The tourism industry is bracing itself for what it believes will be the “disastrous” effect of new immigration regulations, which kick in on Monday.
But Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe told a World Economic Forum briefing on Friday that the government was considering reviewing the regulations after being inundated with calls.
“Despite the noble intentions of these immigration policies, they have had an unintended consequence, which needs to be addressed,” he said.
Describing the regulations as “lunacy”, David Frost, the chief executive of the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (Satsa), which deals with inbound tourism, said on Sunday that the impact could already be seen in the 20 percent drop in bookings for this June compared to June last year.
“This is the tip of a very large iceberg. We are going to take big hits,” he predicted.
Satsa, along with the Southern African Travel Agents (Asata) and the Board of Airline Representatives South Africa (Barsa), said last week that from May to December last year, the country lost 66 000 foreign tourists as a result of the pending new regulations being introduced by the Department of Home Affairs.
“The total direct, indirect and induced impact on the economy in 2014 was a negative R2.6 billion and a potential loss of more than 5 800 jobs,” they said.
The number of foreign tourists who decide not to travel to South Africa this year could increase to 100 000, with a direct tourism spend of R1.4bn, while the total net loss to the GDP could be about R4.1bn.
And 9 300 jobs could be axed, they said.
The outbound industry was also set to lose at least R8 million, with further job losses likely.
Otto de Vries, the chief executive of Asata, said the industry was “expecting chaos” with a significant and worrying downturn in family bookings out of and into South Africa.
Air China had cancelled its planned direct flights to South Africa as a result of the new regulations.
A survey carried out by The Telegraph newspaper in the UK – one of South Africa’s key source markets – found that most people (61 percent) who took part in the poll would not visit South Africa because of the regulations.
James Vos, the DA’s spokesman on tourism, on Sunday night described Malusi Gigaba, the Minister of Home Affairs, and Derek Hanekom, the Minister of Tourism, as “tourism terminators”.
Tourism industry fears centre on the requirement for unabridged birth certificates for minors and the move to biometric visas that means potential visitors have to make “in-person” applications at South African embassies.
Both requirements would have a “significant detrimental impact” on tourism in South Africa and in neighbouring countries, representatives from leading hotels told the Minister of Home Affairs last year.
Home Affairs says the new regulations are in line with an international obligation to curb child trafficking.
It said about 30 000 minors were trafficked through South Africa each year.
But the industry claims this figure is a myth.
It had come from Operation Mobilisation, a non-governmental organisation, which has said it was misquoted, a media briefing was told last week.
SAPS statistics on the number of children going missing every year was not even 2 percent of this estimate.
No other country called for a child, accompanied by his or her parents, to travel with an unabridged birth certificate, the industry said.
Although Home Affairs wanted in-person biometric visa applications, there was not one biometric machine in a South African embassy, Frost said.
Some potential travellers would have to travel several hours to get to a South African embassy or even to another country if their own did not have a South African embassy.
The answer was to carry out biometric applications when visitors arrived in South Africa, Frost said.
Vos said he had written to the tourism ombudsman for intervention based on “the lack of proper economic and regulatory impact assessment studies… (or) consultation with key tourism stakeholders”.