SA needs new visa approach as tourist numbers fall, says minister

South Africa’s new visa regulations have led to a “worrying drop” in foreign visitors and a new approach may be needed, Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom said on Wednesday.

The country implemented new rules last year requiring visitors to provide biometric data when applying for visas, a problem for people in large countries such as China, which only has South African consulates in Beijing and Shanghai.

“We need to find a better way of doing it. The impact is not only on tourism but on investment into the country as well,” Hanekom told radio station 702.

The tourism sector has grown steadily since South Africa hosted Fifa World Cup 2010 and is now the third-largest contributor to gross domestic product.

While a weaker rand currency, which has dropped by about 30% against the dollar in the past two years, has made Africa’s most advanced economy a relatively cheap destination for international visitors, arrival numbers fell this year.

The home of Kruger National Park and Table Mountain had fewer visitors from most markets, but Hanekom flagged the 38% decrease in arrivals from China, a key source of tourists for South Africa.

With official unemployment at about 25% and the mining and manufacturing sectors shedding jobs, the government is hoping tourism will create more than 200 000 jobs and generate nearly R500-billion by 2020.

Further rules implemented in June require those travelling with children to carry each child’s full birth certificate in addition to their passport.

Touted by Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba as a necessary measure to curb human trafficking, the tourism industry and some foreign governments have criticised the new rules.

“The government has to listen to the economy. The tourism industry is suffering,” said Tourism Business Council of South Africa chief executive Mmatsatsi Ramawela.

“We understand South Africa needs to protect children but this birth certificate rule is a big no-no.” – Reuters

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