Cape Town - Tourists from countries that need visas have been cancelling bookings in Cape Town because of uncertainty about the new immigration regulations – with some operators’ bookings falling by between 35 and 90 percent, says Cape Town Tourism.
The outbreak of Ebola in west Africa was also contributing to the problem, Enver Duminy, chief executive of Cape Town Tourism, told MPLs on Thursday at the first day of the legislature’s two-day public hearing on the economic effect of the regulations.
Tour operators in China, Japan and India had told Cape Town Tourism the new immigration rules – which require applicants to go in person to a South African consulate or embassy so their fingerprints and other details can be taken – were discouraging people who wished to visit the country.
According to SA Tourism figures for last year, the number of visitors from Japan grew by 22.2 percent or 7 630 people, China and Hong Kong by 14.7 percent or 19 513 visitors, and India by 5.5 percent or 5 898.
Duminy said Cape Town’s traditional tourism base – from Germany, the UK and Netherlands – was not affected as tourists from in those countries did not require visas.
The new regulations came into effect in May. Those requiring unabridged birth certificates for children have been suspended until June in the face of an outcry from airlines.
“We need to make it a lot easier for people to travel to South Africa. What we are doing seems to be the opposite,” Duminy said.
He said Home Affairs needed more visa processing centres in India and China.
“In China, if you are not in (New Delhi or Mumbai, which have South African missions), you have to travel to those cities and apply for a visa. It is an additional cost to fly there and accommodation.”
Economic Opportunities MEC Alan Winde said the regulations would have a devastating impact on growth and jobs.
“It became clear to all that tests had not been done into the impact of these rules on law-abiding businesses and private citizens, versus those who do defy the rules.”
Winde said a study had found the economic cost to South Africa could be as high as R10bn and place 21 000 jobs on the line. The regulations would affect industries like film, oil and gas, modelling, tourism and those with scarce skills.
Last month, Mkuseli Apleni, director-general of Home Affairs, told Parliament that the government did not want to harm the economy or the tourism sector.
Briefing the portfolio committee on home affairs, he said: “The intention is not to kill the economy or tourism. We are not the only country to do this.”