visa europe

Lengthy airport queues to cause festive season havoc

Lengthy queues at OR Tambo Airport as a result of the new immigration regulations are expected to cause major havoc during the upcoming December holidays.

The Board of Airline Representatives South Africa (BARSA) has called for urgent intervention and the immediate suspension of biometrics for the duration of the December holidays as the best way forward.

International passengers arriving in South Africa at OR Tambo International Airport now need to submit biometric data as part of new immigration regulations to improve security. However, a shortage in trained immigration officials capable of capturing biometrics is leading to very lengthy delays for both South African and international travellers, even causing them to miss connections

Says June Crawford, BARSA CEO: “The decision by the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) not to employ additional immigration staff due to budget constraints will need to be re-assessed before December.

“The DHA has taken the decision to revert to a 12-hour, four-group systems because they can no longer afford transport for their officials.”

June explains that BARSA continues to seek ways through various stakeholders to find a solution to this ongoing problem. “The tourism industry is under duress during the busiest time of the year. In our view, the suspension of biometrics until after the peak season would be a short-term solution allowing for all parties to discuss the best way forward.”

Airlines have also been heavily impacted by the delays at OR Tambo. “In a bid to continue offering high customer service levels, several airlines have offered to pay for their passengers’ overnight accommodation when they’ve missed their connection despite it not being part of their obligations.”

What we are seeing, says June, is that international airlines are arriving in Johannesburg on time, but as a result of the long two- to three-hour queues, passengers are missing their connections and are requesting hotel accommodation from the airline. “From a domestic airline perspective, the fact that passengers are missing their onward connections means the flights depart with empty seats. All these costs are currently being borne by the airlines.”

Airport bottlenecks have also had a detrimental effect on the handling of passengers’ baggage. The flights arrive, bags are placed on the belts and need to be taken off after an hour to make space for the next arriving flight.  “This not only adds costs for the airlines but they also see their service levels deteriorate.”

BARSA, as well as the Tourism Business Council of South Africa and Airports Company of South Africa, are actively engaging with the DHA to find a constructive way forward and resolve the situation before the December holiday crowds peak.

Thailand: what your clients need to know

A call has been made for visitors to Thailand to respect the mourning period in the destination, following the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej on October 13.

While most public services are unaffected, a range of entertainment, sport and cultural events have been cancelled or postponed, and guidelines have been issued on acceptable behaviour.

According to the British Embassy travel advisory, following the official announcement of the death of KingBhumibol Adulyadej there is now an official period of mourning of one year from 14 October 2016.

It states travellers should respect the feelings and sensitivities of the Thai people at this time; access to entertainment, including restaurants, bars, and shopping areas may be restricted and you should behave respectfully when in public areas.

It also advised, if possible, wear sombre and respectful clothing when in public; check local media regularly and follow the advice of the local authorities. Not everyone is required to follow millions of mourning Thais in wearing black, but visitors are nonetheless expected to avoid overly revealing or colourful attire.

On the country’s popular southern beaches, however, normal swimwear is expected to remain acceptable.

A number of entertainment events have been cancelled, including concerts by Morrissey and the Scorpions, and Korean K-pop bands Big Bang, JYP and FT Island.

Dozens of local stage plays and other Thai entertainment also have been called off as have a range of Bangkok arts and music festivals, according to Khaosod, a popular English-language website.

The city’s 14th World Film Festival set for November has been postponed to January 20-29.

A range of religious and cultural festivals around the country also have been suspended.

These include next month’s Loi Krathong festival, in which colourful decorative baskets are released on rivers around the country, and annual buffalo races in southern Chonburi.

All entertainment programming on Thai television has been banned for the next month, but cinemas have reopened following a brief initial shutdown.

Most tourist sites in Thailand including its exquisite Buddhist temples remain open.

Due to funeral rites, however, Bangkok’s gilded Grand Palace, the seat of the royalty, and the sacred Temple of the Emerald Buddha on its grounds are closed to visitors until Friday, 21 October.

Most of Bangkok’s numerous popular open-air markets also are expected to stay in operation but visitors are advised to check locally as some have been reported closed.

The travel agent of the future

The travel agent is here to stay! This is the main message in a recent Skift report that looks into the role of ‘The Travel Agent of the Future’.

Also ASATA has examined the future of the travel agents in South Africa today and in the years to come in its research ‘The 21st Century Travel Agent’ and came up with nine recommendations which you can read here.

The rise of online travel agencies (OTAs) and DIY travel initially led to a dramatic halving of the travel agency workforce, but this decline has now levelled off, according to the Skift Report. The reason? Travel agent have started stepping up to the plate and have adapted to the changing travel industry landscape.

Even though travel search and booking looks completely different today than it did just years ago, the travel agent still has an important role to play as the intersection between high-tech and high-touch is now a key battle ground for travel brands the world over, both Skift and ASATA found. 

How can travel agents leverage personalisation?

The harsh reality is that travellers know how to do most travel transactions online. The good news is that they’ll still turn to their travel agents, but they expect unique experiences tailored to their priorities. They want the travel agent to give them offers built on their preferences.

Today’s travellers expect to be seen as individuals and want to receive information and offers built on their preferences, delivered in a timely manner to the device of their choice. ASATA’s research into the 21st Century Travel Agent shows how the travel agent can adapt to this ‘new’ traveller by becoming more customer-centric and focus on services that meet the customer’s priorities.

Where will revenue be coming from?

For a long time, travel agents have been relying on revenue from travel suppliers in the form of commission and override commission payments. The result was that travel agents focused their business around the requirements of the supplier instead of the customer.

But this has started to change. As suppliers are increasingly withdrawing their commissions, travel agents have indicated they view themselves primarily as representatives of the customer instead of a distribution channel for suppliers. The customer’s interests have also become their main concern. However, travel agents are still struggling to understand how they can monetise additional value they create for the traveller.

The truth is that until travel agents understand their customers’ personal, business and economic contexts as fully as possible, they will be unable to help travellers improve their end-to-end travel experience, help corporate travel buyers make good travel-related business decisions or generate travel-related service fees at appropriate margins.

How will technology be arming travel agents for the future?

Until now, travel agents have responded defensively to the online and mobile technologies. Constrained by their historical physical retail store operating model, travel agents see themselves as being in competition with online travel booking engines and travel service providers for the travel booking transaction. This needs to change.

The Connected Traveller will move from channel to channel, expecting the same offers, prices and service whatever channel they choose. Travel Agents could leverage technology to pursue an ‘omni-channel’ strategy that delivers a personalised, 24/7 experience to the leisure traveller from the start of the travel process to the end.

Technology and mobile communication will allow travel agents to generate additional revenue from new offers that meet the needs of the travellers. Travel agents will also be able to use technology to promote and market their services via social media as well as use technologies to access detailed product and destination information.

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