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South Africa’s Tightened Visa Restrictions Worry Tourism Industry

Scowsill said that key inbound operators are reporting drops of 60 to 80 percent in visitors from markets in which the regulations apply, such as China and the Middle East.

South Africa’S Tightened Visa Restrictions Worry Tourism Industry

Scowsill said the visa restriction is “probably the top issue that this country needs to solve in order to get back into growth mode for the industry…. You need to make it as easy as possible for people to come visit you.”

The new regulations, which became law on 1 October, require tourists with children under 18 years of age to present copies of unabridged birth certificates upon entry into the country. Single parents have to present an affidavit of consent from the other biological parent.

The regulations were designed to help fight child trafficking. According to ECPAT (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking), an organization leading the fight against child sex trafficking, 1.2 million children are abducted by underground trafficking networks every year.

According to the Polaris Project, 27 million people are now held in modern-day slavery.
South Africa’s tourism industry is one of the brightest spots in a struggling economy. According to official figures, 2014 saw a record 10.3 million visitors, producing an income of $10.9 billion and employing 645,000 people.

A group of 20 airlines, including Virgin Atlantic, Air France and British Airways, called the new visa regulations “a tourism, PR, economic and political disaster.”
Diplomats from the Middle East and Asia, have said the regulations will deter investment in the region.

A leaked report from Grant Thornton, a consulting firm for the Tourism Business Council of South Africa, predicted that the new regulations will costs more than 100,000 jobs.

Malusi Gigaba, South Africa’s home affairs minister, has remained adamant in the face of fiery opposition that the regulations will remain in place. But the office has delayed their implementation twice.

While South Africa’s tourism industry fears the new regulations as a deterrent to tourism, U.S.-based operators are out of the line of fire for now.

“A visa is not required for American citizens so we are not impacted by regulations that require in-person visa application,” said Bob Drumm, president of Alexander + Roberts. “Although business dipped during the Ebola scare, we seem to be back on track with growing bookings as we move beyond that issue.”

Gabrielle Nijdam, Africa sales director for Kensington Tours, told TravelPulse the visa regulations have had no visible effect on Kensington’s business. “We have seen very few issues impacting sales of customized private guided tours to South Africa since the new visa restrictions came into place.”

Kensington reports an increase in bookings of 15 percent year over year.
Dave Herbert, chief experience officer of Great Safaris, is concerned that the regulations may expand to include U.S. visitors.

“It’s impacted the Asian markets, just as predicted earlier last year, when the new policy was announced,” said Herbert. “Since then, Home Affairs has not budged. We hope they don’t expand these visa requirements to North America, but there is no indication of this.”
Jim Holden, president of African Travel, Inc., told TravelPulse he expects a compromise to be worked out to keep the vigilance in effect against child trafficking without having a negative effect on tourism.

“This is of course an issue that South Africa has been debating for some time,” said Holden, “how to control child trafficking in a way that achieves its purpose without inconveniencing visitors wanting to visit South Africa on vacation. All evidence so far points to the South African authorities working out a compromise to that effect, i.e. achieving the aim of preventing child trafficking without inconveniencing genuine visitors. We will learn more over the ensuing weeks as to how the debate is playing out. While the debate is in progress we have not seen any drop in bookings or enquiries from what we expect for South Africa at this time.”

Source - Tourism Business Council of South Africa

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