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Major drop in tourism amid new visa regulations

By Staff Writer
The beginning of June saw the introduction of Home Affairs’ new visa rules, which forces families travelling with children to obtain and travel with an unbridged birth certificate (per child).

Foreigners travelling to South Africa also have to have biometric finger scans taken at South African consulates, before they can enter the country.

So far there has been a 32% decline in air ticketing revenues into South Africa in June. 

“There are two elements to them. One is a requirement of every person in South Africa to appear in person so that the biometric data can be captured. This came into effect in June last year. The other is the requirement that all children under the age of 18 to carry a certified copy of an unbridged birth certificate,” said David Frost from the Southern African Tourism Services Association, who represents the inbound tourism sector.

Frost explained that in the case of single parents there is a “wad of affidavits that need to be completed.” This is so that the other parent is consented, or if the other parent has passed away, then they will need a death certificate.

These new introductions have been met with fierce opposition from the tourism industry, with Frost saying that Home Affairs has shot themselves in both feet.

“The irony is that we were told that this [the new regulations] was being instituted because there was this dire security threat that was too terrible to even share with us,” he said.

Frost highlighted that the tourism industry makes up 9% of the South African economy, accounting for 1.5 million jobs. These new visa rules are going to have serious implications.

This is a major sector, and the tragedy is that cabinet and government are just unwilling to see the dire consequences that this impact of the new regulations will have explained Frost.

Drop in tourism

Frost said that the inbound tourism market has dropped since the introduction of these regulations.

“We can quantify the biometrics. In terms of leisure tourism out of China we are down about 70% and 90%. In India they are between 30% and 50% down,” he said.

CEO of Cape Town Tourism, Enver Duminy believes that the impact of the new regulations is two-fold.

“Firstly, we have been informed by our members that they have seen cancellations and also fewer bookings, due to the confusion about what is required to travel to South Africa.

Secondly, even South African Citizens wanting to travel abroad with their families are experiencing backlogs in processing of their requests in time to travel,” said Duminy.

However, he could not provide any data on the effect the birth certificate regulations will have as it has only been 11 days since they were introduced.

Frost offers a simple solution to the biometric scanning – one which is a best practice around the world: capture the data on arrival. 

“There is a lot of best practice around the world, including on the continent. For example Senegal, Tanzania, and Kenya they capture the biometrics on arrival. That is the most cost effective, and simple solution,” said Frost.

However, Frost said that Home Affairs has had a year to put these biometric machines into place, and there isn’t even a single machine in place yet.

Frost calls it ludicrous to put in these biometric machines in to various markets, because “spare a thought for those countries where they don’t even have a consulate present.”

“So we have the double whammy in that we have killed the market, but we are no safer,” he said. 

“Combating child trafficking”

The biometric scanning regulation was announced last year, and the major markets which were affected were China and India.

Frost said that news presented as early as last year of the impending changes spooked some markets.

“We got pulled out of all brochures in China, because there are only two visa centres [which are in] Beijing and Shanghai. And people travelling from outside [of those areas] were basically having to take two days, and pay twice as much as they would have to pay for their holiday to South Africa,” said Frost.

There is just a disincentive to sell the country. “The operators take us out of the brochures is akin to the supermarkets taking us off the shelf,” said Frost.

South Africa is the only country in the world who has introduced the birth certificate regulations, said Frost.

“We are told that it was introduced to combat child trafficking. The whole basis on which this was promulgated, was on a figure banded about by Home Affairs that 30 000 children were trafficked out of the country annually,” said Frost.

However, it has turned out that that figure has proved to be “absolutely bogus.”

“So they [Home Affairs] have mislead parliament, they have also mislead the public in terms of that number. It is an incorrect number; it has no basis in fact,” said Frost.

Self-inflected pain

International observers have said that these trends in our tourism statistics have been experienced by other countries that have suffered from natural disasters, terror attacks, or factors which a country could not control.

“But they said that they have never seen this anywhere in the world where a country has done this to itself. And that is precisely what we have done: we should be growing at 10%. That is the sort of target, and what we were doing before Home Affairs came along and interfered,” said Frost. 

So far the regulations have brought nothing but dismay among experts in the industry, and the outlook for the future is not looking any brighter.

“We believe that these new visa regulations will have a negative effect on tourism to South Africa,” said Duminy.

Frost explained that tourists will just go somewhere else – they do not need to come to South Africa. “It will not be a booking that is cancelled, it will just be a booking that we never see.” 

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