The imminent  introduction of electronic visas (e-visas) is “huge news” for the inbound tourism industry, according to Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (Satsa) CEO, David Frost.

He was reacting to news from the Department of Home Affairs yesterday (Monday) that it would launch its e-visa pilot scheme next month. This means applicants will be able to access their documents online, eliminating the need for applicants to visit South African missions abroad.

“This effectively removes a massive tourism obstacle. As an industry we need to eliminate as many barriers to inbound tourism as we can in order to grow tourism to South Africa,” said Frost. 

Deputy Director-General in The Presidency, Busani Ngcaweni, agreed, highlighting that government was working to reduce bureaucratic red tape to make it easier for tourists to travel. “This includes simplifying our tourist visa regimes,” he said, pointing out that the introduction of an e-visa system “promises to be a game-changer” in South Africa’s endeavours to double inbound tourism numbers to 21 million by 2030.

Addressing the Presidential Working Committee on the Jobs Summit – which has prioritised growing tourism numbers as a way to grow the economy and create  much-needed jobs in South Africa – Minister of Home Affairs, Aaron Motsoaledi, highlighted that a number of strides had already been made toward simplifying the visa regime.

“The Department of Home Affairs has lowered turnaround times for critical work skills visas, which are now issued within four weeks in 88.5% of applications. Business and general work visas are issued within eight weeks in 98% of applications,” said Motsoaledi.

He added that his department had also located visa services within the offices of various investment facilitation agencies around the country.

In addition, visa requirements have been simplified for countries such as China and India and government has also recently waived visas for travellers from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, New Zealand, Cuba, Ghana and São Tomé and Principe.

Frost told Tourism Update that this had also been a positive turning point in attracting tourists to South Africa. “It’s too soon to tell how this has impacted tourism numbers since the new statistics have yet to be announced, but one only has to look at how tourism numbers decreased from New Zealand in 2017 when visas became mandatory for visitors to South Africa, to be able to ascertain the positive impact the reverse would have,” he commented.

“The Department of Home Affairs is constantly reviewing its operations to ensure that we relax entry requirements without compromising our responsibility towards the safety and security of our citizens,” said Motsoaledi.