South African retail travel agencies, one of the hardest hit sectors due to COVID-19 restrictions, say their applications to the Tourism Relief Fund have been denied – even those that have the correct B-BBEE criteria in place.

The deadline for applications for the Tourism Relief Fund close this week, on May 31.

Agents took to Travelinfo.co.za’s Open Jaw Facebook platform in frustration.

“I applied for the Tourism Relief Fund on April 9. As a BEE Level-4 agency I am fully compliant with all of the listed requirements. I submitted all documents on the date of application and took screen shots as proof. Over the past six weeks I have received a number of emails from the Department [of Tourism] advising that my application was being processed. However, on May 22 I received an email saying that, as I had not submitted the necessary documents, my application was denied,” said owner of Travel VIP, Paula Varges Martini.

A handful of other agents, who insist they submitted the correct documentation, say they received the same email last week from the Department of Tourism’s Deputy Director-General: Tourism Sector Support Services, Morongoe Ramphele. In the email, agents were advised their applications had been denied “due to failure to resubmit a mandatory document in time”.  The correspondence does not specify which documents were deemed insufficient or give applicants an opportunity to rectify the issue, agents say.

Director of Sure Stellenbosch Travel, Robyn Daneel-Spicer, submitted her supporting documentation to the Department of Tourism initially via email and then by uploading it through the Department’s portal, following a request from the Department to help her speed up her application. “Up until last week, the emails I received from the Department indicated that my application had been successfully submitted. There has been ample opportunity to notify me if the documents that I submitted were not sufficient,” she said.

Another two agents, who wished to remain anonymous, told Tourism Update’s sister publication, Travel News, that they had managed to get hold of the Department of Tourism this week, which said their applications were denied due to the rejection of the BEE certificates they had submitted. Both agents said the Department then sent them a tourism BEE certification template to complete, which, they said, had not been available at the time of application.

Travel News contacted the Department of Tourism for more information but had not heard at the time of publication.