Tourvest Travel Services (TTS) has been appointed to assist with KLM’s Southbound repatriation flights and has already brought 1 580 passengers back to South Africa on 12 flights into the country.

Gm of operations for TTS, Angela Armstrong, told Travel News that TTS had set up a dedicated 24/7 call centre to handle the repatriation flights coming in from all over the world to South Africa.

“KLM advises us of its flights into South Africa every Monday, which generally fly between Amsterdam and Cape Town on a Friday and Amsterdam and Johannesburg on a Saturday. We have about three days to book tickets for these flights with reservations closing at midday every Thursday. We then complete a detailed flight manifesto, which is sent to KLM with the attached repatriation documentation. There is a huge amount of paperwork involved here to request permission for the repatriation flights to the South African authorities,” explained Angela.

She said the documentation requirements for repatriation flights into South Africa were tedious, lengthy and complicated, with passengers frequently being denied entry by the South African authorities. Whenever this happened, TTS was required to source additional documents and rebook the passengers on later flights. As clients were calling in from all over the world, TTS was required to man the phones 24/7 on behalf of the airline.

“A number of our reservations consultants cried when we were able to tell them the good news that they were needed for urgent assistance with bookings again. We were able to dedicate 80% of our 24/7 team to manage the repatriation flights for KLM during the course of one afternoon,” said Angela.

She explained that TTS’s emergency call centre already operated 24/7 with a team of home-working consultants. “We already had the infrastructure, the disciplined consultants and the technology in place to take on this task for KLM with immediate effect.”

TTS has been given a special KLM GDS office ID that allows the call-centre consultants to access the flights. Angela told Travel News that while the flights could not be opened to the entire market in the GDS due to the repatriation regulations and strict documentation requirements, TTS was assisting travel agents from across the country with bookings.

“We charge a standard, competitively priced service fee per ticket booked and agents are welcome to add their own fee to the ticket for facilitating the booking on behalf of their clients. A one-way economy-class ticket between Amsterdam and Johannesburg generally comes in between R20 000 and R25 000,” explained Angela.

Angela said the volume of calls that the call centre was receiving from South Africans still stranded around the world was overwhelming and it was immensely satisfying to be able to assist these passengers to come home.

Ceo of TTS, Morné du Preez, added that TTS was supporting repatriation flights organised by a number of airlines and that the group was also working closely with Emirates and Turkish Airlines in particular.

“Under normal circumstances commercial aviation is highly automated. However the organisation of repatriation flights is complex involving a high level of manual intervention. Given the complexity of processing these bookings, and collecting all of the required information, we prefer to run the flights through a single office,” said gm of Air France KLM Southern Africa, Wouter Vermeulen.

Wouter explained that KLM started off organising Northbound repatriation flights through its own in-house call centre. Later on when the airline received permission to also bring passengers Southbound, KLM decided to outsource the reservation function for the Southbound flights.

“TTS runs a very professional call centre that is operational 24/7. Since the Southbound passengers come from all over the world, it was essential to offer that kind of support for South African residents that needed to be repatriated,” said Wouter.

‘What the travel industry is going through, airlines and agents alike, is an absolute tragedy. I truly hope that in the very near future we can go back to working with the whole value chain in the South African market to serve business and the tourism industry once more,” he added.