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‘Bermuda Triangle’ looms for travel industry as agents grow fearful over lengthy lockdown


While Ramaphosa indicated that accommodation and domestic air travel – excluding business travel – would be phased in, starting in level three, those in the travel industry were unsure this would be enough.

While travel has been banned since the start of lockdown, travel agents are fearful that they may not be able to reopen once lockdown ends.

Travel VIP owner, Paula Martini.

For more than three months now, many independent travel agents have been unable to collect a paycheck, and many are fearful that their doors will remain closed after lockdown ends.

Estimates, according to local independent travel agents indicate that the travel industry may only be able to return to full functionality come 2021, or possibly even later.

It is not just flight bookings that are affected, said Ana Camacho who runs New World Travel.

“The knock-on effect is astounding. When we book flights, either domestic or international we also arrange for a rental car and accommodation. These industries have lost countless funds with travel agents out of the picture,” she said.

The Salt Rock resident who has been in the travel industry for 26 years said she had to essentially close her business in February with the issuing of refunds, re-bookings and cancellations, heavily impacting on her income.

In his keynote address to the nation on Sunday evening, president Cyril Ramaphosa acknowledged that the travel industry had been particularly hard-hit by the nationwide lockdown.

“We have held discussions with the tourism, hotel and restaurant industries regarding the challenges and hardships these sectors are facing.”

He said the industry leaders had made several proposals, regarding measures they intend to put in place when their sectors were opened and that these were being considered.

While Ramaphosa indicated that accommodation and domestic air travel – excluding business travel – would be phased in, starting in level three, those in the travel industry were unsure this would be enough.

Travel agents said government had yet to assist them.

“We have to be diligent in our finances at the moment. If not for the bit of savings I had, my business would have been shut within the first month,” said Camacho, who believes her company may survive until August.

Through cancellations, Camacho revealed, her business had lost about R500 000-800 000.

Paula Martini, owner of Travel VIP said she had lost some R3-million in ticket sales almost overnight.

“More than 90 percent of my business comes from the corporate industry?” said Martini, who has been fighting an uphill battle to assistance through the Tourism Fund.

“After waiting almost two months and doing everything by the book, I received an email from the Tourism Fund to say that my documents had not been received in time.”

To her disbelief the email further stated that not all the correct documentation had been submitted.

Three days later the Tourism Relief Fund emailed again to inform her that they were validating her supporting documents.

But, she would have to resubmit her BEE certificate, a certified copy of her ID and her latest Unemployment Insurance Fund filing, all of which had been originally submitted. “This really gives me a sense of discomfort.

Has government perhaps now realised that they sent out the initial email by mistake or are they just covering their tracks owing to the supposed depletion of the relief fund,” asked Martini.

Martini said the government guaranteed loan scheme was now being administered by banks and, that she was required to sign personal surety for the loan.

She had also joined the class action suit against the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) clause.

“I need to give South African travel agents a voice, something is not right in our country and our beautiful industry is going up in flames,” said Martini, who believes that “this destruction of the travel industry in South Africa is unjust and corrupt”.

Despite the upheaval, Martini said she was fortunate enough to, so far, have kept all of her staff and have been able to pay them. But for how long?



Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER

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