Boys and Girls Town.

In June, Lufthansa Group announced it would charge a booking fee for reservations made through the GDS. ASATA expressed its disappointment that the airline could find no other methods of absorbing their distribution costs and sought legal opinion on the legitimacy in this market of such a measure.

ASATA also refuted Cabinet’s assertion in June that immigration regulations had had “unintended consequences” following the announcement that Cabinet would establish an inter-ministerial team to examine the consequences of the immigration regulations.

July

DYI travel

ASATA launched its Demystifying Travel marketing campaign and its slogan “Travel with Peace of Mind”, creating a range of Facebook and Twitter posts for leisure and corporate travel agents to help demystify some of the ‘travel funnies’ that our customers come up against.

August

ASATA’s Member Advisory Forum on ITCs met for the first time to work on a definition and framework for the ITC model in the South African market and to understand all the roles and responsibilities in the entire value chain. It was agreed that further MAF meetings would be held to define a framework that would protect all members of the chain.

September

Government announced it was creating a new government supplier database on which ASATA-accredited travel agents and TMCs would feature. This was the direct result of months of engagement between ASATA and National Treasury to define terms against which government would procure travel in future.

SA Tourism and ASATA also began discussions to help inspire South Africans travel around their country and encourage a culture of domestic travel. ASATA and SA Tourism will be working together to find opportunities for ASATA members to promote domestic travel. Otto de Vries jointly won the Business Traveller Africa Business Travel Personality of the Year award for the “tireless work” that was done in challenging the changes to SA’s immigration regulations.

Finally, Lufthansa launched its much-contested Distribution Cost Charge for every booking on an LHG airline processed by a GDS.

October

ASATA BoardThe newly appointed ASATA board took the reins to future plan, and future proof the industry by providing a strategic framework for governance in the travel sector through the implementation of 15 key projects.

At the Annual General Meeting, several changes were made to ASATA’s constitution, including the implementation of a special purpose audit to eradicate mark ups on third-party taxes, as well as ensure that the booking class on charged to the customer matched the booking made and that the invoice issued to the customer was a valid tax invoice in terms of the criteria required by SARS Section 20(4) of the Vat Act. Marking up of surcharges, including taxes, airport taxes and other fees imposed on airlines by government authorities is in direct conflict with the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act.

After months of development, ASATA’s new consumer website, aimed at educating the public at large and corporate and government customers about the benefits of using an ASATA member, was launched. A new members-only site is currently under development.

Also new to the block was dynamic industry go-getter Kim Koen who joined ASATA as its GM in October. Kim was instrumental in developing and drafting the travel procurement strategic framework between industry and government.

The New Distribution Capability (NDC) report was released to outline how travel agents could successfully use NDC in future. ASATA members’ views were incorporated in the international study released by WTAAA.

ASATA attended the annual GBTA conference with Otto de Vries profiling why corporate customers should entrust their travel management to ASATA-accredited TMCs.

November

IATA launched its changed IATA BSP ZA financial criteria in November – criteria that was proposed by the Agency Programme Joint Council (APJC) for BSP Southern Africa.  Following concerns raised by ASATA and its members that the timing of the extraordinary financial assessment was far from ideal, IATA agreed to extend the implementation of the local financial criteria for BSP South Africa (ZA) to 1 March 2016.

After years of discussions, the Default Insurance Provider was also approved. The success of the take up and deployment of the DIP was directly aligned with the approval of IATA’s new financial criteria for BSP ZA.

ASATA welcomed the announcement that the Inter-Ministerial Committee around South Africa’s immigration regulations issued recommendations to mitigate the impact that this legislation had on the tourism and travel sector.

Otto de Vries attended the 3rd Summit of Travel Agencies Associations to present several papers to delegates, including the WTAAA report on NDC and outcomes of ASATA’s 21st Century Travel Agent research initiative.

In a bid to raise the profile of ASATA and its members among corporate customers, ASATA attended the African Business Travel Association (ABTA) conference in Cape Town with Kim Koen providing insights into ASATA’s participation in lobbying against the immigration regulations which have had a detrimental impact on the tourism and travel sectors.

December

The implementation of the changes to South Africa’s immigration regulations began to roll out, including the introduction of biometric visas on arrival and the future inclusion of parents’ names within the passports of children under 18 to dismiss the need to carry unabridged birth certificates.

The USA Government voted to overhaul its Visa Waiver Program (VWP), preventing anyone that has travelled to Iraq, Syria, Iran or Sudan in the past five years from using the programme to enter the United States, while the European Union was in discussions regarding passport-free travel across EU states following the Paris attacks. 

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Self Service kiosks roll out across SA airports

ACSA and Aviation Co-ordination Services (ACS) are extending the coverage of common-use passenger processing kiosks across all nine airports in South Africa, installing more than 1,000 work stations and 116 self-service check-in and baggage-tracing kiosks across the airports.

Common-use standards allow the world’s airlines to work seamlessly at airports, sharing check-in desks, kiosks and boarding areas. The common-use technology means the ACSA airports can process passengers faster, with higher service levels and at lower cost than before.

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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.