South Africa to loosen visa rules to re-claim tourists

South Africa on Sunday joined the rest of the world to commemorate the World Tourism Day, showcasing its richness and diversity.

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By Stanley Karombo

The World Tourism Day must be used to unveil tourism attractions in the country, Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom said at an event in Johannesburg.

Some South Africans marked the day by vising tourist attractions like the Kruger National Park (KNP), one of Africa’s biggest game reserves in northeastern South Africa.

“All the nine provinces have unique tourism destinations that continue to boost the local economy,” Hanekom told Xinhua.

“Each province offers its uniqueness to the world. For example, the Limpopo Province provides Maphungubwe, one of our eight world heritage sites and it is quite unique. There is no place like it in the world,” he said.

The World Tourism Day, a United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) initiative, has been celebrated annually for 30 years. This year’s official World Tourism Day celebrations took place in Guadalajara, Mexico, but the Day was commemorated around the world, including in places as far as Vanuatu.

UNWTO says the Day is aimed at highlighting the tourism industry’ importance and its role in creating jobs and sustainable development.

Hanekom encouraged local citizens to explore their cities, therefore supporting the domestic tourism.
Some of the tourists resorts in South Africa were offering free entrance to locals.

Qedani Mahlangu, member of executive council (MEC) in Gauteng Province, said the province was making big moves to develop the tourism industry.

He was referring to the upcoming launch of Gauteng’s first hop-on hop-off buses in January 2016. The buses, named Claus Tworeck, will make it simple for tourists to explore tourist attractions in the city.

“We are so happy with the incoming new hop-on hop-off buses. We hope that they will become a premier tourism experience in Johannesburg and in future we are looking at bringing the buses to Pretoria too,” Dawn Roberston, CEO of the Gauteng Tourism Authority, said.

Over 8.3 million foreign tourists visited South Africa in 2011 and Gauteng received nearly half of these international arrivals.

The South Africa tourism industry, however, has suffered setbacks since last year due to strict visa regulations which required tourists to apply for visas in person and children to present unabridged birth certificates, in addition to their passports.

International tourists’ arrivals declined 11 percent year on year for the June to August period this year, according to the latest figures from ForwardKeys, a travel data intelligence company which analyses millions of booking transactions.

The data shows a 6.8 percent decline for the period between September last year and May this year.

Critics have warned that the country’s tourism industry would further decline unless the new rules were revised.

South Africa’s travel and tourism industry was set to grow about 4.3 percent annually for the next 10 years. However, this goal was unlikely to be achieved if the visa regulations were not changed, critics say.

The South African Reserve Bank warned in its quarterly bulletin last week that the visa regulations would hurt the economy.

Peter Drumat, CEO of FlyAfrica Limited, a travel agency, said the tourism sector had the ability and opportunity to transform the economic growth of the country, but was stifled by the new travel regulations.

“It seems the government will have a re-think about the new visa rules. Since the Deputy President (Cyril Ramaphosa) was tasked to chair an inter-ministerial committee on visa regulations to address concerns about the visa regulations, let’s hope for the best.

“The free fall of the rand was supposed to be an attraction for tourists, but the regulations are forcing tourists to visit other countries rather than South Africa. SA is now truly one of the best value-for-money destinations in the world,” Drumat said. Enditem

Source: Xinhua

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