The Association of Southern African Travel Agents (ASATA) has refuted claims that travel agents were exploiting travellers during the Covid-19 lockdown.
CEO ASATA Otto de Vries spoke about the comments made by South African Minister of International Relations Dr Naledi Pandor on Tuesday when she called on travel agents not to “exploit” travellers and asked 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 percent of South Africa’s retail travel community, we wish to set the record straight,” he said.
“Even before the Covid-19 pandemic in 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,” added de Vries.
He commended travel agent who “has been stuck in the middle, trying to secure funds from airlines to pay their customers.”
De Vries said there were growing tensions between the global agency community and airlines with regards to refund money that airlines were 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 the 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,” he said.
Vries asked the government to reach out to Asata before making public statements.
“ASATA and its constituents have been very supportive of the work that the 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,” he added.