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

Travel agents are back… here’s why

Customers are flocking back to the travel agent, according to a recent report in Travel Market Report. The article identified six reasons why travellers opt to book through their travel agent:

We offer guidance

Even the most seasoned travellers get a little nervous in these scary times where they are faced with Zika, terrorism and Ebola.  They appreciate our advice.

We offer savings

Agents have access to deals and promotions travellers do not, so we can still save our clients money.

OTAs are no longer flavour of the month

Travellers are frustrated with hidden fees and charges when they book through online travel agencies. There is just too much information out there to sort through.

We offer customer service

Travel agents help during the booking process and stay with you to make sure all goes right. And when there is a problem, we are there to intervene.

Deep knowledge of the destination, and personal understanding of your interests.
Agents often specialise in niche markets, so they can offer even more insight into a specific destination or segment of travel, like LGBT or destination weddings. And they spend a little time getting to know the customer, so they can make recommendations tailored to what you want to do. “It’s almost like your best friend is booking a trip for you,” says DiBernardo.

Travel agents’ customer base is skewing toward Millennials.
The percentage of travellers under the age of 35 who prefer to book their vacations through a travel agent increased 50% between 2014 and 2015, reports MMGY Global. They don’t have time to wade through all the options, and they understand there is only one chance to make a vacation perfect. Just as they hire an expert to do their taxes or maintain their garden, they want a knowledgeable professional to help them make this most important decision.

biometrics

Biometrics now required for Australian visas

All applicants, regardless of nationality, who are in South Africa at the time of making a visa application to enter Australia, will be required to provide their biometrics along with their application, unless otherwise excluded or exempted from doing so under Australian Government policy effective immediately.

Australian visa applicants will need to make an appointment at any one of the four Australian Visa Application Centres (AVACs) to provide their biometrics. These AVACs managed by the Australian Government’s Service Delivery Partner TLScontact, are located in Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and Pretoria. Appointments can be made by contacting an AVAC or by visiting their website https://au.tlscontact.com/

 

Applicants will still be able to lodge their visa application through any one of the AVACs located across South Africa, where they will also be able to provide biometrics at the same time. Alternatively, visa applicants who send their application by mail or lodge online will be sent a letter requiring them to attend an AVAC to provide their biometrics. Applicants will need to take this letter with them to an AVAC when providing biometrics so the AVAC is able to match their application with the biometrics collected.

 

Some applicants may be fully or partially exempt from providing biometrics under Australian Government policy. Applicants fully exempt from providing biometrics include diplomatic representatives and their dependants, and government officials acting as a representative of a foreign government. Applicants who may be partially exempt from biometric collection include minors less than five years old (photo only required) and mentally or physically incapable persons (photo only required).

 

Currently, Australia is collecting biometric data from visa applicants in 33 countries across Africa, Asia, Europe, the Pacific, the Middle East and the Americas and will continue to expand globally in the future. The collecting of biometrics from visa applicants will improve visa integrity, reduce identity fraud and improve security and safety for travellers and the Australian community.

 

A new fee structure has also been implemented:

 

  • Primary Applicant Service Delivery Fee                   1017 ZAR
  • Secondary Applicant(s) Service Delivery Fee             814 ZAR
  • Biometric collection only Service Delivery Fee          811 ZAR

Industry leaders commit to ASATA Charter

South Africa’s leading travel agent groupings have made a groundbreaking public commitment to the South African consumer to continue providing professional service, conduct themselves ethically and behave in a trustworthy manner, thus endorsing the Association of Southern African Travel Agents as the benchmark of professionalism in the region’s travel industry.

At this weekend’s ASATA Conference in Somerset West, travel consortia, comprising 85% of South Africa’s retail travel industry, signed the ASATA Charter which outlines their continued commitment to delivering fair and transparent business practices, the highest ethical standards to further the industry’s professionalism, providing high-quality service, and confronting inappropriate behaviour and practices when dealing with customers and partners, among other commitments.

This ongoing commitment ensures ASATA members continue to meet consumers’ needs of value and security by maintaining the highest level of expertise and professionalism.

“The ASATA Charter reflects members’ commitment to ensuring the South African consumer will ‘Travel with Peace of Mind’ when booking through an ASATA member,” explains Otto de Vries, ASATA CEO.

“By displaying the ASATA logo proudly, our members are saying that they believe in and are committed to delivering to their customers on the promise of providing professional service, conducting themselves ethically, behaving in a trustworthy manner and being a market leader.”

Members who sign this Charter furthermore commit to being accountable and responsible in rectifying any violation of the ASATA Charter and to strive to prevent any recurrence.

Comair and UASA reach settlement after weeklong strike

Comair has confirmed that the current industrial action by members, represented by UASA, has come to an end. An amicable resolution has been reached between UASA the Union, representing airport staff and the company.

Over the weekend, Comair implemented a defensive lock-out of its airport staff, who have been on strike since Wednesday, 13 April 2016. The lock-out was effective Sunday, 17 April 2016. On Monday, 18 April 2016, UASA the Union approached the South African Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) for an urgent Section 150 intervention.

Both parties were open to resolve the dispute and on Tuesday, 19 April 2016, the parties agreed to a wage increase of 10% in 2016, 7% in 2017 and 6% in 2018, a total of 23% over the three year period, effective 01 January 2016.

Airport ground staff are expected to report for duty on Thursday, 21 April 2016.

The trade union, which has a 58% membership in the airport unit, initially requested a 35% increase over 3 years, while Comair was offering an unconditional 7.5% increase for each of the three years (22,5% over three year period).

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.”

 

 

 

passport stamps

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.

  

IMC recommendations shows collective industry efforts have paid off and government has listened

JOHANNESBURG – The Association of Southern African Travel Agents (ASATA) welcomes the recommendations made today by the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) instituting biometric visas on arrival for travellers from countries where there is no South Africa mission and amending the requirements around Unabridged Birth Certificates (UBCs) for inbound travellers under the age of 18 years.

The IMC was appointed in August 2015 to assess the “unintended consequences” that have arisen as a result of the implementation of new Immigration Regulations by the Department of Home Affairs, but no engagement with the travel community has taken place as part of their discussions, which are aimed at finding a “rational and implementable” method of bringing about a balance that does not sacrifice South Africa’s security, but that also deals with the “negative economic impact” that has arisen as a result.

Tourism arrival statistics from most of South Africa’s key source markets have reported significant declines since the new Immigration Regulations came into effect, with losses estimated to the South African economy estimated to be over R7.5bn.

While the IMC’s decision is very positive for the inbound tourism industry, South Africa’s outbound travel community will continue to be impacted by the requirement to present UBCs. “The decision shows that our relentless collective efforts have had a positive impact and that government has listened,” says Otto de Vries, CEO ASATA.

“It is disappointing however that travelling South African families will continue to be subjected to the UBC requirement even though it is clear that we are experiencing ongoing challenges with the timeous issuing of these.

“Child trafficking is a global issue and we do not believe in the effectiveness of this particular policy requirement to deliver on its intention to curb trafficking in South Africa.”

To read the full recommendations made by the IMC, click here: http://bit.ly/1kz7VTB

ASATA Board to ‘future plan’ and ‘future proof’ changing travel industry

asata board copyThe newly appointed ASATA board takes its reins at a time when the association’s position has been strengthened and elevated, says Vanya Lessing, Sure Travel CEO and re-appointed ASATA president.

“The value of ASATA’s strategic role cannot be underestimated. Our role as a board is to provide a strategic framework for governance in the travel sector and this is through the implementation of 15 key projects which the board, together with the ASATA CEO and his team, have been driving over the past year,” says Vanya.

“This re-elected board will have a clear mandate to future plan and future proof the changing industry. As ASATA, we need to ensure the association is at the forefront of this change.

“This industry is ripe for disruption, we need to be the agent of that change and it is imperative that we inform the customer of the value that we bring.”

Joining Vanya on the ASATA board are the re-elected Johanna Mukoki, Travel With Flair MD and Founder as Vice President, and James Sedgwick of Sure Travel, Fish Hoek as Treasurer.

Additional board members include:

  • Bronwyn Phillips, HRG Rennies Travel
  • Claude Vankeirsbilck, Tourvest Travel Services
  • Johann Strydom, World Leisure Holidays
  • Lance Smith, Avis Rent A Car

ASATA CEO Otto de Vries says the continuity of and support from the re-elected board will ensure that the association’s strategic mandates to further ensure compliance, consensus and confidence within the industry will be realised. “It is through the support of our dedicated ASATA board, that we have been successful in our efforts to champion ASATA members as the consumer channel of choice over the past year.

“We are working steadfastly to support our members in industry, government and media forums as they evolve to meet the changing needs of the 21st century traveller and to grow the stature and credibility of the association among all stakeholders,” concludes De Vries.

Airport official suspended for soliciting unwarranted ‘fines’ for Immigration Regulations non-compliance

An alleged fraudster, who attempted to solicit fines from minors at OR Tambo International Airport claiming that they had the incorrect documents to travel according to the newly implemented Immigration Act, has been suspended following a rapid response by The Association of Southern African Travel Agents (ASATA).

The airport official was said to have approached a group of schoolgirls travelling on a student exchange after they had successfully checked-in and presented all documentation to the airline check-in staff.

The group of schoolgirls were allegedly forced to accompany the official to an ‘interview’ room and were denied access to a female official leaving them traumatised and distressed.

According to the victims, the official claimed that they did not have the correct paperwork to travel and demanded a R500 ‘fine’ be paid before being allowed to depart South Africa. This is despite their documents having been vetted previously by their travel agent and accepted by the airline staff upon check-in as valid.

Upon news reaching their travel agent, the matter was escalated to ASATA, which in turn ensured it was dealt with speedily through the correct channels.

“It is so important that travellers fully understand what their rights are and that this kind of behaviour from an official is unacceptable,” says Otto De Vries, CEO ASATA.

“We would urge members of the public to inform themselves about the full requirements of the Immigration legislation, consult with their ASATA travel agent to ensure they comply, and refer any similar incidents to the Association so that these may be dealt with swiftly and effectively.”

“We simply cannot have situations where the officials in whom we place our trust undermine the process and cause our travellers undue distress,” concludes Otto.