The Association of Southern African Travel Agents (ASATA) has put out a strong call for a definitive date to the reopening of international travel to ensure the survival of the travel industry.
This comes as STA Travel announced its global closure on 24th August. While the agency was not a member of the association, ASATA confirms that, broadly, the industry as a whole has made every effort to assist customers to reschedule their travels with little to no compensation since the travel ban was implemented in March, as international outbound travel remains closed.
“We appreciate the Government’s efforts to implement a risk-adjusted and phased approach to reopening international travel and tourism. However, in order for the industry to survive this difficult time, a definite date for the reopening of international travel is imperative,” says Otto de Vries, ASATA CEO.
A definite date for international travel would allow sufficient time for airlines to plan the reintroduction of flight schedules to South Africa. Travel agents and tour operators would be able to start compiling travel packages for the safe return of travellers to international corporate and leisure travel. To that end, the travel industry has contributed to the Tourism Business Council of South Africa’s stringent health and safety protocols.
While the travel industry awaits the reopening of international travel, ASATA highlights that refunds remain a particular challenge for travel agents. “In many cases, travel agents, as intermediaries between the end customer and supplier, have been unable to recover monies from end suppliers (the airline, hotel, etc.), while they are expected to refund the customer. This has put the travel agent in an unenviable position.”
In a recovery scenario for the travel industry, de Vries explains we can expect to see significant changes. ASATA travel agents may choose to work only with those suppliers that offer assurances in terms of safety and hygiene protocols, as well as assurances in terms of flexible booking and cancellation policies. Meanwhile, travellers are expected to rely more than ever on the knowledge, expertise and service of a trusted travel advisor.
“Our role as the travel industry is to guide travellers to feel confident once again about their travels. Nothing is more important now for travellers than knowing they can reach out to an expert who can answer their questions with confidence so that they can travel with peace of mind,” concludes de Vries.