Almost daily we see a new report about the damage that the new Immigration Regulations are causing to our country’s Tourism industry, with drastic reductions in the number of tourist arrivals despite a very favorable exchange rate. Interesting too has been the defensive reaction of the Department of Home Affairs to the criticism raised by the Tourism industry, its Minister Malusi Gigaba not wishing to admit to ‘the unintended consequences of South Africa’s new visa regulations‘.
Now Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is to chair a meeting between the two departments, welcome news if he is able to quickly find a solution to the Tourism disaster. The meeting was due to be held today, but has been cancelled as it does not suit the Deputy President’s diary.
Earlier this week Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom admitted to the South African Association for the Conference Industry congress that the visa regulations ‘have had an impact on tourism’. He referred to the Ministerial committee which was appointed to ‘consider and review the unintended consequences‘, and requested the conference industry to commit to work together ‘and make the best of the growth opportunities emerging around us’. He added: ‘I am confident that we will approach that meeting with an intention of finding solutions. I don’t think we should downplay the impact that this has had on our industry‘.
Minister Hanekom suggested that the industry focus on Domestic Tourism, to compensate for the decline in international tourist arrivals. Conferences should be used as a marketing opportunity for promoting leisure tourism to business delegates attending conferences. He referred to the 177 association conferences which will be held in our country in the best five years, to be attended by more than 250000 delegates.
Home Affairs Minister Gigaba has denied that the visa regulations have affected tourist arrivals, as we reported last week. The Tourism industry has been disappointed that it has taken Minister Hanekom so long to publicly take a stand about the visa regulations, and their effect on Tourism, referring to the ‘worrying drop‘ in tourism numbers. He highlighted the 40% decline in tourist from China in the first quarter of this year. The Minister has become bolder in criticising his Home Affairs colleagues, accusing them of using over-inflated numbers to dramatize the ‘child-trafficking‘ problem. He said: ‘Trafficking is a problem, it [the numbers] probably was exaggerated. Some of the figures mooted were not very accurate’.
The visa regulations dictate that biometric data be obtained from tourists traveling to our country from India, China, and Russia. Parents traveling with children must travel with an unabridged birth certificate for each child, as well as a letter of permission from the other parent if the children accompany only one parent. ‘We need to find a better way of doing it. The impact is not only on tourism but on investment into the country as well’, Minister Hanekom added. The impact of the visa regulations threatens the economy as well as job creation, targets having been set until 2020, and have been described as ‘sabotaging the country’s vital tourism industry’.