AIR China has reportedly cancelled the launch of its direct flights to South Africa due to the new visa regulations.
This comes on the heels of studies by airline industry players that indicated that the new visa regulations could lose the local tourism business close to R6.8 billion.
From Monday, June 1, children under the age of 18 will be required to have an unabridged birth certificate if they are entering or leaving the country as part of South Africa’s new immigration regulations.
Adding to the gloom are last year’s figures from Statistics SA that indicate a steep decline in the number of Chinese tourists, which slid 24.6 percent last year to just less than 83 000.
Tourism publication Southern African Tourism Update quoted Trudy Pietersen of Airport Company South Africa (Acsa) as saying that Air China had cancelled the launch of its much-anticipated direct flights to South Africa.
She told the daily publication that the airline had cancelled its slots for the season running from August 31 to October 23.
“Hopefully, they will re-apply for the new season, commencing end October,” she said.
The Board of Representatives of Airlines in South Africa (Barsa), which represents domestic and international airlines active in South Africa, confirmed the financial impact yesterday, saying that it had commissioned two research papers on the likely impact of the impending requirements and found that there would be at least a 20 percent decline.
“Anecdotally, we have had reports from stakeholders internationally of an increase in cancellations, as well as a significant reduction in the number of forward bookings for the destination.
“Demand from the Indian and Chinese markets has decreased since the introduction of in-person visa applications,” Barsa chief executive June Crawford said.
DA transport spokesman James Vos said that, based on 2013 numbers, 536 000 foreign visitors could be denied travel.
Vos said according to a reliable source, who wished to remain anonymous, the airline cited safety and security concerns following recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa as well as the onerous new visa rules as a deterrent, which, the airline feared, would impact on its revenue on the route.
“It could cost the tourism sector over R6.8bn in losses and result in severe job cuts. This is according to information released by Barsa,” Vos said.
Barsa said its airline members were concerned about the potential impact the impending regulations would have.
It said as a signatory of the Chicago Convention, South Africa and hence airlines should only be accepting passports and applicable visas as valid forms of identification.
The Chicago Convention establishes rules of airspace, aircraft registration and safety, and details the rights of signatories in relation to air travel.
Barsa said birth certificates were not deemed to be valid identification documentation under the convention, adding that airlines would struggle to verify such certificates.