Home Affairs vs Tourism… battle lines drawn!

The battle lines have finally been drawn in public between the Departments of Home Affairs and Tourism, and this time the debate is whirling around the job losses that the new immigration regulations will likely cause for the South African economy.

The latest Tourism Business Index of the Tourism Business Council of SA business performance levels indicate that business performance levels across the tourism value chain have dropped from 99.9 points in the first quarter to 83.6 points in the second quarter, the lowest performance level since the third quarter of 2011. The drop is largely due to the impact of new visa regulations on overseas tourists, especially those sourced from China and India. President Zuma promised a review of the regulations in February, but as yet there has been no public announcement of any change to the regulations.

Grant Thornton Advisory Services, cited in the Times, says R1.6bn has already been lost in the first quarter. “This is really a catastrophe — we haven’t experienced this decline in tourism in the past 21 years,” said Lee-Anne Bac, a partner and director at the company. “It’s such an important industry to our economy — it creates jobs, it’s an easy entry for entrepreneurship and it is dominated by small business. It’s a key part of the growth potential of our economy, and we are giving it away to our competitors.”

TBCSA CEO Mmatsatsi Ramawela says: “Hotel rooms are empty, jobs are on the line. The long-term effect will be irreparable for South Africa if we do not come up soon with a solution which both protects South Africa’s security and the industry — it would be devastating.”

This week, the opposition DA called on Home Minister Malusi Gigaba to take heed of the private sector’s concerns regarding the decline in tourist numbers. Beverley Schäfer, DA Western Cape spokesperson on economic opportunities, tourism and agriculture, said: “These [visa] regulations can potentially destroy 22 000 jobs, split families and prevent people from entering SA that could positively contribute to our economy.”

Schäfer is reported have said: “The goal in the National Development Plan (NDP) is to create an additional one million jobs in the tourism sector, which Minister Gigaba has put at risk in his refusal to back down and his department’s recent denial of a negative impact on tourism.”

Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom has also finally added his voice to the furore this week saying he was worried about the impact the regulations were having on the tourism industry. Minister Hanekom said the number of visitors from China had dropped by nearly 40% and the picture for other markets was similar. He also questioned Gigaba’s basis for imposing these regulations during an interview on Radio 702.

Minister Gigaba hit back almost immediately saying he found it “offensive” that the tourism industry was placing profits above children, also criticising Minister Hanekom for going outside normal cabinet procedures.

And so the battle ensues…

What to Expect From the Travel Agent of the Future

Interesting research report from global travel research firm Skift this week that talks about what customers can expect from the travel agent of the future.

ASATA has launched its own study on the 21st Century Travel agent and will be continuing its research expanding the study to capture elements of leisure travel trends so we were very interested to read this report by Skift which talks about the fact that agents should invest time and energy after the travel experience is over to understand their customer fully.

According to Matthew Upchurch, CEO of Virtuoso: The most valuable thing agents are doing today to boost their business volume is in-depth follow-up phone calls, because that’s when the travel agent (or travel advisor) can learn more about their client’s particular travel preferences. That’s a shift in the traditional value proposition for agents, who have typically positioned themselves foremost as expert sources of travel destination knowledge.

However, because consumers can access such a large amount of up-to-date travel destination information online, Virtuoso is positioning agents as a kind of travel psychoanalyst. The thinking goes, the better the agent knows the customer’s wishes and whims down to the smallest detail, the more likely the customer will return to the agent for future travel advice and services. So Virtuoso is placing more of a priority on educating member agents about the value of building long term relationships, as much as learning about the newest travel trends and products.

If the agent can develop a certain level of what Upchurch calls “attunement” into the client’s travel mindset, that can create a degree of trust where the customer will more likely use the agent to book future business, even if the agent has never been to the intended destination. That’s because good travel agents are aggressively networking with other agents who are experts on destinations they’re unfamiliar with. In effect, the best individual travel agents today are acting as their own individual travel agencies.

Read the full report here and let us know what you think!

IATA rolls back Cabin OK initiative

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced that it was pausing the rollout of its Cabin OK initiative and beginning a comprehensive reassessment in light of concerns expressed, primarily in North America. This will include further engagement with program participants, the IATA membership, and key stakeholders.

The Cabin OK initiative was launched on 9 June 2015 with the aim of providing passengers with greater assurance that their carry-on bags will travel with them in the aircraft cabin, even when the flight is full. The initiative provides consumers with a voluntary option to use a Cabin OK labeled bag (with optimally sized dimensions of 55 x 35 x 20 cm or 21.5” x 13.5” x 7.5″ inches) that would (1) be immediately recognizable as complying with the vast majority of airline maximum size requirements for cabin baggage and (2) be given a priority (determined by airlines individually) to remain in the cabin on full flights when cabin storage capacity is exceeded.

Interest in the Cabin OK program has been intense. While the value of this initiative has been welcomed by many, including a growing list of airlines expressing interest in the program, there has also been much confusion. In North America particularly, there have been significant concerns raised in the media and by key stakeholders.

“Our focus is on providing travelers with an option that would lead to a simplified and better experience. While many welcomed the Cabin OK initiative, significant concerns were expressed in North America. Cabin OK is a voluntary program for airlines and for consumers. This is clearly an issue that is close to the heart of travelers. We need to get it right. Today we are pausing the rollout and launching a comprehensive reassessment of the Cabin OK program with plans to further engage program participants, the rest of our members, and other key stakeholders,” said Tom Windmuller, Senior Vice President, Airport, Passenger, Cargo and Security.

IATA reiterated some key principles of the Cabin OK initiative which will continue to guide the reassessment: Cabin OK is a guideline for an optimally sized cabin bag, not an industry standard. Cabin OK does not seek to define a maximum size for carry-on bags, which is something each airline does individually. And no consumer will be forced into buying a new bag as a result of this voluntary initiative.

To truly ‘experience’ your business travel – talk to your ASATA agent!

In this month’s Business Traveller, check out our ASATA column on business travel becoming a lifestyle…

Good news just in! The new business traveller isn’t all work and no play. Today’s Sky Warrior, or Road Warrior, depending on your preferred mode of transport, likes to benefit from experiential perks during work-related trips, such as access to spas, top restaurants and cultural events.

Industry research firm Skift says while business travellers are becoming increasingly productive, they’re also putting more time aside to immerse themselves in their business travel destinations. They’re experience seekers who use business travel as an excuse to explore something new and expand their horizons.

And it’s not surprising that they’re adopting this approach as companies increasingly recognise that work is no longer a place, it is in fact an experience. The anytime, anywhere nature of our jobs today has changed the way we look at our worklife and influenced how we as business travellers inject destination experiences that suit us in to our business travel and in doing so enhance our productivity, change our thinking and enable us to engage and network with our peers on a much greater level.

Yes, business travel is quickly emerging as a lifestyle.

Once dreaded, the prospect of business travel today is an opportunity to expand your horizons, with technological advancements and traveller-friendly facilities like docking stations, cocktail bars, in-flight WiFi, mobile check-in, etc enabling business travellers to be more efficient and use the time saved more effectively, to make every minute count.

Global airport lounge access organisation Priority Pass also highlights this trend saying benefits like lounge access and concierge services are increasing among business travellers, while the importance once given to perks such as flying business class and staying in higher-star-rated hotels is diminishing.

The study also says business travellers prefer to keep their travel benefits to use when going on holiday with their families, and appreciate preferential seating with their families during leisure time.  Frequent business travellers are said to be more engaged than leisure travellers in seeking experience-led holidays.

So are these the benefits you, wearing your business traveller hat, are looking for? Or do you have a whole other set of preferences when it comes to business and leisure travel? Chat to your ASATA travel consultant to get you the travel perks that will make your business travel heart sing, while ensuring you stay within the peremeters of your corporate travel policy.

Of course, you can make your own bookings and select a hotel with WiFi, concierge services and a lobby. However, your TMC will look beyond free WiFi, and will ensure that outlets and connectivity ports for laptops and mobile devices are available throughout the chosen hotel. Your consultant will make sure there is a space in the lobby where you can meet up with colleagues to run through a power point presentation, or that the hotel’s loyalty programme includes perks that appeal to you specifically.

In short, you ASATA travel consultant can make sure you have the stress-free, customised and streamlined travel experience you’ve been asking for.

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?

The future of travel…

earthWhere were you five years ago? If you’re in the same place you were five years ago, spare a thought for how the global travel industry has actually evolved in the past five years… The rise of Uber and AirBNB, New Distribution Capability and dare we say it… unabridged birth certificates!

Travel research firm Skift looks at the next five years and the nub of it is that travel companies have to be “fanatically focused” on the changing consumer behaviours across all sectors.

The research paper says brands should build a business around helping travellers connect with their immediate surroundings and people around them rather than just digital connectivity. Skift says you must be Smart, Sharp, Surgical and Strategic.

The most forward thinking travel brands are delivering deeper experiences to travellers by focusing on three things above everything else: Inspiration, Personalisation and a path towards self-discovery.

Further highlights in the next five years, travel firms have to look forward to, include:

  • The Rise of the Silent Traveller: A new kind of traveller who is adept at all available online and mobile tools and uses them to jump across all industry-defined silos. People are going ‘silent’ and self-reliant because they don’t want to be sold to anymore.
  • Millennial Mindset Modern Traveller: The psyche of Millennials maps perfectly on to what the modern travellers want from travel products.
  • Travel innovation is everywhere: Don’t just look for it exclusively in the travel startup or tech world.
  • The future of travel is in cities: Caring for locals first means being better on the global stage. The rise of smart cities is creating the rise of the smart mobility era.
  • Alternative travel is a reality: Fueled by the marketplace model, which has taken the best of online, mobile and social to create travel products that allow people to find rides or alternative accommodations with ease. Transactions are easier, discovery is faster and feedback is transparent, according to Skift.
  • On demand economy: Will lead to further unbundling of travel services, especially hospitality. Full-service hotels in dense urban environments will be affected most.
  • Smart travel brands: Will integrate the right on-demand service, make them seamless for users to access and use.

In essence… in 2020, expect the unbundling of everything, the on-demandification of everything and the mobility of everything!