South Africa’s airports are the first welcoming point for some +10m visitors according to Acsa Aviation barometer in 2016. But the reality is that criminals operating through sophisticated syndicates within the airport, using “airport spotters” are putting SA’s lucrative travel and tourism industry at risk.
OR Tambo International issued a statement last week, following the most recent in a spate of attacks in and around the airport – involving a couple from the DRC who were attacked and robbed after taking an Uber to their hotel, in what has been deemed a “follow-home” robber.
However a Carte Blanche investigation into the matter has revealed the issue runs far deeper than travellers being followed once they leave SA’s busiest airport.
Aired on Sunday 25 June, the actuality programme interviewed an alleged spotter, keeping his identity a secret, as he detailed how airport insiders, known as spotters, are helping criminals identify tourists, businessmen and even locals with valuable luggage and goods as they pass through OR Tambo International.
These insiders, according to the alleged spotter, are spread across a variety of people working in different roles at the airport from car rental agents to porters to cleaning staff – watching and identifying people coming from high-shopping destinations as potential targets. Spotters can earn “anything between R300 to R4 000 depending on the value” of the goods stolen, he says.
Acsa has since issued a statement, confirming that on Tuesday, 27 June it met with the various stakeholders involved in the safety and security of the airport operations and is working through its Public Safety and Security staff to identify these alleged “airport spotters” believed to be alerting criminals behind follow-home robberies.
Acsa says it is supporting the South African Police Services Crime Prevention Plan in identifying the alleged spotters.
‘Decisive action to be taken’
Leigh Gunkel-Keuler, spokesperson for OR Tambo International Airport says, “We will not hesitate to take decisive action when we identify any person helping the criminals, irrespective of whether these spotters are employed by Airports Company South Africa or one of the many service providers operating at the airport.”
An estimated 35 000 people are employed air-port wide, across airline companies, ground handling companies, cargo operators, security companies, retail concessionaires, hotels, public transport operators and government agencies. Further, only about 10% to 15% of people working at the airport are directly employed by Acsa.
“In addition, we continue to work closely with the SAPS on a variety of measures, including surveillance and intelligence work, to identify the spotters and the criminals.”
Acsa is also working with the travel and tourism sector so that it remains engaged on the issue of crime – having met with the Tourism Business Council concerning the spike in this crime trend.
“In so far as driving more robust and consultative engagement is concerned, a case in point is today’s (Tuesday 27 June) Tourism Business Council of South Africa meeting to which we as airport management, Ekurhuleni Metro Police and the SAPS were invited to present.
“As airport management, we met with key stakeholders in the travel and tourism sector. We too spoke of our mounting concern around issues of crime in a candid and transparent manner. SAPS officials were also present to provide an update on their crime prevention approach. Our commitment to being a part of the solution continues,” says Gunkel-Keuler.
An airport is a complex facility within which many stakeholders operate and Gunkel-Keuler says that in this context, efforts in regard to safety and security need to be carefully synchronised.
“We will continue to work with all law enforcement agencies and the wider airport community to implement activities that will help identify the spotters alleged to be employed at the airport by various companies,” she says.
‘Safe and secure portal to report crime’
Traveller24 previously spoke to Tourism Business Council’s GM for Policy Analysis and Strategic Projects Tebogo Umanah, following a heist involving cargo to the estimated value of R24m, also believed to have been part of an alleged internal syndicate.
At the time Umanah indicated that the council was actively engaging with detectives in the Gauteng province, especially concerning OR Tambo international.
Umanah’s portfolio includes project management for the Tourism Business Index and the Tourism Safety Initiative, concerning illegal activities within the Tourism Sector and what business can do to report as well as tighten measures around the issue.
“We thought we should try to focus our effort here as an attempt to erase that problem before it gets bigger and we have specifically partnered with detectives focusing on this area,” says Umanah.
According to Umanah, not many are aware of the TBCSA’s Tourism Safety Initiative (TSI) which offers its members a “safe and secure portal” to report as well as to active investigations around any criminal networks and activities they suspect their employees or guests might be involved in.
Umanah says the council works together with the police and individuals who are able to remain anonymous but still ensure the issue of criminal activity is swiftly addressed.
“Most of our members are not aware of this TSI benefit of the TBCSA and while the report rate is low, we are looking to work with various tourism authorities as well as government entities in different provinces to ensure that they are able to use this reporting system.”
TSI is not just available to businesses though says Umanah and encouraged all in the hospitality to crack down on this issue that could potentially jeopardise South Africa’s lucrative Tourism Industry, which has seen a R6.5 billion influx in SA’s economy from December 2016 to February 2017 for accommodation alone.
Added to this, OR Tambo has just been identified as the most search local destination according to Cheapflights Compass Report, especially China, SA’s fastest growing inbound market.
IMPORTANT CONTACTS FOR MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC: (toll-free & anonymous)
The ACSA Hotline: 0800 00 8080
The ACSA Hotline Email: email@example.com
ACSA Customer Care Services: Customercare@airports.co.za
TBCSA TSI portal: Click here to report a crime
In January this year vehicle tracking and recovery experts, C-track, working with Arrive Alive, revealed hijacking hotspots as well as the top vehicles targeted by criminals.