ASATA rejects Government Statement that travel agents are exploiting travellers in Covid-19 lockdown

2 min read

The Association of Southern African Travel Agents (ASATA) has noted the comments made by Government publicly that travel agents are allegedly forcing travellers to “buy another ticket when they are already a holder of a ticket to travel”.

We take exception to the comments made by South African Minister of International Relations Dr. Naledi Pandor yesterday, calling on travel agents not to “exploit” travellers and asking the travel agency community to be “appreciative of the circumstance of urgency” and not use it for “profit making”.

As the body representing over 90% of South Africa’s retail travel community, we wish to set the record straight.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit South African shores and President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national lockdown, travel agencies were working around the clock to re-accommodate travellers, dealing with rapidly changing airline and supplier policies and getting travellers back home before the lockdown.

“There is absolutely no question that South African travel agents have been exemplary in these unprecedented times, which have left them with no income for the foreseeable future and very little support from the airline community which is currently holding the monies that have been paid over for tickets not flown,” says Otto de Vries, CEO ASATA.

Travel agents have been stuck in the middle, trying to secure funds from airlines to pay their customers.

There are growing tensions between the global agency community and airlines with regards to refund money that airlines are holding, switching off refund platforms from agents and forcing “vouchers” for assumed future travel. The airline is in effect holding on to the ticket monies without being able to fulfil the service purchased.  This practice then places travellers in the position where another ticket must be purchased.

Most notably, South African Airways, the National Carrier, has confirmed that it has “de-activated” refunds and are allowing alternatives for travellers that include use of current ticket, extending the ticket validity or nominating an alternative traveller.

“We are working with our international trade association partners to call for strong action against airlines which are flouting the law by withholding refunds due following the cancellation of flights,” says de Vries.

We would urge Minister Pandor, and indeed Government, to reach out to ASATA with their concerns prior to making any public statements, based on traveller comments, which denigrates the excellent work that travel agencies have been doing to help South Africans over these past weeks – under very difficult conditions, and despite their own uncertain future.

“ASATA and its constituents have been very supportive of the work that Government has done to secure the safety of South African citizens over the past few weeks.

“We respectfully ask that Minister Pandor review and retract her public statement about travel agents, so that we may forge ahead with our critical role in safeguarding the corporate and leisure travel of the residents of South Africa in future,” concludes de Vries.