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…
Travel agents take note. The Sharing Economy has hit travel and it’s here with a vengeance; so much so that Airbnb is being touted as the largest hotel chain in the world (without any of their own rooms) and Uber, the largest car rental company (without any of their own cars of course).
Business travel is getting their full attention, with this week’s announcement that Airbnb is launching a full product suite aimed at making Airbnb “easier” to use for companies.
From this week, companies around the world can now sign in to Airbnb and have access to a range of features to support business trips. Says a press release on the site: “The suite of tools provides visibility into employee travel itineraries booked through Airbnb, financial reporting data, and central billing to improve the business travel experience for travellers and travel managers.”
Airbnb further wants to reinvent the notion of business travel with the global expansion of a programme that would sleep colleagues in a private home under one roof, instead of a hotel room.
Since launching last summer, more than 250 companies have joined the company’s Business Travel programme, including Google and SoundCloud.
What do you think about the impact this will have on the travel industry as we know it?
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!
Tales of travel fraud have once again hit the press this week with ITC Elize Raath making headlines for allegedly taking payment for and failing to book a group of Krugersdorp school children on a tour of Ireland, Spain and Portugal.
Earlier this year, a bogus travel agent was involved in an online discount air ticket scam and was charged for conspiracy to commit fraud. And in December last year, hundreds of South Africans, most of them expats living in London, were caught in an e-ticketing scam allegedly perpetrated by Kim Robbertse, an independent travel agent in Polokwane.
Travellers’ preferred travel booking methods hinge greatly on the trust they they have in the booking channel they’re using and fraudsters, whether they are posing as travel agents, or are in fact travel agents, bring the entire travel industry into disrepute and weaken the trust that travellers have in travel agents as a booking channel.
In the midst of this bad publicity, now more than ever it falls to ASATA and its members to drive the mantra of ‘Travel with Peace of Mind’ when booking with an ASATA member. Our new slogan and consumer campaign is being rolled out and a new marketing toolkit with collateral will be available on the website for members to use soon.
One must remember that as an unregulated industry, anyone can start a so-called travel agency. ASATA remains a voluntary body and it is therefore crucial that our members stand behind the ASATA brand, promote it and proudly display it in their communications and marking strategies. We need to tell our customers what being an ASATA member means for them.
A key selling point of using an ASATA member is that they comply with a strict code of conduct that enforces proper business practices and it is essential that members use this credibility to communicate that they are a trustworthy booking channel because of the stringent requirements placed on our members to run legitimate travel businesses.
It must be noted that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of enquiries our office receives on a daily basis, asking if the agency they are about to engage is an ASATA member. Our awareness in the consumer space is growing, to the benefit of our members and the consumers.