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.”
A meeting I had with industry stakeholders, including hotels and tour operators, has revealed that the number of tourists to South Africa has decreased as a direct result of the recently introduced Visa regulations.
I will write to the Minister of Finance, Nhlanhla Nene, to request that an economic impact assessment be conducted for each province to reveal the full economic impact of these ill-conceived regulations on the tourism industry, which is a job-creating industry.
It is the DA’s belief that these economic impact assessments will prove these regulations are directly responsible for losses in income and job opportunities for our country; losses which we can ill-afford.
The first quarter of this year saw a 38% drop in arrivals of tourists from China, one of our country’s biggest sources of tourism, compared to the same period last year. This is a decrease of 11 663 tourists from one country alone.
It is estimated that the first two quarters of this year will see a drop of 70% in tourist arrivals.
One of the main reasons given for this decline by the stakeholders I met with are the Visa regulations that came into effect in June this year.
According to the Tourism and Business Council of South Africa, every 12 tourists coming to our country creates 1 job. That means that roughly 971 job opportunities were lost to South Africa based only on the decrease in tourists from the first quarter of this year alone.
This means that the Visa regulations have potentially killed almost 1000 job opportunities.
Just last night I received an email from an irate director of a tour operator company, specialising in school sports tours to South Africa from the United Kingdom who have 2 400 students traveling to our country in the next few months.
After 11 of their number were denied boarding a flight to South Africa last night, due to a lack of communication from the South African embassy on visa requirements which they therefore could not comply with, “they will not be considering South Africa as a destination in the future as a result of the current implementation of the Visa regulations and Immigration Act in South Africa”
It is clear that these regulations have a direct and devastating impact on tourism and the ability of our economy to create jobs.
The DA has consistently called for an e-Visa system and biometrics on arrival to facilitate easier access for tourists to South Africa. Countries that have implemented this system, such as Turkey, have seen an impressive increase in tourists since implementing an e-Visa system.
With real alternatives on the table, these unjustifiable and job killing Visa regulations must be immediately suspended and withdrawn.
Cape Town – A dramatic decline in foreign tourists will have far-reaching implications for SA, including job losses, warns an expert.
Recent figures released by Statistics SA for the first quarter of 2015 show South African tourism is in crisis, with a 6% drop in total foreign tourist arrivals.
“A loss of this magnitude in foreign tourist arrivals is unprecedented. We have never seen such dire levels of decline in the last 21 years of our tourism history,” said Lee-Anne Bac, director, advisory services at Grant Thornton.
“There will most definitely also be job losses especially in niche tourism operators that focus on specific foreign tourism markets, i e China and India,” said Bac.
Other far-reaching implications resulting from this dramatic decline include a price squeeze as tourism product owners fight for a shrinking foreign tourism market and a price sensitive domestic market.
Bac said that during the first quarter of 2009, when the world was in deep recession, South Africa recorded a 2.5% drop in tourist arrivals. “When comparing our recessional years to our current situation, it’s a big shock.”
South Africa has rarely experienced any decline in tourism arrivals since 1994. Small declines were recorded in the first quarter of 2004 (-0.8%), and arrivals slipped 0.6% during the first three months of 2001.
“Based on global tourism forecasts for 2015, South Africa should not be experiencing these levels of decline,” said Bac. “South Africa appears to be bucking the global trend at the moment.”
What makes it even worse is that the decline happened at a time when the weak rand should have encouraged foreign tourism. Direct spend lost to the SA economy because of the tourist tumble is estimated at R1.6bn, which excludes the levels of growth South Africa should have experienced during the same period.
“If we had experienced modest growth of 5% for the quarter, then the total number of foreign tourist arrivals to end March 2015 would have been 2.6 million. So, if we include the expected growth expectations in our estimations, South Africa actually lost 265 000 foreign tourists (and not 150 000) in the first three months of the year.”
This means the loss of foreign direct investment would have been R2.8bn, according to Bac.
Factors deterring tourists from travelling to SA include the Ebola pandemic in West Africa, economic decline in some source countries and implementation of confusing new visa regulations.
For the first quarter of 2015, there was a decline in foreign tourist arrivals from the majority of overseas markets to South Africa. Tourist arrivals from the UK bucked the overall trend, showing an increase of 5% for the quarter.
Overall, tourist arrivals from overseas markets declined by 6.8% during the first quarter of 2015 according to Stats SA data, with big drops recorded from Russia (down 47%) and Brazil (down 34%).
China is down 38%, even though the first quarter includes the Chinese New Year which is a time when the Chinese normally travel extensively, while India showed a 13% decline.
Tourist arrivals from Africa dropped 5.6% in total with significant declines from Nigeria (down 15%) and Uganda (down 19%).
The xenophobic attacks which flared up in SA towards the end of the first quarter are not to blame, said Bac, since they did not form part of the period under review. However, new regulations requiring foreign tourists who need visas to appear in person and submit biometric data most definitely played a part.
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%.
The Tourism Complaints Officer, who is tasked with protecting and promoting the tourism industry, has in a letter rejected my official complaint calling for an investigation into the devastating impact the new visa regulations are having on the tourism industry.
The Tourism Complaints Officer should act as a custodian of the tourism industry. Like others tasked with the growth of tourism and jobs, the Tourism Complaints Officer is in clear dereliction of duty by failing to act against these visa regulations. We must ensure that this institution performs the tasks assigned to it proficiently if we are to protect this job-creating industry.
I will therefore today write to the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Tourism, Beatrice Ngcobo, requesting that she summon the Tourism Complaints Officer, Mirriam Setwaba, to appear before Committee and provide substantive and credible reasons as to why she failed to carry out her primary mandate.
Last month I submitted an official complaint to Ms Setwaba, requesting she address the following with regards to the regulations:
Whether such onerous regulations are international best practice;
Which other countries have instituted similar regulations and what impact has this had;
Whether a proper economic and regulatory impact assessment was undertaken prior to the regulations being drafted; and why there were no formal engagements with any tourism industry associations.
In a curt reply, Ms Setwaba, who was appointed by Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom as Tourism Complaints Officer, rejected the complaint, advising that I approach the Department of Home Affairs “who in her view, are best placed to address the concerns and to provide responses on the aspects of the regulations that they administer”.
The question remains – if the office that was appointed to protect the tourism industry is not able to act on its behalf, then who will?
The tourism industry contributes 9% of our GDP and employs 1.5 million South Africans. Its growth and success is vital to growing our economy and creating jobs for the 36% of South Africans who cannot find work. It is in everyone’s interest that this industry is protected from overbroad and untested job-killing visa regulations.
The DA will continue to do all possible to ensure those responsible for standing up for the industry do and are not allowed to neglect their mandate.
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