Flight Centre is calling on the South African government to extend its support for SA’s travel sector and its deeply affected staff following the COVID-19 fall out. Flight Centre Travel Group Managing Director Andrew Stark has penned the following letter to South Africa’s President…

Andrew Stark 2020 flight centre open letter a
Andrew Stark, Flight Centre MD. Photo supplied

Dear President Ramaphosa,

I write to you as South Africa’s outbound travel sector faces the unprecedented challenge of navigating the catastrophic impacts of COVID-19, not only on our industry, but also on our customers and staff nationally.

We know we are not the only industry to be affected so disastrously. We understand that at this time, even within the larger tourism and travel contingent in the Republic of South Africa, you will be approached by many stakeholders asking for your support in terms of guidance, leadership and, of course, financially.

As the situation stands currently, we forecast that the outbound travel sector’s income will vanish for an extended period as global players lock down their borders and airlines announce the grounding of flights, well beyond April.

We respectfully ask, however, that due concern be given to the outbound travel industry, whose interests from time to time are understandably on occasion given secondary importance when weighed up against the significantly larger, and more high-profile, inbound tourism sector.

According to the Association of Southern African Travel Agents (ASATA) Travel Market Index, the outbound travel sector generated some R39,5bn for the South African economy in 2017. As a sector, we employ almost 9,000 people, of which 73% are female and 64% are black.

As one of the largest retail travel agencies in South Africa, Flight Centre Travel Group on its own employs 1,200 South Africans and has established 2 Black Women Employee Share Schemes, with the aim of empowering black women in our organisation.

Since the virus hit international shores, our dedicated team has been working around the clock to re-accommodate and reassure panicked South African travellers headed to affected destinations worldwide for holiday, and also for business travel.

For many weeks, we have been inundated with phone calls and emails to help travellers who are scheduled to travel, and indeed, stranded as a result of international travel bans and cancelled travel services beyond our control.

Throughout this time, we have been working tirelessly to keep them calm, provide
informed and proactive advice and, more importantly, to get them back home.

This is a role we take very seriously, as we do our responsibility to our country and wider community, including our customers and staff. It is a role that we hope to continue when this international pandemic subsides, but for this, we need Government’s attention and support.

We have been encouraged by the way in which the South African Government has acted swiftly and decisively to stem the spread of COVID-19 and flatten the epidemiological curve. The way in which the extraordinary measures enacted are being rolled out is exemplary.

As Government focusses its immediate attention on the macro-economic stream of health and safety, we realise that those of labour and economy will also be given focus in due course. To that end, I write to you today to ask that Government’s deliberations around its economic stimulus be extended to the outbound travel sector.

We have seen internationally how Governments have rolled out a range of support
mechanisms for businesses in the travel and tourism sector, including stimulus packages, tax and levy waivers, rebates and refunds, interest-free loans and direct funding grants, among other measures to protect companies and workers from closures and retrenchments.

We would therefore respectfully ask Government, and the country’s financial institutions, to consider extending similar support to the outbound travel sector as a matter of urgency so that we can mitigate the devastating impact that COVID-19 is having on our particular sector.

Our urgent plea and immediate priority is to find relief for the dedicated South African
men and women whose livelihoods are directly and indirectly linked to the sustainability of the entire travel industry, which is one of the sectors with the highest levels of risk.

As a business, we are doing everything in our power to provide a range of internal
stimulus relief for our people. While we wish we were in a position to continue this
indefinitely, we will be unable to sustain this in the short to medium term as our
income has quite literally come to a halt.

Given the rapidly evolving and unpredictable nature of the pandemic, not only in
South Africa but globally, we stand in solidarity with you, with our Government and
with the citizens of the Republic of South Africa. We are grateful to you for your
leadership at this time and extend our utmost support for the actions that are being
taken to safeguard South Africans from the spread of COVID-19 and its impact.

Yours sincerely,
Andrew Stark
Managing Director
Flight Centre Travel Group MEA