Travel professionals face a bright future

Once upon a time, there used to be travel agents… Hang on…stop that story right there! While travel agents the world over are sometimes described as dinosaurs, extinct and, most recently by a Business Insider report, relics of the past, those travel agents that have evolved to keep up with changing consumer demands are in fact thriving.

The problem with the recent Business Insider report which claimed travel agents were a relic of the past and that the number of agents in the USA was actually half of what it was 15 years ago, is that the study failed to take into account the growing number of independent travel agents in the market.

“Surveys like these are dime a dozen and always based on a very narrow interpretation of the subject,” explains Mladen Lukic, GM Travel Counsellors South Africa. He says the report completely ignores the changes that have taken place in the travel industry over the last decade whereby travel agents have evolved from the corporate monoliths of the 90s representing the embodiment of the ‘Travel Agent’ heritage into ‘Travel Advisers’.

In the strict sense of the word, Lukic says the travel agent is indeed a relic of the past. “In our market we will continue to see the demise of the companies that are unable or unwilling to accept this reality. In this context South African market is just a little bit behind but following the same trends as overseas.”

According to Lukic, the new generation of travel advisers have made a significant departure from a reliance on commission and dependence on supplier sanctioned remuneration to a genuine focus on clients and their needs. “The most successful ones have also realised the value of relationships in the 21st century economy,” he adds.

Garth Wolff, CEO eTravel, agrees and explains that the traditional bricks-and-mortar travel agency is indeed dying as a result of high costs and small margins. The ITC market however, is far from dying, he argues and is actually continuing to grow.

“In South Africa, the traditional bricks and mortar travel agents will continue to diminish. IATA’s new financial criteria will push up costs for the traditional travel agent, who will then start exploring the option of becoming an ITC,” says Wolff, adding that the future of the travel industry is the ITC model.

However, according to Rod Rutter, outgoing COO XL Travel, the ITC sector is not only the only travel agent sector that has a future in South Africa. He explains the corporate market heavily relies on TMCs for data information, payment mechanisms, personal attention and cost saving, he argues. “There will always be a need for TMCs in the corporate market,” he says.

Tourvest Travel Services Chief Sales and Marketing Officer Claude Vankeirsbilck says travel agents have had to change the way they operate and are imperative for those travellers for whom travelling with peace of mind is important. “Our role is to provide a trusted source of advice and information, as well as product and content quickly.

“We have some responsibility to inform our customers and act in their best interest. And that means to tell them what’s happening the the destinations they’re travelling to, suggest travel in a specific way and provide risk communications daily.”

Claude says Duty of Care has become a massive component in any travel management programme. “We have employed technology to help our customers manage risk. We know where our travellers are at any point in time.”

Vanya Lessing, CEO Sure Travel, explains the secret to survival for travel agencies is to move with the times. She says: “The travel agents who did not move with the fast pace of consumer demand, technology and above all, providing customer service excellence, certainly became relics of the past.

“Today’s travel professional understands that customers have choice and that they have to provide not only the product, but a comprehensive travel management service. The value of trustworthy supplier relationships, duty of care and truly knowledgeable, experienced people cannot be underestimated.”

Travel industry honours top achievers

Celia Kluever, Enid Maullin, Shanell Mowers, Kuben Moodley, Kevin Lomax, Minette Fourie,Lidia Folli, Otto de Vries, Janine Corry, Marcha Lourens

ASATA and Diners Club South Africa has announced the winners of the ASATA Diners Club Awards 2014 at a gala event held last Saturday (February 28) at the Montecasino Ballroom in Fourways, Johannesburg.

And the winners are:

  • Exceptional Commitment: Lidia Folli, Tourvest Travel Services Head Office, Johannesburg
  • Tomorrow’s Leader: Minette Fourie, Club Travel Head Office, Cape Town
  • Leisure Consultant: Marcha Lourens, South African Reynolds Travel Centre, Springs
  • Corporate Consultant: Celia Kluever, Sure African Imprint Travel, Pretoria
  • Key Accounts Executive: Shanell Mowers, Tourvest Travel Services, Johannesburg
  • Independent Travel Consultant in association with eTravel: Janine Corry, 24Point7 Travel Studio, eTravel, Cape Town
  • Wholesale Representative in a Tour Operator: Enid Maullin, Beachcomber Tours, Johannesburg
  • Wholesale Consultant in a Tour Operator: Kuben Moodley, Thompsons Holidays, Durban

Otto de Vries, CEO of ASATA says the association is honoured to pay tribute to those who are involved in this multibillion rand industry. “Last year the IATA figure for air tickets issued for domestic and international travel was in the region of R25 billion,” he says. “This amount excludes accommodation, car rental and the ancillary services connected with travel bookings.

“Today ASATA represents more than 85% of the industry in terms of market share, including the head offices of most of the major travel consortiums. We’re privileged to have a strong industry with travel agents and members who firmly believe in the continuous upgrading of their skills in order to keep pace with current trends.”

Ebrahim Matthews, managing director of Diners Club South Africa, adds: “Diners Club is proud to be associated with ASATA and its commitment to the travel industry through continued efforts to promote growth and development. We are once again delighted to sponsor these prestigious awards, where winners are nominated by their peers, judged fairly and independently, and duly recognised as being the elite of the travel industry.”

Otto concludes, “ASATA believes these awards are of great value to the industry in creating a professional environment. This industry awards programme is reflective of the excellence that we have in South Africa’s travel sector. The awards recognise those travel professionals who continue to offer excellent service with passion and due care, and who improve the perception of this exciting industry.”

For further details about the winners, please visit the ASATA Diners Club Awards website by clicking HERE or check out some of the great snaps that were taken on the night!

Avoid common fraud traps…

The best way to avoid fraud is to memorise the red flags that could indicate a scam and double-check any customer who shows ‘red flags’.

However, here are some tips and tricks that you can use as a travel agent to dodgy those dodgies:

Google is your friend

Although not foolproof, Google Maps will help determine whether an address is real or just an empty lot. The information might not always be 100% perfect, but at least a review of the cardholder’s information can assist in your review of whether or not the transaction may be suspect and require further investigation.

http://www.google.com/ or  http://maps.google.com/maps

Credit Card must-dos

  1. Never process payments on a credit card without having the card/s present at the time of the transaction
  2. Check signature against original card/s
  3. Obtain required authorisation
  4. Take an imprint of the card – A FAX COPY IS NOT AN IMPRINT
  5. Ensure validity of expiry date and check that security features appear on the card
  6. Please be warned: Any invalid expiry dates entered for approval through one of the Global Reservations Systems that results in a fraudulent transaction, will be charged back to the agency
  7. A great way to check whether the card is valid is to check the issuing bank of the card on https://www.bindb.com/bin-database.html

Authorisation alone is not enough

Although travel agents should always obtain an authorisation code for a credit card transaction, this code only indicates that the cardholder is in good standing with the bank (and is usually supplied automatically) but is no guarantee of payment.

It simply verifies that there are sufficient funds in the account. It can’t confirm the identity of the cardholder, or guarantee that the card and/or transaction are genuine.

Having said that, travel agents should always get an imprint of the credit card as well as obtain an authorisation number. Failing to do so will result in charge backs and the travel agent will then be liable to settle the loss due to fraudulent transactions.

This warning extends to the larger travel agencies issuing on behalf of agents who do not have IATA licenses. Failing to comply with the above will also result in the issuing agent being held liable for any loss incurred.

Don’t skimp on the paperwork 

Never get complacent when it comes to paperwork. It could safe the agency a lot of money. Travel agents should always ask for an identity document or passport and take a copy of the document.

Beware the fraudsters!

The ugly face of fraud continues to rear its head from time to time in the travel industry and this time it appears to be in the form of a host of scammers posing as staff from international offices of South African corporates contacting their respective TMCs for travel arrangements.

Concerning is how these fraudsters know which TMCs are linked to the corporates they are pretending to work for, but there are many other examples of fraud that can hit your agency, no matter what size, or how vigilant you remain.

Never fear though. There are definitely some red flags you should be watching out for:

 

Know your client

Agents report receiving emails and telephone calls from unknown persons requesting airline tickets and using credit cards as the form of payment.

Mostly, the email sender or caller requests tickets for someone other than himself. They identify themselves as a large corporation wanting to establish a corporate account with you.

Beware of departure and destination

Fraudsters tend to opt for a departure airport that is not local to the travel agency or is an international departure. Destinations will often include high-risk airports such as Accra, Lagos, Abidjan or even Sao Paulo.

When it comes to domestic-only itineraries, the caller will often use a story to entice you to want to provide the service (i.e., grandchild just born, death in the family, etc.).

Timing is everything

Requests for immediate travel or travel within a few days of the reservation from new customers should always raise a Red Flag and agents need to be careful about issuing tickets for these types of bookings.

Don’t trust jargon

Double-check customers who use travel agency lingo like “JNB” rather than Johannesburg in their emails rather than the name of the city.

When price is not an issue

Fraudsters are usually quite casual about price of the flights, no matter how exorbitant, or about the price of the service fee.

Free e-mail addresses

Don’t trust travel demands made from a free, web-based, email, address, which is also often not traceable. Often when dealing with demands from web-based e-mail addresses, the name on the e-mail address is totally different from the name signed at the end of the e-mail.

Spell-check

Scammers tend to use poor English. Their e-mails are often badly written with numerous spelling mistakes and tend to be short and to the point.

It’s all in the name

Fraudsters often create email addresses similar to legitimate corporations and dupe agency staff into believing they work at the corporation.  As an example, fraudsters can create an email address like xyzcorp-us.com, while the proper corporate client address is xyzcorp.com to make the agent believe they’re dealing with legitimate employees.

Check the card

Most fraudulent customers will opt for 3rd party credit cards, and will rarely be the actual cardholder. The same card will also be used for different passengers and routings.

Meet ASATA’s Board of Directors for 2013/2014

At our recently held AGM, ASATA elected its new Board for the coming year. With our recent adopted funding model in place, it was the first time we applied the new voting process to elect our Board Members, based on market share. We also used the opportunity to call an Extraordinary General Meeting to approve several motions, including the securing of two additional Board positions to include representatives from our Wholesale and our Partner Sections.

ASATA’s new Board Members are:-

President: Claude Vankeirsbilck – Chief Sales Officer of Tourvest Travel Services. In this role, Claude leads the New Business Development division and is responsible for building and maintaining executive-level relationships with the TTS corporate client base.
Vice-President:   Vanya Lessing – CEO of Sure Holdings Ltd. Vanya’s key responsibilities are to look after the commercial interests of the Sure Group stakeholders; being shareholders, licensees and suppliers.
Treasurer: James Sedgwick – comes from a financial background, having worked in the auditing profession before moving into the financial services sector. His involvement in travel comes through his directorship of Fishhoek Travel as well as the Sure Group.
Chief Executive Officer: Otto de Vries – CEO of ASATA. He was previously Managing Director of Holiday Tours and Holiday Travel and has been in the travel and tourism industry for over 25 years.
Members – Retail: Garth Wolff – CEO of E-Travel.
Bronwyn Philipps – Managing Director of HRG Rennies Travel.
Member – Wholesale: George Argyropoulos – Managing Director of Cruises International.
Member – Partners: Charmaine Hardwick – Group Sales Director at Protea Hotels.

The new Board not only represents consistency as we work through the implementation of our strategy of Compliance, Consensus and Confidence, but also includes 3 new Board Members, each bringing with them invaluable experience, input and guidance and helping to ensure that our vision of championing ASATA members as the consumer’s channel of choice when buying travel products and services, is achieved.

For photo’s and detailed biographies, please visit our About the Directors and Staff page.

ASATA Conference 2013

ASATA Conference 2013

 

It is with great pleasure that we announce our ASATA Conference 2013
taking place in Dubai in August.

The theme of this year’s Conference is “the hub of your travel business”. Our goal is to deliver a first class Conference that will allow senior members to network and be briefed on key industry matters and activities of the Association and to re-enforce the message of confidence. Our focus is on engaging industry, so attendees can look forward to relevant business panel discussions and guest speakers who are experts in their fields, sharing and engaging attendees on various topics. Of course the work will be interspersed with leisure time and activities and functions that will further enhance the opportunity to network.

I strongly recommend that our Members make every effort to attend. It is through participation that the real value of your Association is revealed. Our collective power through the input and involvement of our Members is what creates the framework within which our industry regulates itself and operates, in the interest and advancement of a professional industry and to the benefit of the traveling public.

We look forward to welcoming you and hosting you in Dubai! Please visit our ASATA Conference 2013 website for full details and to register.

Otto de Vries
Chief Executive Officer

IATA’s New Distribution Capability (NDC)

Message to ASATA Members:

By now most of you would have heard or read about IATA’s development of new industry standards for the transmission of data, that will facilitate product differentiation, increased sales of ancillary products and services and personalized offers, namely NDC (New Distribution Capability)

To date the proposed NDC has been met with great scepticism and concern, particularly by the global travel agent community and GDS companies. It would appear as if the NDC is being developed to not only circumvent the travel agent and GDS in the distribution of airline ticket sales but also to control and limit access to fares, based on client profiling. Of late IATA has gone to great lengths to alleviate these fears and there appears to be a genuine willingness to commit to a consultative process with the Travel Agent community, as they move forward with their plans.

ASATA has engaged IATA in this process, meeting with their Senior Vice President of Industry Distribution and Financial Services during his recent visit to South Africa. We then participated in the PAPGJC and AAF meeting in Madrid, where the matter was once again raised. ASATA joined the newly formed Agents Airline Forum, a global forum with a focus on strategic issues with discussions initiated and led by Global Agent Associations, Airline Associations and IATA on passenger distribution standards and infrastructure.

Following these meetings the WTAAA (World Travel Agents Association Alliance) held its Board of Directors meeting in Sao Paulo. The purpose of WTAAA is to foster and facilitate exchange of information and advice on matters of mutual interest, and provides a forum for the consideration of common strategic visions and synergies

NDC was the key topic of discussion and following the meeting we sent out a letter to IATA in which we raised several key concerns regarding NDC.

Be therefore assured that ASATA is taking every possible action to protect our industry. Effort is being made not only to understand NDC, but to participate in discussions and debates that will allow us to develop a clear opinion of its intentions and proposed outcomes. In due course we will be in a position to put out a clear statement to IATA on whether the Southern African Travel Agent industry will support or oppose the roll out of NDC. We need to be sure that the value proposition being presented by IATA on NDC is mindful and respectful of the distribution channel called Travel Agents, which still delivers over 60% of global airline sales.

Regards

Otto de Vries
ASATA: Chief Executive Officer

Meet ASATA’s open door CEO!

Strategic, committed and approachable, ASATA’s new Chief Executive Officer Otto de Vries has his sights firmly set on developing and maintaining the highest level of expertise and professionalism within the industry.

Otto joined the organisation as of 1 January 2013 bringing with him 25 years experience in the travel industry, 17 of these in senior management roles.

A strategic thinker, with experience in managing businesses, start ups, business transformation and projects, Otto’s vision for ASATA is to champion the organisation’s Members as the consumer’s channel of choice when buying travel products and services.

Key to this, he says, is his willingness to listen and take on board the views and opinions of others in an effort find the best possible working solutions to our industry needs.

Otto is known for his strong commercial acumen, having acquired valuable management experience both locally and abroad. While his experience spans from operations and sales and marketing to contract management and product development, Otto’s strengths undoubtedly lie in his people leadership, strategic planning and implementation and change management skills.

Over the next few months Otto will focus on familiarising himself with ASATA’s operations, getting to know the committees and Members throughout the country. Members are thus encouraged to attend regional meetings to meet Otto, hear his vision for ASATA and share their particular views and issues with him.

The future of travel search

Shopping around when it comes to buying travel appears to be the rule of thumb according to a joint Amadeus – PhoCusWright report entitled “Empowering inspiration: the future of travel search”.

Apparently consumers feel like they are making a hasty, potentially regrettable purchase if they don’t shop around. The study looks at how consumers make holiday and travel decisions today and in the future, highlighting that the biggest issue in travel planning remains information overload.

The practice of yield management by travel suppliers has further created “substantial anxiety” about when consumers should book.

Interestingly, many consumers, in fact most in emerging markets, don’t actually have a specific destination in mind when they start their trip planning process. The study says because of this, there’s definitely a need for better roll-ups and condensed snapshots of information such as seasonal temperature/precipitation and price ranges.

Download and read the study here. It’s 45 pages of research but well worth the read…And what’s more it’s free. Thank you Amadeus!

Cutting through the Internet clutter…

Another interesting article about the role travel agents play in helping consumers cut the clutter features this week in the trade press…

This time it’s an Australian retail agency group’s managing director saying consultants must continue to adapt and change the way they interact with their clients if they are to keep up with the “fast changing nature of the travel industry”.

We are repeatedly told that consumers are suffering from an information overload as a result of researching travel online, highlighting the ongoing importance of the role consultants can play in filtering through the masses of content and navigating consumers through it. Consumers, says the article, are becoming “confused” as to what they really want.

Attention to detail, concludes the article, is perhaps even more important now than it has ever been given how many consumers tend to research their destination or activity first and these people are extremely knowledgeable about the ‘big picture’.

What do you think? Are they on the money?