According to the country’s Tourism Minister, Derek Hanekom, who also emphasised the importance of the sector to the country’s economy in an interview with CNBC Africa.
“There are at least 1.4 million people employed in the sector – that’s huge, but we have to be constantly vigilant and aware of the possible obstacles to further growth, and the visa regulations could have a negative impact on tourism growth,” added Hanekom.
“When you speak to the industry, they are very concerned about the impact of the visa regulations are having. Although, the Department of Home Affairs is carrying out its mandate to safeguard our national interests and our security interests – we should appreciate that,” he said.
“However, the challenge is to do it in such a way that you absolutely minimise the negative impact on tourism and tourism growth, especially in key markets – China and India.”
According to the minister, China is now South Africa’s fourth largest source market for long-bound or long-haul tourism to South Africa.
Hanekom continued that, “We have to make sure that we don’t put in place, unintended obstacles which will slow down the growth from China or even, in fact, reduce some of the gains we’ve made.”
While President Jacob Zuma did indicate at the 2015 State of the Nation Address that government would be reviewing the regulations, Hanekom explained that going forward the focus must be on finding a formula that minimises possible negative impacts on tourism.
“At this stage, the decision of cabinet is that it’s not just between the Ministry of Tourism and Home Affairs, there are other affected ministries and departments that we will have a roundtable discussion [with], facilitated probably by the deputy president,” he said.
“We can have a good, hard, honest look at the visa regulations and whether they represent the best interests of our country in totality. That will be the essence of the discussion we’ll have over the next couple of months. The spirit will be to find the right formula, to do what is best for our country