The countdown has begun for the implementation of South Africa’s new visa rules for children, which from 1 June 2015 requires an unabridged birth certificate for all travelling children travelling to, through or out of SA.
While Tourism minister Derek Hanekom has expressed concern about the effect of new visa regulations on the tourism industry he felt it was too early to determine its exact impact on the industry that grew by 6.6% in 2014, reportedly higher than most countries’ averages. Hanekom did however state that he was concerned about the negative growth over the past six months from countries affected by the regulations.
Potential R6.8bn loss and SA’s competitiveness as destination affected
Contrary to the department’s cautious approach to evaluate the future impact the new rules could have on South Africa’s tourism industry, DA Member of Parliament James Vos says the new immigration rules will cost the tourism sector over R6.8bn in losses and result in severe job cuts.
Vos said this was according information released by the Board of Airline Representatives South Africa.
According to a report by the World Economic Forum, South Africa has a lot going for it in terms of tourism investment, but new visa rules could spoil all of that as the rules could harm South Africa’s competitiveness as a destination.
When the new rules come into play, airlines will be forced to refuse travel to families not in possession of these documents.
“A child denied boarding by an airline ultimately means a family can’t travel and, by industry estimates, until traveller awareness is 100%, tourist arrivals to South Africa could be negatively impacted by up to 20%,”said Vos.
Based on 2013 numbers, 536 000 foreign visitors could be denied travel, said Vos.
“The lost income to South Africa from these high value visitors could be over R6.8bn annually inevitably leading to job losses in the South African tourism sector.
Facilitate repeat travel with the ease of e-visas
The new immigration regulations have been widely criticised and Vos said the DA has made several submissions to streamline tourist facilitation by proposing the introduction of electronic visas and biometrics on arrival.
“It is most alarming to read that several travel and tourism websites and online publications are warning travellers about these new regulations. It is without a doubt that this will harm our tourism industry and brand as a country of choice. We have proof of cancelations from several major tour operators that are marketing South Africa abroad.”
The Department of home affairs has since issued an official brochure to prospective travellers on its website detailing all the visa rule requirements for travelling with children in SA (http://www.dha.gov.za/files/Brochures/Immigrationleaflet.pdf).
Vos told Traveller24 that despite statements in Parliament by President Jacob Zuma about the need to create a task team that would urgently look at the effects of the new visa rules, nothing has been done.
“I will therefore make a submission to the Portfolio Committee that the review panel instituted by the Minister of Home Affairs, Malusi Gigaba, should include tourism operators.”
“The tourism industry must be involved in the review to find practical solutions and present viable alternatives to in person visa applications such as the introduction of biometrics on arrival and electronic visas.
“In countries where these systems have been implemented, they have proved to be very effective in terms of safety and turnaround times and their introduction would cost far less money than the country is currently losing from a decline in tourism numbers.
In addition to this Vos said he would be approaching the tourism ombudsman, put in place by the New Tourism Act of 2013, to try and take the industry’s concerns forward.
SA Tourism ombudsman to be put to the test
“I’m going to be putting the tourism ombudsman to the test to see if it really has the best interest of South Africa’s tourism industry at hand,” Vos said.
In addition to the visa concerns facing South Africa, Vos highlighted a number of key issues in his speech made during the Department of Tourism’s budget vote on Thursday.
Vos reiterated the sentiment from locals that tourism and travel in South Africa is seen as simply “too expensive”.
“A family of four would end up paying R920 for a trip to Robben Island. Robben Island has announced that it will be increasing its ticket prices. Table Mountain already makes it possible for locals to visit for free, simply by presenting their South African ID on the day of their birthday. Vos said the DA has proposed that the National Department of Tourism considers introducing a model titled “Experience Our South Africa” which will focus specifically on encouraging South Africans to get out and explore our country, while addressing affordability issues and limited geographic spread.
“This in turn should also help to stimulate job creation and economic growth within surrounding communities,” said Vos.
“At the same time, affordable accommodation needs to be prioritised – a budget resort chain must be introduced, and must be affordable to all South Africans.
Vos said it was disappointing to note that not much had been done concerning the announcement of a pilot budget resort chain noted during former Minister of Tourism Marthinus Van Schalkwyk’s budget speech in 2013.
Budget resort chain could help make local tourism more accessible
“The DA’s own research has revealed that there are approximately 700 municipal resorts throughout the country that have become dysfunctional, dilapidated and poorly managed.
This is deplorable given the fact that these resorts were built with taxpayers’ money – they are becoming a huge liability for these municipalities.”
Vos said it was time for the department to put this into action in order to grow local tourism industry through jobs, better managed facilities and more affordable travel options for locals.