Johannesburg – The new immigration regulations that came into effect at the beginning of the month are already hurting the South African tourism industry, according to a new report released on Tuesday.
The impact assessment report, compiled by the Tourism Business Council of SA, named two changes in the regulations that directly affected tourism.
The first was the requirement for all children under the age of 18 travelling to and from South Africa to be in possession of an unabridged birth certificate in addition to their passport and visa, where applicable.
The second was for tourists from countries that are required to have a visa to now appear in person during the visa application process in order to obtain a biometric visa.
“From May to December 2014, South Africa lost 66 000 foreign tourists due to changes in the immigration regulations,” the report said.
“Approximately 43% of these lost tourists would have been from Asian/Australasian countries, 16% from European countries and 15% from Africa.”
The council said that in 2014, South Africa’s tourism industry lost direct spend of R886m due to the new regulations. This figure only included what tourists would have spent while in South Africa.
“The total direct, indirect and induced impact on the South African economy in 2014 was a negative R2.6bn and a potential loss of more than 5 800 jobs,” the report said.
“In 2015, the number of lost foreign tourists due to changes in the immigration regulations is likely to increase to 100 000, with a direct tourism spend of R1.4bn and the total net loss to the South African GDP of around R4.1bn and a loss of 9 300 jobs.”
The report stated that no other country required children to travel with an unabridged birth certificate in addition to their passport when travelling with both parents.
There was also no international standard for birth certificates, as each country had the right to develop their own document that proved the birth or existence of a person. Some countries did not even issue birth certificates.
“Many people do not have a copy of their birth certificate, even if their birth has been registered. Therefore obtaining a certified copy of this document is frequently costly and timely. For some countries this can take months,” the report stated.
“In particular, visitors from African and eastern countries are likely to experience the most difficulty in obtaining birth certificates timeously and without hassle.
“Thus, tourists looking to travel to South Africa with their children may well be deterred from visiting due to the hassle factor of having to secure birth certificates for their children and hence could choose another destination with simpler entry requirements.”
It was estimated that around 15% of inbound tourists in South Africa, about 1.4 million people, would be impacted by the requirement for children to travel with a birth certificate, assuming a ratio of one adult to one child.
“Approximately 700 000 children [younger than 18 years] visited South Africa in 2014 and given the expected growth trajectory in foreign tourism to South Africa, this number would be expected to grow significantly in the future,” the report stated.
“Assuming a 20% drop in demand from the family market will result in a direct, indirect and induced loss to the South African economy of at least R10bn per annum and potential job losses of around 24 000.”
In 2014, South Africa received 9.55 million foreign overnight tourists, an increase of 7.5% from 2013.
However, the number of visitors from China and India in particular decreased significantly in 2014.
Citizens from both of these countries need a short-stay visa when visiting South Africa.
Demand from China dropped by almost a quarter in 2014. Less than 83 000 Chinese tourists visited South Africa in 2014, down from 109 000 in 2013.
“China has become the largest outbound tourism market in the world with 109 million outbound tourists in 2014. Furthermore, Chinese tourists are big spenders and collectively represent the world’s top tourist spending nation,” the report stated.
“China is a significant source market for South Africa’s tourism industry and has shown significant growth up until 2014 [35% annual compound growth between 2011 and 2013].”
According to tour operators, the amendments to the immigration regulations were the key game changer in relation to reduced visitors from China.
Even though the changes were not fully implemented, the “inconsistencies in the messaging was sufficient to deter this market”. The reduced demand from China has had a “devastating impact” on tourist businesses in South Africa that specialised in that market.
“What used to be one of South Africa’s largest overseas tourism markets has been decimated, a large part of which is due to South Africa’s changing visa regime.”
The Indian market also dropped by 9% in 2014, due to visa difficulties which have been experienced since the latter part of 2013.
“In summary, reduced demand from the Indian market is primarily due to visa issuance problems and poor service delivery. The uncertainty regarding the implementation of biometric visas has further complicated the problem.”
Meanwhile, as South Africa lost out, other countries gained. For the 12-month period to the end of September 2014, Chinese visitors to Australia were up 10% while Mauritius experienced a “staggering” 67% rise in visitors.
For the same 12-month period, the number of Indian visitors to Australia increased by 15%.