In his recent announcement to boots economic recovery with a set of plans to stimulate economic growth and job creation across multiple sectors, Ramaphosa said he had received complaints and concerns from players in the tourism industry that the current regime had been holding the industry back.
Said Ramaphosa: “I have heard on my own travels that there are people who want to come to South Africa but find it difficult. Chinese President, Xi Jinping, said to me that there are a growing number of Chinese middle-class tourists who want to travel here but find the regime prohibitive.”
According to a report by TourimsUpdate.co.za, Ramaphosa also acknowledged that due to these restrictions the industry had lost money. “I cannot quantify exactly how much,” said the President. “We can potentially regain some of this loss if we address the architecture of our current system. Arrangements are being finalised for a whole string of countries; the announcement will be made soon. In fact, in just weeks we expect the announcement. This will open doors to various countries.”
The President continued that within the next few months, amendments would be made to the regulations on the travel of minors; the list of countries requiring visas for South Africa would be reviewed and an e-visa pilot would be implemented. The visa requirements for highly skilled foreigners would be revised. “These measures have a huge potential to boost tourism and to make business travel into our country more conducive. Tourism continues to be a great job creator. Through these measures, we are confident that many more tourists will visit South Africa and South Africa opens its arms to welcome the millions of tourists who will be streaming our way following this architectural reconstruction.”
Interim CEO of the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA), Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, told Tourism Update that the industry was pleased that the President had acknowledged the vital role that tourism could play in stimulating the economy, and that he had acknowledged that there had been measures put in place that were holding the industry back. “We are hoping that the announcements in the following weeks will address all the concerns we have raised with regard to visas and unabridged birth certificates. We have said from the start that unabridged birth certificates have created a large problem for tourism. We want this gone to re-encourage the movement of people into SA.”
This sentiment was echoed in a press statement released by the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (Satsa). CEO David Frost commented: “The requirement of carrying an unabridged birth certificate has been a hurdle that damages our competitiveness as a destination. It creates a barrier to entry with financial and/or opportunity cost that a prospective tourist needs to overcome in order to travel to South Africa.” Government, said Frost, should introduce visa waivers for key markets immediately. “We need decisive action and an easing or abolishment of visa requirements for source markets like China, India, New Zealand and the UAE immediately. We can’t wait another three months to implement visa waivers. We must act now.”
This is supported by Tshivhengwa: “We also want an e-visa system initiated. It does not make sense that people have to travel great distances within their countries simply to apply for a visa. A number of countries around the world and even in Africa have introduced e-visa systems to help speed up and ease the application process. We need to do the same. We need a faster turnaround time for visas. We would like to see government looking on a country-by-country basis at which countries pose security threats, and address them accordingly, rather than a blanket action that does more harm for countries that pose no threat. For example New Zealand and the UAE.”
Frost welcomed Cabinet’s decision to ease onerous visa requirements for certain markets. “We have already seen the positive impact that removing visa requirements has on inbound tourism with the removal of visa regulation requirements for Russia. We have seen a 47% increase in arrivals for that market just in the second quarter of 2018, one of the only growing overseas markets, albeit off a low base.”
Tshivhengwa prompted: “We, as the industry, are ready to come to the table to grow the economy, to create jobs, to assist with transformation, but we need the government to allow us the space to do that. Imposing prohibitive regulations has not allowed us to reach our potential so we hope with these barriers removed we will be able to do our part for the economy.”
Said Frost: “I want to personally thank Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom and the Cabinet for their foresight in finally considering progressive changes to South Africa’s immigration regulations, which will have an overwhelmingly positive impact on our efforts to position South Africa as an attractive tourism destination. This is an indication of how seriously this Cabinet takes its mission to drive South Africa’s inclusive economic growth, and the long-awaited recognition of tourism’s role as a critical sector in helping them achieve their ambitious goals.” Frost further encouraged government to make budget available for the tourism sector to get out to South Africa’s key markets, as a matter of urgency, and spread the word that the destination is making it easier for travellers to visit.