South Africa’s travel sector has welcomed announcements that enhanced security measures will be implemented at OR Tambo International Airport, saying it is at least a step in the right direction.
The largest airport hub in South Africa, handling over 20 million passengers, has been plagued with incidences of rampant crime recently, leading industry stakeholders to question why not enough is being done to safeguard the safety of international and domestic travellers.
This week, the United States Consul General in Johannesburg issued a security warning to US citizens about OR Tambo International Airport, urging them to exercise caution when arranging ground transportation from the airport.
The statement indicates that numerous US citizens and other travellers have been robbed at gun point while travelling from OR Tambo International Airport to their place of lodging in what are known as “follow home” robberies.
“US citizens should avoid night-time arrival flights to OR Tambo International Airport. No form of transportation from the airport is considered completely secure and risk-free. Travellers should exercise caution at all times when departing the airport. Travellers should also avoid changing money or utilising ATMs at the airport, and avoid displaying expensive jewellery, watches, or luggage while travelling,” the statement said.
The warning comes as Police Minister Fikilie Mbalula announced measures to improve security at the airport. Addressing media and stakeholders, Minister Mbalula admitted there had been a lapse in security at the airport, leading to brazen multi-million rand heists, goods being smuggled into the country and criminals following travellers home.The minister also attributed the main issues facing security at the airport being corruption and collusion.
OR Tambo International plays a significant role in the country’s economy, says Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) CEO Mmatšatši Ramawela.
According to Ramawela, research insights from South African Tourism’s annual brand tracking studies show that the number one reason why potential visitors to South Africa don’t convert their awareness, interest and desire into visiting South Africa is a concern for personal safety.
“Therefore, it is critical for the leadership of the country to not only safeguard its security but broadly speaking its status as a regional transport and tourism hub,” says Ramawela.
“OR Tambo International Airport is the gateway to Africa’s largest economy and if we want to grow the tourism and travel sectors we need to ensure that passengers who travel through this airport feel safe,” says Andrew Stark, MD Middle East and Africa, Flight Centre Travel Group.
“Some basic things like security, lighting, dealing with hawkers and enhanced security check points would go a long way to ensuring the safety of our passengers,” adds Stark.
Otto de Vries, CEO of the Association of South African Travel Agents (ASATA), says it is vital for travel industry stakeholders to share with their clients the changes they can expect and to assist the police in reporting anything out of the ordinary.
“If done correctly and with the support of industry and citizens the new increased security measures implemented at OR Tambo will have a visible impact in ensuring the safety of passengers travelling through the airport.
“Travellers should be aware of their surroundings and to always ask for official badges when approached or being approached by airport security staff, porters and taxi drivers,” concludes de Vries.