Cape Town International Airport. Statistics SA data shows that the international tourist numbers were below the world average in the past 12 months. Picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency/ANA

Statistics South Africa on Monday released ‘’Tourism and Migration’’ and the results presented a story of doom and gloom. The results reflect a decrease in tourism arrivals to South Africa. The comparison reflects that in March 2018, there were 3 560 382 arrivals compared to 3 841 519 in April 2017. 

The figures reflect an almost 7% decline in foreign arrivals. Tourism has been a perennial creator of good news, as it has shown growth rates greater than the GDP of the economy. The disappointing results have been met with the habit of lies by our politicians. 'Day Zero' has been blamed as the primary cause for the decline of tourism numbers in South Africa. 

This is an untruth as the water crisis in the Western Cape has emerged as a reliable excuse, unfortunately lies have short legs. The truth is that decline in tourism can be attributed to an inability of the Department of Home Affairs and Department of Tourism to finalise the visa regulations. In addition, the paucity of aviation capacity to South Africa, limits the number of tourist arrivals.

Our neighbouring countries such as Zimbabwe have declared open skies, and they benefit with more tourism arrivals. 

South Africa has chosen not to declare open skies and have an unfavourable visa system, and these two own goals are the cause of the decline in tourism numbers. 

The visa issue could have been resolved 2 years ago, but there is no political will to resolve the visa issue. Instead the habit of untruths, is not affording the National Department of Tourism the ability to engage on the elephant in the room, the visa issue. 

The objectives contained in the National Tourism Sector Strategy (NTSS) that South Africa must be within the top 20 tourism destinations by the year 2020 were not achieved because of the visa issue. 

After the Tourism Indaba 2017, the language was that South Africa must attract 5 million tourists within the next 5 years, will not be achieved. 

The visa issues and air access remain the major challenges that have contributed to a decline in tourism arrivals to South Africa, and no amount of convenient amnesia will deflect from this reality. 

The publicity around Day Zero cannot be a convenient excuse to deflect attention from the failure to resolve the visa issue by Home Affairs and Tourism. The decrease of tourism arrivals, means less jobs. One permanent job is created for every 12 tourists that arrive in South Africa.

* Unathi Sonwabile Henama is lecturer at the Tshwane University of Technology in the Department of Tourism Management

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.