The Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) bemoans the outcomes of a recent meeting between the Ministers of Tourism and Home Affairs on the introduction of the new immigration regulations for children and people travelling into and out of South Africa.
The two Ministers met on 31 July to discuss the impact of the new immigration regulations on the travel and tourism sector and to possibly find alternative ways to cater for the security concerns of the country. The new regulations affecting the movement of children under the age of 18 and the requirement for biometric data for travellers came into effect on 26 May 2014.
While acknowledging the meeting as having paved the way for the travel and tourism trade to engage with Government on the practicalities of implementation, TBCSA CEO, Mmatšatši Ramawela expressed disappointment that it did not yield significant changes to Government’s stance on the two regulations which are of serious concern to the local and international tourism trade:
• the requirement for all children under the age of 18 exiting or entering the country to carry a copy of their unabridged birth certificates;
• the requirement for nationals of countries for which South Africa requires visas on entry to make in-person visa applications at SA Foreign missions for biometric visa processing prior to departure from their country of residence
Echoing similar sentiments expressed by the Association of Southern African Travel Agents (ASATA), Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA), the Board of Airline Representatives of South Africa (BARSA) and Airline Association of Southern Africa (AASA), the TBCSA contends that the new rules will add a new layer of red tape and administrative hurdles for inbound and outbound travellers, which may result in increased costs, extended travel time and dent South Africa’s reputation as a preferred tourism destination internationally.
“We are hugely concerned that the new regulations will make South Africa to be considered inaccessible to an increased number of visitors. Already with the previous immigration regulations, the trade had experienced difficulties in getting visa applications processed in some of our key source markets and we feel that the challenges will increase with the new onerous measures introduced by the Home Affairs Department
On a positive note, the TBCSA welcomed the piloting of the ‘trusted traveller programme’ and the possible phasing out of the transit visa but warned that the biometric system also had its own flaws and may not be the right solution to replace the transit visa. “Of course we are disappointed that the meeting did not yield the results we had hoped for. However the Ministers did highlight their commitment to addressing the practical barriers to the implementation through ongoing engagement, so we remain optimistic”, she said.
In view of the Home Affairs Minister’s commitment to further engage on the matter, the TBCSA will be following up on its initial request to meet with Minister Gigaba. The Council hopes the trade will have the opportunity to present the results of a recent study it commissioned to assess the ‘impact of the new regulations on the travel and tourism sector’. The study, which has a specific focus on the two areas of concern, also presents information on the possible impact on South Africa’s GDP with a special focus on job creation and the destination’s competitiveness.
“With the support of the Department of Tourism, we look forward to meeting with Minister Gigaba to present our concerns and engage on the specific details of implementation. In our initial letter to Minister Gigaba, we made amongst others a request for a 12-month moratorium on implementation to give the trade time to communicate with its partners both locally and internationally. The extension is also meant to give the trade time to engage with Government to ensure that all our key source markets are well served with the required resources to implement the new regulations.
The TBCSA will keep reaching out to Government to engage and to find a solution that will be agreeable to both sides, in the interest of South Africa’s travel and tourism economy which contributes no less than 10 percent to the country’s GDP ” Ramawela concluded.