Visa rules drive 11% slide in tourist arrivals

THE local tourism industry has received more bad news with international arrivals declining 11% year on year for the June to August period, according to the latest figures from ForwardKeys a travel data intelligence company which analyzes millions of booking transactions daily. The data shows a 6.8% decline for the period between September last year and May this year. World Travel and Tourism Council CEO David Scowsill said in an interview on Tuesday that there “is absolutely no doubt that the decline has to do with the visa regulations”.

“There could be other reasons like Ebola but for the most part, the visa complications are having an impact on the number of international visitors to SA,” he said.

The council warned that the decline was likely to continue unless SA urgently reviewed the new rules. SA s travel and tourism industry was set to grow about 4.3% a year for the next 10 years. However, this was unlikely to be achieved if the visa regulations were not revised. The tourism industry has been reeling since the introduction of the contentious visa regulations last year, and has been fiercely lobbying the government to review them.

The South African Reserve Bank warned in its quarterly bulletin last week that the visa regulations would hurt the economy. Mr Scowsill said the council would continue to lobby the government and the inter-ministerial task team that was due to look at the visa regulations, with an eye to a possible review, particularly the requirements for unabridged birth certificates for minor children and biometric identification. A study by Grant Thornton, commissioned by the Tourism Business Council of SA, estimated that the country could attract 100,000 fewer foreign visitors this year. This could translate into about 9,300 jobs being shed and a total net loss to gross domestic product of about R4.1bn.

Grant Thornton said the sector was entering its first serious crisis and attributed this to the Ebola pandemic in West Africa, the economic slowdown in some source countries and the implementation of the new visa rules. Mr Scowsill said African states must work together to open up the continent s skies in order to maximise the potential of the travel and tourism sector. The World Travel and Tourism Council estimates that the travel and tourism industry in Africa will grow 4.9% a year over the next 10 years.

But to achieve that growth, African countries would have to work on liberalising air services to stimulate intra-Africa traffic, cut the operating costs of airlines and move towards a common visa that would allow international visitors access to several different countries on the continent, Mr Scowsill said.

“I know that this has started but it hasn t gone quite far enough and SA is not yet part of that. There is an East African single visa initiative which Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda have set up. All that needs to be done is to add SA Tanzania, Namibia and Botswana should be part of that.”

Gerrie van Biljon, the executive director of Business Partners a specialist risk finance company for formal small and medium enterprises in SA whose client base includes a range of entrepreneurs in the tourism industry said the tourism sector had much to be hopeful about despite the storm clouds created by the new regulations.

“It appears that the government is not unified over the new visa rules, with the deputy president now tasked with heading up an inter-ministerial committee on visa regulations to examine concerns about the amended visa regulations, which might lead to a rethink.

“The rand also finds itself at a level that tourism businesses have been dreaming about for a long time. SA is now truly one of the best value-for-money destinations in the world,” Mr van Biljon said.

Visa Rules Drive 11% Slide In Tourist Arrivals

The Table Mountain cableway. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

THE local tourism industry has received more bad news with international arrivals declining 11% year on year for the June to August period, according to the latest figures from ForwardKeys a travel data intelligence company which analyzes millions of booking transactions daily. The data shows a 6.8% decline for the period between September last year and May this year.

World Travel and Tourism Council CEO David Scowsill said in an interview on Tuesday that there “is absolutely no doubt that the decline has to do with the visa regulations”.

“There could be other reasons like Ebola but for the most part, the visa complications are having an impact on the number of international visitors to SA,” he said. The council warned that the decline was likely to continue unless SA urgently reviewed the new rules. SA s travel and tourism industry was set to grow about 4.3% a year for the next 10 years.

However, this was unlikely to be achieved if the visa regulations were not revised. The tourism industry has been reeling since the introduction of the contentious visa regulations last year, and has been fiercely lobbying the government to review them. The South African Reserve Bank warned in its quarterly bulletin last week that the visa regulations would hurt the economy.

Mr Scowsill said the council would continue to lobby the government and the inter-ministerial task team that was due to look at the visa regulations, with an eye to a possible review, particularly the requirements for unabridged birth certificates for minor children and biometric identification. A study by Grant Thornton, commissioned by the Tourism Business Council of SA, estimated that the country could attract 100,000 fewer foreign visitors this year. This could translate into about 9,300 jobs being shed and a total net loss to gross domestic product of about R4.1bn. Grant Thornton said the sector was entering its first serious crisis and attributed this to the Ebola pandemic in West Africa, the economic slowdown in some source countries and the implementation of the new visa rules.

Mr Scowsill said African states must work together to open up the continent s skies in order to maximise the potential of the travel and tourism sector. The World Travel and Tourism Council estimates that the travel and tourism industry in Africa will grow 4.9% a year over the next 10 years. But to achieve that growth, African countries would have to work on liberalising air services to stimulate intra-Africa traffic, cut the operating costs of airlines and move towards a common visa that would allow international visitors access to several different countries on the continent, Mr Scowsill said.

“I know that this has started but it hasn t gone quite far enough and SA is not yet part of that. There is an East African single visa initiative which Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda have set up.

All that needs to be done is to add SA Tanzania, Namibia and Botswana should be part of that.”

Gerrie van Biljon, the executive director of Business Partners a specialist risk finance company for formal small and medium enterprises in SA whose client base includes a range of entrepreneurs in the tourism industry said the tourism sector had much to be hopeful about despite the storm clouds created by the new regulations.

“It appears that the government is not unified over the new visa rules, with the deputy president now tasked with heading up an inter-ministerial committee on visa regulations to examine concerns about the amended visa regulations, which might lead to a rethink.

“The rand also finds itself at a level that tourism businesses have been dreaming about for a long time.

SA is now truly one of the best value-for-money destinations in the world,” Mr van Biljon said.

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