Jury’s out on relaxed visa regulations
Cape Town - The tourism sector has adopted a wait-and-see approach to the relaxing of visa requirements announced by the cabinet on Friday, saying it is too early to tell if the measures will boost flagging visitor numbers.
Kagiso Mosue, spokeswoman for the Tourism Business Council of SA, said the move was a “step in the right direction”, but the council would be reviewing the implications before it could say whether or not it was satisfied with the changes to new visa regulations that have been widely blamed for a slump in tourist arrivals in the country.
Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom and Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba, who have been at odds over the regulations introduced by Gigaba’s department, joined Minister in the Presidency for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Jeff Radebe for a media briefing in Pretoria, where the changes were announced.
Among the concessions were that visa applications in countries where there are no South African missions would be accepted by post – lifting the requirement that all applications be made in person – and that accredited tourism firms would be allowed to accept visa applications from their clients in China, India and Russia before forwarding them to South African authorities.
This had been considered a major obstacle, especially for would-be tourists from countries like China, where vast travel distances and costs were involved in some cases just to lodge an application.
The requirement for people travelling with children to carry original birth certificates and letters of consent from absent parents was also relaxed for countries from which visas are not required, including key traditional tourism markets in Europe and North America.
Hanekom said these had been the major factors affecting decisions on whether or not to travel to the country, and he was satisfied the new measures would “deal fully with the issues”.
However, South Africans taking children out of the country will still have to produce parental consent affidavits and birth certificates “containing parental details” – a shift from the unabridged birth certificates that had been required – to help prevent child trafficking.
Radebe said in future the details of parents would be printed in the child’s passport to save them having to carry the birth certificate.
Children coming into the country from ones where visas are required would still have to provide original birth certificates or certified copies of required documents.
Gigaba said the changes satisfied the country’s security concerns and commitments to help stem child trafficking, while also addressing the concerns of the tourism sector.
Since the in-person application requirements were introduced in the third quarter of last year, tourist arrivals fell, especially from China (46.9 percent), and dropped by a further overall 13 percent in June, when the child travel regulations came into effect, according to Southern African Tourism Services Association figures.
Hanekom said the drop in visitor numbers had prompted the establishment of the inter-ministerial committee, whose recommendations informed the announcements made on Friday, which had been approved by the cabinet.
Mosue said the priority was to address the uncertainty around the travel requirements for South Africa and restore tourist confidence.
“As we study the finer details of the cabinet-approved recommendations, we will be looking to see how far the concessions address these two concerns,” she said.
Establishing a tourism stakeholder forum would help to work through the implications of the revisions and “pave the way for improved trading conditions in the sector and improved access by tourists”.
* E-mail your opinion to [email protected] and we will consider it for publication or use our Facebook and Twitter pages to comment on our stories. See links below.