Global Travel Hotspots – what you should know

There have been recent deadly attacks in Turkey, Ivory Coast and Belgium. In a world where everyone and everything is connected, the spotlight has fallen on travel and perhaps more specifically on traveller safety. Here is a round-up of what you should know, focusing on the destinations in question.

Turkey

Incidents:

Large bomb attacks in Ankara on 17 February and 13 March, saw more than 50 people were killed. Suicide bomb attacks against tourists in Istanbul on 12 January and 19 March, suicide bomb attacks against tourists in Istanbul left 14 tourists dead.

Current situation:

The British government’s Foreign Travel Advice service has stated that most attacks are likely to continue to target the Turkish state. Nevertheless, it’s increasingly likely that some attacks will also target western interests and tourism, as they did in Istanbul on 12 January and 19 March. Terrorist groups, including Daesh and the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), have publicly threatened to attack tourist sites in Turkey. To date most attacks in Turkey have taken place in the south and east of the country and in Ankara and Istanbul.

The Turkish authorities have said that security has been tightened in response to the attack on tourists on 12 January. Further attacks could be indiscriminate and could affect places visited by foreigners. Border crossings into Syria and nearby locations have also been targeted. Travellers are advised to be vigilant, monitor media reports and keep up to date with travel advisories.

Ivory Coast

Incidents:

A terrorist attack took place at Grand Bassam, near Abidjan on 13 March 2016 in which 18 people were killed, including a number of foreigners.

Current situation:

Further attacks on beach resorts, hotels, cafés and restaurants visited by foreigners are possible and could occur without warning. Travellers are advised to be especially vigilant in these places. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all but essential travel to the western regions of Dix-Huit Montagnes, Haut-Sassandra, Moyen-Cavally and Bas-Sassandra. Travellers are advised to avoid large public gatherings and political rallies and to take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before they travel.

Belgium

Incidents:

Following explosions at Brussels Airport and Maalbeek metro station in Brussels on 22 March, police operations are ongoing and transport and the mobile network may be subject to disruption. You are advised to remain vigilant and follow the instructions of the Belgian authorities.

Current situation:

Brussels Airport cancelled all passenger flights into and out of Brussels airport on 23 and 24 March. Although Eurostar is now running a normal service to Brussels travellers are advised to factoring in extra time for their journey due to increased security measures in place at UK ports and borders. Public transport in Brussels is reported to operate normally.

The Belgian threat level is Level 4 – a serious and imminent threat. Travellers should remain alert and vigilant, stay away from crowded places, and follow the instructions of the Belgian authorities. Travellers can find more information on the Belgian Crisis Centre website and Twitter feed.

The Belgian Crisis Centre has given the Belgian telephone number +32 2753 7300 for concerned family/friends or 1771 (+32 7815 1771 from outside Belgium) for general enquiries.

Public events and busy public areas across Belgium are likely to see additional security. Some public events may be cancelled and some tourist attractions closed. Travellers are advised to contact event organisers for information on whether specific events are going ahead.

France

Incidents:

There is a high threat of terrorism. Due to ongoing threats to France by Islamist terrorist groups, and recent French military intervention against Daesh (formerly referred to as ISIL), the French government has warned the public to be especially vigilant and has reinforced its security measures.

On Friday 13 November 2015, a number of terrorist incidents took place in Paris resulting in widespread casualties.

Current situation:

Following the November 13 incidents, a national state of emergency remains in place in France. Travellers should be vigilant in public places and follow the advice of the local authorities. Travellers should review the French government’s advice about what to do if a terrorist attack occurs.

South African travellers are also strongly encouraged to on the Registration of South Africans Abroad (ROSA) website so that the Department of International Relations and Cooperation are aware of their whereabouts in case of emergency.

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.”

 

 

 

Brussels attacks – what you need to know?

In the wake of the Brussels terror attacks, which left at least 30 dead and hundreds wounded, industry analyst Euromonitor has predicted a decline in bookings to the European capital in the short- to medium-term. However, not only Belgium has been affected by these atrocities, the global tourism industry as a whole has come under fire once again.

“This is not an attack on Belgium, it is an attack on us all and sadly these tragic events remind us again that we are facing a global threat that needs to be addressed globally” said UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai.

Travel agents in South Africa agree that terrorism can happen at any time, any place. “If you leave your house and cross the road you could get killer or maimed. There is nowhere in the world that is safe from terrorism it’s a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” says Wally Gaynor, MD Club Travel.

The global message of industry leaders is to stand together and to not give into the fear of terrorism. “We encourage governments to make policy decisions that balance safety of their citizens with continuing to facilitate travel for business and leisure purposes,” said David Scowsill, President & CEO, WTTC.

Scowsill urged the governments around the world to work closely together to combat this global threat and to increase security measures on the ground and across borders through expanding intelligence sharing. He warned however that enhancing security does not mean closing down borders.

Gaynor explains that it is important to send a message to the terrorists that they will not win. He says: “We as the travel industry must support countries around the world by travelling and advising our clients to travel.”

Rod Rutter, COO XL Travel, explains it will be difficult for travel agents to advise their clients, as terrorism attacks can happen anywhere. What the industry can tell clients however is that they should expect increased security measures, not only in Brussels, but across the world, he says.

Patricia de Freitas, Journey Corp. Travel in association with eTravel, says clients with upcoming trips to Europe are mostly corporate travellers, who will not be quick to cancel. She says: “My clients are aware of the situation and are experienced travellers, so they know that there will be heightened security and delays.”

Security measures around the world

Security measures have indeed been stepped up at transport hubs across the globe with police and military personnel carrying out extra high-visibility patrols and additional checks.

The UK Daily Mail reported that extra armed police on the streets, sniffer dogs and increased security checks at airports were just some of the measures brought in as the world reacted to attacks in Belgium.

NEW YORK:  Elite counter-terrorism reinforcements deployed to crowded areas and train stations.

WASHINGTON DC: Additional K9 sweeps and patrols carried out as a ‘precaution’.

UK: Airports, including Heathrow, Gatwick, Glasgow and Manchester, are increasing security and Prime Minister David Cameron is convening the government’s emergency COBRA committee.

FRANCE: Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, said the country was reinforcing security at airports, train stations and on metro services, with an extra 1,600 additional police deployed.

RUSSIA: Authorities to ‘re-evaluate security’ at airports, although Russia’s measures are already among some of the toughest across Europe.

GERMANY: Armed police on patrol in the country’s airports.

NETHERLANDS: Extra security measures including armed police have been put in place at the country’s airports and borders.

EGYPT: Top security officials have been asked to personally handle security checks inside airports and in outside areas like hotels and car parks.

AUSTRIA: Extra police on the streets and at airports in Vienna and other major Austrian cities.

SPAIN: The Interior Ministry said officials would meet later today to discuss the situation but that for the moment Spain was maintaining its Security Alert Level 4.

GREECE: Police added additional security at airports, metro stations and embassies with uniformed and plain-clothed officers.

What will travel insurance cover?

Uriah Jansen, Oojah Travel Insurance, explains that Oojah follows the British and Commonwealth travel advice. Accordingly, the terrorism threat is at level 4. There is not a travel advice against travel, however, travellers should remain vigilant and avoid crowded areas. She says: “We provide cover related to terrorism for both medical expenses as well as cancellation. The travel advice can change on a daily basis and travellers should contact us to enquire whether they are covered.”

Cancellation for clients holding bookings to Brussels

Flights to Belgium were suspended or diverted with the airport shut on Tuesday and Wednesday. It is unsure as to when the airport will be operational again.

LUFTHANSA GROUP (Brussels Airlines, Lufthansa, Swiss, Austrian Airlines and Germanwings):

Passengers holding an air ticket for a LH Group flight between Tuesday and 28 March, to, from or via Brussels can rebook without additional cost or obtain a refund.

AIR FRANCE:

Air France will allow passengers holding a ticket from or to Brussels for travel between March 22 and 31 to postpone their trip until March 31 for no extra cost in the same ticketed cabin; these changes must be made by March 27.

Those who want to postpone their trip beyond March 31, wish to change their origin or destination or no longer want to travel at all are eligible for a nonrefundable voucher valid for one year on Air France, KLM or HOP, a subsidiary of Air France.

KLM:

KLM said that passengers holding a ticket from or to Brussels for travel between March 22 and 31 can postpone their trip until March 31 and must rebook by March 27 without paying a change fee.

They can also change their destination and use the full value of their original tickets for new tickets on KLM, Air France and/or Delta Air Lines without paying a change fee.

In addition, they are entitled to a full refund if they are scheduled to travel to, from or through Brussels between March 22 and 31 if their flight was canceled by these airlines or delayed for more than three hours, and they did not travel.

EMIRATES AIR LINE:

Emirates has rebooked passengers departing from Brussels onto a flight departing from Dusseldorf. Due to ongoing uncertainty within Brussels city concerning ground transport customers are requested to make their own way to Dusseldorf airport.

Customers who do not wish to take this flight can rebook on an alternative flight from Dusseldorf or other Emirates European departure point.

ETIHAD AIRWAYS:

Etihad Airways has rebooked passengers departing from Brussels onto a flight from Dusseldorf airport. At this stage Etihad is unable to confirm ground transport to Dusseldorf for its guests in Brussels due to current security restrictions in place.

Passengers are advised to arrange their own transportation from Brussels to Dusseldorf.

The airline is also offering rebooking options for those guests who have purchased tickets on and before 22 March 2016 for travel to/from/via Brussels until March 29.

Zika and travel insurance: what you need to know

You’re travelling to South or Central America, are you? And seriously reconsidering your trip, no doubt, especially if you’re pregnant. But will your travel insurance cover you if you cancel your trip?

Unfortunately, pregnancy and fear of travelling are excluded from coverage on many travel insurance policies. This means travellers are not covered if they decide to cancel their trip for pregnancy-related reasons or fear of contracting the Zika virus, despite the travel warnings issued.

Simmy Micheli, Manager – Sales and Marketing at TIC confirms this: “On TIC policies, disinclination to travel is excluded, so if a traveller is too frightened to go because of an infectious disease in the environment and wants to cancel the trip, this would not be covered. Full medical cover is, however, provided should a traveller become infected with the virus.”

The alternative would be for travellers to opt for the ’Cancellation for Any Reason’ benefit offered by many travel insurance providers, suggests Wybrant Lubbe, Sales Manager – Travel Insurance for Bidvest Insurance Group.

For Bidvest Travel Insurance clients the benefit is available under the Complete Leisure, Business and Business Extreme policies.

“In the event of the individual needing to cancel their international journey the benefit will allow the individual to be reimbursed up to the limit of liability as shown on the schedule of benefits and subject to the terms and conditions as set out by the insurance provider,” explains Wybrant.

Wybrant adds that it is important to note that the ‘Cancellation for Any Reason’ benefit forms part of the above mentioned Bidvest Insurance Group policies at no additional cost to the traveller.  Travellers can, however, increase the benefit to an additional R120k at a cost of R250 for every additional R10k.

For complete piece of mind, insurance providers are urging travellers to review their insurance policy terms and conditions and to discuss any concerns directly with the relevant provider who will be able to advise on the best possible options available.

Currently the Centers for Disease Control has set the virus alert at level 2, which means policy holders can still travel to the affected destinations and practice enhanced precautions:

  • Using insect repellent that contains DEET, Picaridin, PMD, or IR3535, when travelling to infected areas.
  • Wearing clothing that covers most of your body, when walking around outside.
  • Using an insecticide-treated bed net.
  • Using insect spray to kill visible mosquitoes in your room.
  • Choosing air conditioned accommodation if possible.

It is time to get personal

Personalised travel experiences are gaining momentum and travel agents need to know what it is and how to make it work, says Otto de Vries, CEO Association of Southern African Travel Agents (ASATA) addressing a recent African Business Travel Association event this week.

Addressing traveller behaviour within travel policy, Otto noted that many TMCs had yet to regard analysing traveller behaviour as a priority. However, corporate travellers, whe said, were ready for a personalised travel experience.

In a recent study conducted by ASATA into the 21st Century Travel Agent, 73% of respondents indicated it is very important for TMCs to make personalised recommendations. In addition, 70% of respondents said they were more likely to use a travel agent than book online because of the potential for travel agents to deliver personalised service.

Otto says travellers expect to be treated as individuals. They are behaving in certain ways, have certain preferences and specific habits, are spending money and thinking about travel in ways that TMCs are not necessarily aware of.

That said, there is no need for corporates to raise the white flag, he adds. Personalisation does not translate into compromising on travel policy. Rather it entailscreating offers and information built on travellers’ preferences, which can ultimately lead to cost saving and greater compliance.

Looking at international corporate travel trends, Otto said it is quite evident that travellers are getting far more attention. There appears to be a real-time effort in delivering real-time data, insights, offers and meaningful analytics which are relevant and important to corporate travellers.   

Perhaps this can be attributed to the new generation of tech-savvy travellers knowing what is available to them when and where. But, it might also be a new way of thinking where there is a conscious effort in constituting what a valuable service actually is, with technology being the enabler.

Regardless of how you look at it, there is opportunity to be found and areas which TMCs can look to create more personalised experience include:

  • Be there: allow for 24/7 two-way communication. Be available not just by email, but by phone as well.
  • Know your stuff: offer expert knowledge and advice as customers can become overwhelmed by the extent of information on the internet.
  • Communicate: TMCs need to communicate with their customers. Tailor experiences by knowing what customers’ individual preferences are.
  • Empower: Empower with personal recommendations based on knowledge of an individual
  • Seize control: Enable travellers to have control over their itineraries.
  • Bleisure: it is a real thing. Companies are looking at a comparison between business and leisure travel. A survey done by SATSA revealed that 83% of corporate travellers use business trip to explore the city they are visiting, while 78% are adding leisure days to business travel to add value.
  • Be tech savvy: There is great opportunity within technology. Make it easy for customers to receive and access their personalised documentation via technology platforms. Also make use of smart technology to send travellers alerts and emergency information.

Progress on reducing the impact of the immigration regulations – Home Affairs

Home Affairs is continuing to roll out measures aimed at mitigating the unintended consequences that the Immigration Act has had on South Africa, said Malusi Gigaba, South African Home Affairs Minister addressing the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs this week.

Highlighting progress already made in the past three months, Minister Gigaba said his department was considering using family advocates to make it easier for single parents to travel out of and into South Africa with children. This, he said, was to make it easier in situations where one parent had disappeared or was being uncooperative. Currently, parents are advised to seek a High Court interdict.

According to Minister Gigaba, over 4 400 minors were refused permission to leave or enter South Africa over the festive season, of which 2 753 were South African citizens.

Meanwhile, the Department has introduced measures to facilitate school groups by developing a standardised template for school principals to complete which is available as a download on DHA’s website. School principals are therefore now enabled to provide one affidavit confirming permission for South African children to travel on school tours, in lieu of having to provide individual parent consent forms.

The Parental Consent Affidavit (PCA) has also been extended from four to six months. An internal directive informing staff of this measure was issued on 18 December 2015.