Cape Town – Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Fatima Chohan declared on Monday that she is willing to accompany representatives of the SA tourism industry to China in order to see how dropping visitor numbers from that country can be curbed.
She took part in a visa legislation workshop hosted by Wesgro (the destination marketing, investment and trade promotion agency for the Western Cape).
According to Tim Harris, CEO of Wesgro, it is a great idea of the deputy minister to go and try to establish first-hand what the causes for the drop in number of Chinese tourists could be and how to try and remedy the situation.
Harris acknowledged that the workshop had left many attendees still dissatisfied with South Africa’s new visa regulations and the impact on the local tourism industry. At the same time he said the workshop showed how there can be constructive engagements between certain sectors, like the film industry, and the Department of Home Affairs.
He thanked Chohan for attending the workshop even though the expectation was from the beginning that she would encounter some “hostile” reaction.
Chohan in turn said the department is prepared to attend more workshops in future and is looking into establishing a one-stop visa centre in Gauteng.
Harris said Wesgro will look also into the creation of a one-stop visa services centre in Cape Town, similar to one being rolled out by the department in Gauteng.
“It is getting us nowhere to keep on throwing stones at each other. Let us rather try to make it work. Just as my trip to India has helped to sort out visa problems there, I am prepared to help with the challenges in China as well,” said Chohan.
“We need to say it is now water under the bridge and let us move forward.”
Chris Whelan, CEO of the business think tank Accelerate Cape Town, said the tourism industry must be supported in order to create wealth for SA.
“Let’s put the visa and security issue to bed. No one disputes the importance. The end is justified, but the means is the important issue we have to address,” he said.
David Frost, CEO of the South African Tourism Services Association (Satsa) told Harris and Chohan that the industry basically wants clarity on the visa issue “so that we can go out there and do what we do best – get more tourists to come to South Africa”.
Favourable exchange rate
He said the SA tourism industry provides jobs for about 1.5 million people. He wanted to know what has happened to the ministerial task team which is supposed to look into the visa matter, as it has not even gathered yet.
Michael Tollman, chair of Cullinan Holdings, a large SA tourism and leisure group, told Chohan that last year this time the company had a large number of tour groups visiting SA from China and Singapore. So far this year, it has had none.
Tollman claims it is mainly due to the Ebola scare and the Chinese government advising its citizens not to travel to Africa because of the disease.
“This year our tourism numbers should have been up about 25% because of SA’s favourable exchange rate for overseas visitors, but this is not happening,” warned Tollman.
He would like to see a task team to establish the correct information to be sent out to people applying for SA visas.
“At the moment we are all a bit lost and we need the right communication to sell SA to the world,” said Tollman.
To this Chohan replied that she has made good strides in India in clearing up misconceptions about SA and Ebola and that she thinks the same could be done in China.
About the new visa regulations Chohan said “let us implement them and then mitigate afterwards. It is about how we communicate when we put issues on the table. I think we can have a 50% growth in tourism numbers if we all work together”.