Cape Town - New unfriendly visa regulations have plunged South Africa into a tourism crisis costing the country about R1.6-billion as visitors are forced to jump through hoops to enter the country, according to a new report.
Grant Thornton’s Advisory Service this morning reported a six percent decline in the number of foreign tourist arrivals for the first three months of this year.
This means that 150 000 fewer people chose to visit the country at a time when the country’s weak currency should theoretically have driven up the numbers.
And it only gets worse, because the company has calculated that the sudden dip in tourism has resulted in R1.6bn less being pumped into the South African economy.
“A loss of this magnitude in foreign tourist arrivals is unprecedented.
“We have not seen such dire levels of decline in the last 21 years of our tourism industry,” said Thornton’s director Lee-Anne Bac.
The new immigration regulations’ biggest flaws were highlighted as part of an impact assessment report released by the Tourism Business Council of SA.
These included the requirement for tourists applying for visas to travel to a South African embassy to appear in person during the application process, and the requirement for all children under the age of 18 travelling to and from SA to present an unabridged birth certificate.
Western Cape MEC for Economic Opportunity Alan Winde said the regulations were a big step backwards.
“While other countries are using technology and find easier ways to get their system to work, we are going in the opposite direction,” he told the Cape Argus.
“It just doesn’t make economic sense.”
For example, a visitor from the US will now have to travel to either New York or Chicago to obtain their visa.
In many cases, potential tourists would be forced to pay for expensive flights or bus tickets to make the journey to those locations.
Winde said they were “trying various angles” to put pressure on the government to take another look at the regulations.
These would include a workshop with Home Affairs Deputy Minister Fatima Chohan this week, facilitated by Wesgro.
“(The regulations) are having a massive negative effect on our economy and on creating and sustaining jobs,” he concluded.
Grant Thornton showed that for the first quarter of 2015 there was a dramatic decline in the number of visitors from many countries.
Tourists from Russia were down by a staggering 47 percent, while the number of visitors from China and Brazil decreased by 38 percent and 34 percent respectively.
Bac warned there would be “far-reaching implications” as a result of the decline.
“Most notably, price squeeze will result in tourism product owners fighting for a shrinking foreign tourism market and a price-sensitive domestic market.
“There will most definitely also be job losses, especially for niche tourism operators that focus on specific foreign tourism markets, for example, China and India,” Bac added.