DESIRED DESTINATION: The new visa legislation posed a threat to business tourism and could inhibit growth of the international association conference sector, at venues including the CTICC, a public hearing was told.
DESIRED DESTINATION: The new visa legislation posed a threat to business tourism and could inhibit growth of the international association conference sector, at venues including the CTICC, a public hearing was told.

Visa hearings: ‘cost to tourism too high’

By Warda Meyer Time of article published Sep 26, 2014

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Cape Town - Key figures in Cape Town’s tourism industry added their voices to the chorus of disapproval over the country’s new visa regulations during public hearings on Thursday.

The two-day hearings, called by the provincial parliament’s standing committee on economic development and tourism, heard submissions from Wesgro, the CTICC, Cape Town Tourism and law firm ENSafrica, among others.

Raising concerns about the in-person applications for biometric intake, the critical skills list, loss of investment and ultimately job creation, stakeholders were outspoken about their experiences.

Economic Opportunities MEC Alan Winde said Home Affairs had “stuck the band-aid far from the wound”.

“It became immediately 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. While the former are being pushed away, it appears the latter are unaffected,” he said.

Winde said a recent study concluded that the economic cost to South Africa could be as high as R10-billion, and place 21 000 jobs on the line. But he was optimistic that the problems created by the new legislation could be turned into an opportunity:

“If we are to recover from the brand damage we’ve created, South Africa needs now to show the world that it is going to deal with this issue swiftly and decisively. We need to embrace world class innovation, such as e-visas, to create an enabling environment which encourages the return of international business and tourism to our country.”

And Winde was hopeful that Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba, who is expected to attend Friday’s hearings, would come with positive news.

“If he has any interest in our economy and jobs, he will announce their immediate withdrawal,” Winde said.

He handed over documents to the committee containing case studies from individuals harmed by the regulations.

The CTICC’s Megan Arendse said the new legislation posed a real threat to business tourism and could inhibit growth of the international association conference sector, which was a key driver of economic growth and job creation in the province.

Arendse believed that should the new legislation come into effect, there would be a further decline in attendance figures for conferences and trade fairs.

“The additional cost and effort necessary to get a visa to travel to a conference will undoubtedly pose a deterrent,” she said.

And she stressed that the CTICC and Cape Town as a destination ran the risk of losing future events to other long-haul destinations and competitors such as Kuala Lumpur.

George van Niekerk from ENSafrica said: “We’ve ended up shooting ourselves in the foot”.

Asked if the government was creating an enabling business environment or not, Van Niekerk replied: “I think not.”

“If one could, one should go back to the drawing board,” he suggested.

“These regulations are mechanical, I can see with respect that it appeals to a bureaucrat in Pretoria who’s used to drawing up list and ticking boxes. But the regulations were conceived and drafted in Pretoria instead of in consultation with the industries where the shortages lie. I think that’s the wrong way to go about it. I think you have to start with people who are affected by it.”

Gareth Pritchard, chief executive of Business Process Enabling SA, said there was a huge risk of companies such as Amazon and IBM wanting to set up call centres in the country, but being put off by the new immigration laws.

“We can’t allow that image of South Africa to reach our potential markets; we need to be seen as business friendly.”

Pritchard said the call centre industry could be creating jobs faster in South Africa if they were allowed to import the right people to help set up call centres.

“What is great about this industry is that we can get young people working who don’t have a very good education and actually they don’t even need matric, which means that with the right attitude and the right elocution we can get them into these jobs,” he added.

Cape Town Tourism chief executive Enver Duminy said they estimated that about 250 000 fewer tourists would visit due to the additional red tape and that the cost would be about R2.5bn to R3bn in direct spend.

“This is creating a lot more red tape for something that should be fairly simple. We are trying to reduce the barriers for travel,” he said.

Adding that globally countries including the UK, with its stringent regulations, had recognised that they needed to reduce the barriers for travel, Duminy said this did not seem to be the case in South Africa.

“We estimate when it comes to biometrics taking a rough estimate of losing about 20 percent of their business we could be seeing an impact of about R6bn to the economy,” he said.

Cape Argus

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