TRAVEL GAZETTE – Tourism arrivals in South Africa remained flat even in the festive season, mainly due to the stringent visa regulations, according to new figures.
By the end of 2015, the number of lost foreign tourists due to the visa regulations is likely to hit 100,000, leading to a loss of 9,300 jobs and around 4.1 billion rand (about 273 million U.S. dollars) to the GDP, the Tourism Business Council of South Africa said.
South Africa hasn’t seen an increase in the number of in-bound tourists in the festive season because many tourists are barred by the visa regulations, the council said.
Under the revised regulations implemented in mid-2014, tourists to South Africa have to apply in person for visas so that “biometric data can be reliably collected”.
On June 1, another new rule took effect, requiring children crossing the borders to be in possession with birth certificates.
In October, the government promised to relax the visa regulations, but so far concessions to the regulations have not been implemented.
The Independent Newspaper in the United Kingdom reported on Monday that between 10 and 20 families per day are being denied boarding to South Africa at Heathrow Airport, during the pre-Christmas travel period, simply because they do not strictly meet the new draconian visa requirements.
The report quoted the CEO of the Southern African Tourism Services Association, David Frost, as saying that growth in tourism to South Africa from the UK is flat, when it should be rapidly growing.
The South African tourism industry has long held that these regulations are “disastrous” for the industry, which constitutes 9 percent of the country’s GDP and employs 1.5 million South Africans.
One job is created for every 12 arrivals, and in a country with a 36 percent unemployment rate, the potential to create jobs through tourism is being severely jeopardized by the government inaction, the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) said on Tuesday.
With the rand being at its lowest point in 14 years, South Africa’s tourism industry should be thriving, but it is not because onerous visa regulations are repelling tourists interest in the country, the DA said.
The DA urged Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is the Chair of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Visa Regulations, to urgently escalate the roll out of electronic visas as a means to streamline tourist facilitation to the country.
The DA has consistently fought for the implementation of e-visas which it says is the solution to the current visa regulation catastrophe, and will facilitate easier access for tourists to South Africa.