International tourism bodies laud SA visa changes | Fin24
 
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International tourism bodies laud SA visa changes

Oct 26 2015 18:55
Carin Smith

Cape Town - The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) would like to congratulate the government of South Africa for adopting new visa policies that will see the implementation of biometric visa applications on arrival and changes to the unabridged birth certificate policy.

The new recommendations that were presented by the inter-ministerial committee were accepted by Cabinet last week and will be implemented over the next three months to over a year.

David Scowsill, president and CEO of the WTTC, said the organisation is extremely pleased that the South African government has decided to adopt new visa policies that ensure a smoother visa application process for business and leisure travellers that are looking to visit this great destination.

"South Africa is a rich tourism economy, in 2014 our sector contributed 9.4% to the country’s total GDP, which accounts to a total of R357bn, a number which is expected to grow by 3.4% in 2015. We commend the government, specifically Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom and Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba, for the quick response to address the dropping visitor arrivals figures," said Scowsill.

"The change in the country’s visa policies are necessary for the country to continue to grow its travel and tourism sector and meet its forecast travel and tourism GDP."

He said in order to benefit from the great economic and social benefits of the sector WTTC encourages governments to provide visitors with a safe and smooth passage, which means adopting smarter visa processes, more visa waiver agreements and trusted traveller programmes.

"The announcement by the South African government is an important step in the right direction. However, it is important for the government to ensure these changes are implemented in a timely and appropriate manner and that the government continues to look for ways to improve its visa processes. There is more scope for the government to attract a higher number of visitors through more favourable visa policies,” he cautioned.

In the next three months medical travellers and visitors from countries that have no South African mission can apply for a visa by post rather than having to appear in person at centres to apply for a visa. In this same period the government will also start collecting biometrics at the port of entry.

After three months to a year, South Africa will be expanding the number of visa facilitations centres in key countries while after a year the government will move towards a pre-flight biometrics checking system at international airports.

Furthermore, foreign travellers under 18 no longer have to carry copies of an unabridged birth certificates. South African minors have to continue to bring a certificate when they travel, though the name has changed to a “birth certificate containing parental details” as to avoid confusion.

This certificate can be printed in passports, which means that parents no longer need to carry birth certificates on them. The government will implement these changes within the next three months to a year.

The International Air Transport Association (Iata) also welcomed the South African government’s decision to amend some of its visa and immigration requirements.

"We believe this is a positive move in the right direction. We urge the South African government to communicate the changes clearly, expeditiously and effectively to all markets so that there is no confusion.  This will require far greater clarity on the dates from which the amendments will become effective," said Raphael Kuuchi, Iata's vice president for Africa.

"It is crucial the changes are implemented quickly, to avoid further lost opportunities for South Africa’s travel and tourism sector, which has already been damaged and will experience a notable downturn in business over the coming high summer season, traditionally the sector's busiest period of the year."
 
In his view the speedy adoption of the amended requirements will also support the combined marketing campaigns led by airlines and their tourism industry partners which aims to restore consumer confidence in South Africa as a value-for-money destination for business and leisure travel.
 
"At the end of the day, we all want to live in a safe and secure society and in this respect IATA stands shoulder-to-shoulder with South Africa in combatting child trafficking and other illegally exploitative practices. At the same time, it is imperative, given South Africa’s current socio-economic challenges, that airlines are permitted to safely, securely and efficiently transport people and goods between South Africa and its markets around the world," he said.

"This will promote economic growth, create and sustain jobs, drive skills development and advance genuine and meaningful transformation."

Protea Hotels also said it is thankful that the SA government has taken the concerns of the tourism and hospitality sector so seriously and has decided to look at alternative ways of achieving its goals while, at the same time, not harming the sector.  

"We expect to experience greater numbers of bookings from visitors from countries that were hit the hardest, such as China and India.  Because the previous regulations required applicants for visas to appear in person, in these geographically vast countries, for many prospective visitors it was extremely difficult to obtain a visa – if the individual did not live close to the place where he/she had to appear in person," said Danny Bryer, director of sales, marketing and revenue management for Protea Hotels.

"Since this requirement has now been dropped, we anticipate that we will see an increase in visitor numbers from these locations."  

However, it will take a good few months before this is likely to happen, he cautioned. Government has indicated that the revised requirements will be implemented over the next few months. In addition, the communication and training that will be needed for both embassy officials and for travel agents and others involved in the marketing of our country abroad will also take some time.

"One concern we have is that there may well be other destinations internationally that filled the gap during the period that South Africa lost its attraction as a destination of choice.  Recovering from this will require a substantial effort on behalf of our marketing staff and agents around the world," said Bryer.  

"Protea Hotels also markets extensively to the South African domestic tourist base to encourage locals to be tourists in their own country."

visa regulations  |  sa economy  |  tourism
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