Biometric Delays: 3 quick-fixes to ease festive season spike at SA airports

2016-11-07 07:30 - Louzel Lombard Steyn
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Cape Town - The Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA), along with other tourism stakeholders and the ministers of Tourism and Finance in South Africa have put forward three suggestions to alleviate congestion at all SA's major airport before the start of the festive season. 

Although the solutions are still subject to approval from the government, TBCSA CEO Mmatšatši Ramawela says she is 'cautiously optimistic' that the short-term solutions will be approved. 

This follows an urgent Captains of Industry meeting with the Ministers of Tourism and Finance on Friday, 4 November, in which the TBCSA address the concerns regarding immigration ahead of the bumper summer season expected over the next couple of months. 

The three short-term solutions, proposed by the TBCSA and SA Tourism, as well as various other stakeholders, are: 

1. To introduce ushers at the airport to assist with welcoming and  information. 
"Many people stand in the wrong queues and don't even know it until they reach the front," Ramawela says. The ushers can help eliminate such issues and unnecessary frustration by helping people to the right counters off the cuff. 

2. To make the waiting periods in the queues more pleasurable for travellers by providing water, music, entertainment and information.  
Ramawela says waiting periods can be used to give travellers information about the various destinations in SA, from helpful, local guides. "With the approval of Asca, snacks, food, curious must also be made available to people in the queues."

3. Use staff from other official home affairs counters to assist in peak periods. 
According to Ramawela, this was done during the Soccer World Cup in 2010 with great success.

"Staff from the immigration counters or departure zones can be moved to assist with immigrations at the more congested arrival zones," she says. "If this solution is to be implemented, it will be done with the approval and help of the South African Police Service (SAPS) at the airport, to ensure security is never compromised."

Ramawela says that the TBCSA, along with SA Tourism and the Department of Tourism have offered to cover some of the financial expenses of the short-term solutions. 

Leading up to the festive season, many travellers have been frustrated with queues and long waiting times at SA immigration counters due to the implementation of new biometric data capturing systems. 

Added to the new technology that is taking longer to allow travellers into the country, the DHA has also said that they are short-staffed at the counters and that even at full capacity, "40% of immigration counters cannot be operational at peak periods". 

The problem was discussed again at the Captains of Industry meeting, where the DHA explained why more staff cannot be employed immediately to ease congestion at the airport. 

According to Ramawela, due to the current austerity measures in the national budget, all vacancies in government positions need to be re-motivated before they can be filled again. 

Earlier this week, the TBCSA said they feared that "with the traditional festive season fast approaching and the anticipated increase in tourist numbers, there hasn't been any confirmation on contingency measures being put in place to address this urgent challenge facing the industry". 

The TBCSA also said that SA Department of Home Affairs has lost many an opportunity for tourism growth in the country due to new immigration regulations. 

"Two years after the introduction of the new immigration regulations, business in the travel and tourism industry is unable to fully capitalise on the weak Rand and the buoyant global travel market."

SEE: SA Tourism unable to fully capitalise on global travel market - TBCSA

The long terms solutions to solves human resources issues at the airport immigration counters still remains a problem, but this, the TBCSA says, is a problem government needs to address. 

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