Africa Travel Week

COVID-19 and the value of the travel agent

ATW Connect chats with the CEO of ASATA, Otto de Vries to find out how COVID-19 has affected the industry, what ASATA is doing to help members and what we should be doing now to safe guard our businesses.

What are the key challenges as a result of COVID-19 for the travel and tourism industry? Currently the key challenges are managing costs, focusing on supporting companies and their employees with leveraging the UIF and TERS funding and providing guidance on managing refunds and cancellations expectations of both customers and suppliers.

What are the key opportunities as a result of COVID-19 for the travel and tourism industry? Without a doubt the efforts of the industry over the past month and half has shown the value of engaging a travel professional when booking your travel. Those who went direct or through offshore online booking platforms, will know how hard it has been to get hold of anyone to assist with making changes or helping to manage cancellations and refunds. There is a massive opportunity for agents to position their value proposition to customer that have either never used a travel agent before or had chosen to abandon agents and gone direct in recent years. On the corporate side, helping companies implement practical and reliable duty of care and corporate travel strategies post COVID-19 will highlight the value of  TMC in navigating an overload of information, especially around new health and safely protocols that are bound to be put into place to mitigate and manage exposure and transmission of diseases.

What should travel and tourism professionals be doing to protect their business during the COVID-19 pandemic? Communicate honestly and regularly with customers and staff. Consider and develop recovery plans, that meet future business needs. ASATA are currently developing a programme of support for our members that will help them develop appropriate strategies for their businesses, including future modelling with different scenarios, think tanks to unpack these models and then templates and expert forums to guide and support implementation. Companies must also consider staffing requirements in the short, medium, and long term and continue to carefully manage costs. Also now is the time to leverage all opportunities that exist within the COVID-19 funding and financial support options the government has made available.

What is ASATA doing currently to support the industry? In addition to the above,we have created a dedicated Coronavirus microsite. The platform provides information and updates from credible sources, including government, the WHO and suppliers. An ASATA Resources section covers content ASATA has developed, including guidelines, webinars and so forth. We encourage industry to use the resources we have made available on

How do we, as individuals or companies support the industry through the pandemic? Show empathy, be considerate, with honesty and transparency when discussing challenges with your partners, suppliers and customers, especially around payments due, refunds and cancellations and do everything you can to retain cash in your business.

What do you think travel and tourism will look like post COVID-19? This will require a lot of unpacking in terms of the various scenarios that could play out. The travel industry is diverse (leisure, corporate and government). We have some ideas, but it is bit like looking into a crystal ball right now. As we unpack the models with different scenarios, we will be better placed to share our thoughts on what we think the industry may look like.

Otto De Vries is the CEO of ASATA (Association of Southern African Travel Agents), past Chairman of the World Travel Agents Association Alliance (WTAAA) and board of the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA). He has been active in the travel industry for 30 years, 20 of those in senior management roles in the inbound, retail and wholesale sectors. Otto is a WTAAA delegate to the IATA Passenger Agency Global Joint Council (PAPGJC) and currently Chairs the WTAAA Air Committee. Through the Council he has participated on several sub-committees, including the steering group on NDC Thought Leadership, the Transparency in Payment Advisory Group and the IATA ADM Working Group. Closer to home he actively participates in the Tourism Leadership Forum (TLF) and through the TBCSA worked on several committees that focused on the B-BBEE Tourism Sector Code amendments; amendments to the South African Immigration Act and the Market Access/ Regulatory Environment Working Committee of the Department of Tourism.

Africa Travel Week

Africa Travel Week (ATW) focuses on inbound and outbound markets for general leisure tourism, luxury travel, LGBTQ+ travel and the MICE/business travel sector as well as travel technology. Shows include: ILTM Africa, WTM Africa, EQUAL Africa, ibtm AFRICA, Travel Forward, Sports & Events Tourism Exchange and African Tourism Investment Summit.