On the sidelines of Business Unity South Africa’s (BUSA) Business Economic Indaba, held on January 29 in Johannesburg, South Africa’s tourism industry leaders took the fight for tourism to the country’s President.

Among those present were South Africa’s Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom, Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) Chairman Blacky Komani, and TBCSA CEO Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, who brought the major obstacles and a five-year plan to address those obstacles to President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The obstacles facing the tourism sector are not new: immigration regulations (unabridged birth certificates – UBCs, and visas), tourism vehicle permits, infrastructure, and more recently, industry concern over the decline in forward bookings.

In this article, Tourism Update looks at the immigration points raised, and solutions proposed. Look out for tomorrow’s article where tourism vehicle permits, infrastructure, and the forward bookings decline will be discussed.

Immigration

“The immigration cluster consists of UBCs and visas,” Tshivhengwa told Tourism Update. “We said that we want those to be removed or suspended so that we can go back to the drawing board. It’s a big issue, a big inhibitor, so let’s do two things: work out this immigration story once and for all; and then we can work on issues of safety and security of tourists. We do those two things, and we’ll start to see tourist numbers increase.”

Online visa applications need to be dealt with. “There have been many world-class online visa application processes and e-visas by many different countries…they have the systems – why can’t we have the systems?” said Tshivhengwa. “We can then deal with issues of tourists coming from the visa-carrying countries. Speed up this whole process, so you start to see tourists coming into the country.”

He also urged the President to consider giving more countries visa waivers and special dispensations. “We need to look at how we recognise visas like Schengen visas and US visas when people want to come to SA.” These travellers have already gone through the stringent process, so they should be able to come to SA without the need to apply for a visa, said Tshivhengwa.

And special dispensations should be given to people who are permanent residents of various countries like the UK the US – for example, a Kenyan with a green card living in New York should not have to apply for a visa in the same way as a resident Kenyan citizen would who is travelling from New York to SA.

In response, “the President stood up and said he’s going to deal with the visa issues. It’s not a matter of whether he’s going to deal with it, but that he is going to deal with it,” said Komani. “And I know that there have been bilateral meetings between the Minister of Tourism and the Minister of Home Affairs; we also met with the acting DG of Home Affairs and his team about a week ago. So when it comes to that obstacle, it’s being addressed adequately.”

Ramaphosa responded positively to the visa issues raised: “[We need to] remove those inhibitors because we cannot allow a situation where, after we’ve all worked together so well, and then we get some visa problem to stand in the way of the growth we should achieve. That we should not allow and are not going to allow it. We’re going to open the doors and gates of our country for them to come in; we’re going to make sure the bureaucratic log-jam that we may well have had is going to be resolved.”