New visa regulations have negatively impacted tourism in South Africa, Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom said on Thursday.
“I am concerned about it,” the minister told reporters before delivering his budget vote speech in Parliament.
When asked whether the new regulations had impacted tourism, Hanekom said, “yes they are impacting.”
Hanekom said he was in discussions with Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba to try and find ways to alleviate the problem.
The revision of the country’s visa regulations was one of the most significant recent developments in 2014 and 2015 in the South African tourism industry.
Under the revised regulations implemented in mid-2014, tourists to South Africa will have to apply in person for visas to visit South Africa so that biometric data can be reliably collected. In addition, parents and guardians travelling with minors must have an unabridged birth certificate that shows the names of both parents.
The government says the move is designed to enhance national security.
Hanekom said there had been negative growth over the past six months from countries affected by the regulations.
But it was too early to determine its exact impact on the industry that grew by 6.6 percent in 2014, higher than most countries’ averages.
Worldwide, governments are focusing on efforts to relax visa requirements to promote tourism. Tourism industry commentators in South Africa say the regulations have already adversely affected travel from China and India.
Also on Thursday, the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) said that since the visa and birth certificate regulations were announced, bookings from foreign countries are down by 90 percent.
According to the Board of Airline Representatives South Africa, the new regulations for passengers travelling by air with children could cost the tourism sector over 6.8 billion rand (about 576 million US dollars) in losses.
The Tourism Business Council indicated that the country may lose 270, 000 international tourists and in turn lose 21, 000 jobs each year, costing the country 9.7 billion rand (about 822 million dollars).
“Let’s be clear on this issue: The tourism industry cannot afford this. And ultimately South Africa cannot afford this,” sadi James Vos, DA Shadow Minister of Tourism.
“What makes this so tragic is that there is a simple solution to the problem. Collect the biometric data on arrival at airports as other countries do and introduce electronic visa application systems,” he suggested. Enditem