Johannesburg - Key players in the tourism industry in South Africa have raised concerns about the new immigration regulations, saying the new restrictions on obtaining visas could have a detrimental impact on tourism.
The industry, which includes hoteliers, game resorts and other tourism destinations, have picked two specific regulations, namely the new requirement for an unabridged birth certificate for minors, as well as the provision for in-person collection of biometric processed visas.
Last week Mmatsatsi Ramawela, the chief executive of Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA), said the industry acknowledged the prerogative and duty of the Department of Home Affairs to protect the borders and to address the issue of human trafficking.
However, the new regulations would have a damaging affect not only on South Africa, but neighbouring countries as well.
She said the industry was of a view that further engagement with the government was key to finding a workable solution.
According to the UN World Tourism Organisation, last year there were around 56 million inbound visitors to Africa; of which between 13 million and 14 million visited South Africa.
Targets set out in the National Development Plan indicate that by 2020 the tourism sector should be able to create 225 000 new jobs and create a direct or indirect contribution of R499 billion to gross domestic product (GDP).
The industry currently employs about 600 000 people and generates about 3 percent of total GDP.
David Frost, the chief executive of the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association, said his office had been inundated with letters of concern from international tour operators.
“The requirement of carrying an original unabridged birth certificate, or a certified copy thereof, as well as a sworn translation if needed, acts as an additional hurdle that damages our competitiveness as a destination.”
He said this created a barrier to entry with financial and opportunity costs that prospective tourists needed to overcome in order to travel to the country.
Frost said there was widespread confusion on what was required.
“For example, in the event of a single parent who does not have contact with the other biological parent, an affidavit is required… Furthermore, foreign language birth certificates will have to be translated,” he said.
All these will add time and costs that a potential visitor will now have to factor in before coming to South Africa.
TBCSA said these concerns were also echoed by the World Travel Agents Associations Alliance, and the European Travel Agents’ and Tour Operators’ Associations.
The Board of Airline Representatives of Southern Africa have also expressed concern, saying that up to 20 percent of air travel to South Africa involved families with children.
Danny Bryer, the director of sales, marketing and revenue management at Protea Hotels, agreed with Frost, saying the industry was in support of border control and the curbing of human trafficking, but the immigration regulations needed to be carefully thought out.
“We understand that this is critical and that the process needs to be followed through. What is critical is for the two departments, Home Affairs and Tourism, to work towards a common goal in order to protect the income that tourism generates for South Africa.“
TBCSA and Bryer both said that the problem with biometric visas was that the biometric data gathering points would only be available in limited centres in certain countries with vast geographic spread, such as India and China.
For example, the new immigration regulations could have an impact on King Shaka International Airport, which has one international flight through Air Emirates flying to Dubai and then India.
“If people in India find it difficult to obtain their visas, that will impact the capacity of Air Emirates, which will then [affect] the ground staff at King Shaka Airport and the ripple effect will then continue,” he said.
He said it was not entirely about the hotel sector, but the tourism sector as a whole.
“All we are asking for is a strategy to be implemented, to ensure that the minister of home affairs moves in a right direction as far as human trafficking is concerned, but on the basis that it does not negatively impact on creating jobs and making sure that South Africa is still a place that people can visit,” Bryer said.
The other concern was that the government, together with the private sector, was spending a lot of money in India and Asia in promoting the country.
Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom said any matter that could have a detrimental impact on international tourist arrivals was a concern.
He said the intentions behind the new laws were well understood, and the “unforeseen and unintended negative consequences, must be taken seriously”.