SOUTH Africa’s visa regulations will be reviewed to ensure the stringent requirements do not become an obstacle to unlocking the massive tourism potential, Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom said yesterday.
Speaking at Kirstenbosch to mark the botanical gardens’ milestone of attracting more than a million visitors last year, Hanekom said South Africa’s visa requirements needed to strike a balance between protecting the country and helping combat crimes like human trafficking, while ensuring these measures did not negatively affect tourism.
“We will be carefully examining the whole visa requirement issue, finding the right balance,” Hanekom said at a media briefing.
With him was Taleb Rifai, secretary-general of the UN’s World Tourism Organisation, who echoed Hanekom’s views on visa regulations, but said he was not suggesting South Africa compromise on safeguarding the country.
“We’re on the side of homeland ministers and the security people, but they should not make it a nightmare for visitors to get a visa,” said Rifai.
He questioned the wisdom of South Africa’s visa requirements, which meant “every tourist from China or Russia or other rising markets have to travel to embassies, pay more money, sit there, standing in lines” to apply for a visa to visit South Africa.
The country’s visa requirements, introduced in May, mean tourists have to present themselves for “in-person biometric data collection” when applying for a visa. This has met with criticism from the tourism industry.
Rifai said visitors to Australia could buy a visa online.
David Scowsill, chief executive of the World Travel and Tourism Council, said the US had recognised the negative economic impact of their stringent visa requirements and were changing them.
“Since 9/11, the US has lost $600 billion in tourism because their State Department was not issuing visas, they were treating everyone as terrorists.” Scowsill said the US tourism industry had made sure President Barack Obama knew about the losses, with the result that there had been a change in US visa requirements in the last three years.
“You have an enormous opportunity to grow tourism in South Africa, you have everything which an international tourist can enjoy, but there are some practical issues which you need to fix. One is a visa system which inhibits people from coming to see this country,” Scowsill echoed.
Another was encouraging other airlines to South Africa. He understood the dilemma of wanting to support the national carrier, while seeing the need to bring in other airlines, but it was one which needed to be resolved.
He believed South Africa should develop an “open-skies” agreement with other African countries with high tourism potential, such as Tanzania.
Western Cape MEC for Tourism Alan Winde said tourism was the fastest-growing sector in the province and had grown by 7.8 percent in the last five years. Tourism jobs were “great multipliers”, with several indirect jobs being created for every direct job in tourism.
Source: Melanie Gosling, Environment Writer