New Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom ignores Immigration Regulation impact on Tourism!

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Derek HanekomIt is disappointing that new Minister of Tourism Derek Hanekom did not address this country’s most burning tourism issue, namely the changed Immigration Regulations, in his first official communication to the industry in the latest SA Tourism newsletter.  Instead he deals with transformation of the industry.

The Minister’s maiden speech shared his goals to ‘grow tourism at local government level, and to identify growth opportunities‘.  Transformation will be addressed at grass roots level, and will focus on rural tourist attractions receiving more support, getting local communities more involved in tourism initiatives, and enhancing financial resources of local communities.

The Minister is active on Social Media, which was not visible from his predecessor Marthinus van Schalkwyk. Minister Hanekom Tweeted ‘Must say, this beautiful South Africa of ours is a great product to sell. Let’s do it together!’!  Van Schalkwyk promised a smooth transition to the new Minister.  The Department of Tourism Director General Ambassador Kingsley Makhubela said ‘We look forward to taking tourism to new levels under Minister Hanekom’s guidance’.

One would expect that the new Tourism Minister would have faced the Department’s challenge regarding the Immigration Regulation changes head on, but he has made it clear that the responsibility for the problems lies with the Department of Home Affairs, appearing to not be willing to fight for the rights of the tourism industry he represents, odd given the value that Tourism is expected to contribute to our country’s GDP.  The most bizarre response from the Department of Home Affairs to the issue has been that they have not been told specifically what exactly the impact is of the Immigration Regulations is on Tourism!   This contradicts the different tourism bodies’ statements about the discussions they are having with the Department of Home Affairs.  Home Affairs Director-General Mkuseli Apleni said at a media briefing: ‘People have been raising this matter about the regulations affecting negatively (sic) tourism, but unfortunately, nobody has come forward to us and said ‘Regulation A is going to be affecting tourism in this respect’, so that as a department we would be able to respond,” he said. “It’s statements that people are making’.  He showed a willingness for flexibility: ‘If people come to us with valid reasons, then we will look at [these], evaluate them and then on that basis decide what we will be the way forward. But, just on the basis of a statement, it’s difficult to understand’.  Department of Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba confirmed this by stating: ‘Our doors are not closed. We are open to further engagement on the consequences.  You can never introduce new regulations that are perfect and will work‘.

The Mail & Guardian reports that not only will the regulations, of which the implementation has been delayed for three months until 1 October, deter international tourism arrivals, but they will also dampen investment in the industry by local tourism corporates.  Cullinan Holdings is a JSE-listed company which owns travel agencies, coach companies, as well as tour operator service companies. Its CEO Michael Tollman says that they will ‘re-assess their investment plans in local operations‘ as a result of the Regulations, and has requested a delay in implementation by a further twelve months.   The requirement for biometric data in visas, which can only be obtained by tourists coming to South African visa centers in person, will seriously affect tourism from India and China, where such visa offices are limited in number.  Lufthansa too has expressed its concern about the new regulations, and says that it will monitor the impact on its business closely.

There can be no transformation of the tourism industry if the tourism industry’s existence is threatened by the drastic measures contained within the new Immigration Regulations!  One urges Minister Hanekom to stop being so gentle with the Department of Home Affairs, and to show some muscle, to prevent a drastic reduction in international tourism numbers due to the regulations. In a report in yesterday’s Business Day it appears that some of the criticism of the new Immigration Regulations has got through to Minister Hanekom.  Addressing Parliament, he said that Tourism could give the sluggish economy a kick-start, but that the new Immigration Regulations would adversely affect this much needed stimulus.  He added that it should be made as easy as possible for tourists to visit our country!

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com  Twitter: WhaleCottage
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