South Africa is beginning to reverse a number of controversial and unpopular visa regulations introduced earlier this year after pressure from its own tourism industry.
The rules brought into effect in June meant anyone arriving in the country in the company of a child had to prove parenthood or guardianship – by way of an “unabridged” birth certificate – while lone adults flying in with their offspring had to show they had the consent of their non-travelling partner.
Designed to tackle child trafficking, the rules came under heavy criticism from tourism groups within and outside of South Africa. Reports this year from the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) showed that confidence in the travel industry was at its lowest since 2010, and that the number of overseas visitors had already started to fall. It expected the country to lose 100,000 visitors over 2015 at a cost of 1,4billion rand (£66million).
In response, the department of tourism has announced a number of concessions to the regulations.
Travellers with children will now have details printed in their youngsters’ passports so parents will not be required to carry birth certificates. The carrying of parental consent from a non-travelling partner is now no longer mandatory but instead “strongly advised”.
The government is also reconsidering rules introduced in 2014 that meant all visa applications must be made in person at a South African mission, making it particularly difficult for tourists in the likes of Russia, India and China to apply for entry. South Africa is now accepting applications via post from countries where no missions exist, and is looking to allow travel companies in certain countries to process visa applications.
CEO of TBCSA Mmatšatši Ramawela welcomed the changes, which will be made over the next year, and said they are “a step in the right direction”.
“Our priority is to address the uncertainty that is currently in the market around the travel requirements for destination South Africa – whether one is travelling for leisure or business – and to restore tourist confidence in our destination,” she said. “Thus, we wish to take time to study the finer details of the Cabinet approved recommendations before we make further pronouncements on this matter.”
Tlali Tlali, a spokesperson for national carrier South African Airways, said the airline welcomes the changes “with a great sense of relief and excitement”, adding: “South African Airways ( SAA ) welcomes this development as this will enable those travellers who were discouraged by what appeared to be onerous immigration requirements to now reconsider travelling to South Africa again.
“We trust that the changes effected will strike a necessary, yet delicate balance between the safety and security concerns on the one hand and tourism interest on the other.”
Though much of the impact on the nation’s tourism has come from the effects of visa regulations in the likes of Russia and China, concerns were expressed in June that the laws relating to travelling with children would put British families off travelling to South Africa, despite British passport holders not requiring a visa to visit the country.
A poll by Telegraph Travel at the time of more than 700 readers found that two thirds might be put off South Africa for a family holiday.
Jennifer Chilcott, South Africa specialist at Imagine Travel, said the concessions will help, if only to save UK travellers hassle.
“I don’t think it has really affected our business in terms of families travelling with kids. If they want to go, they’ll make a plan and stick to it,” she said.
“However, there have still been some issues of people getting to the airport and not having quite the right documents they needed.
“The bigger impact for South Africa is countries that need a visa to go there and have trouble acquiring them, whereas the birth certificate was an inconvenience but it’s not really putting people off travelling – unless the people are now not enquiring at all.”