After five years of struggle, mass confusion and untold damage to inbound tourism, industry authorities say the Unabridged Birth Certificate (UBC) saga will soon be put to bed.


At the ministerial NEDLAC gathering on Monday (October 7), hosted by President Ramaphosa, TBCSA CEO, Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, presented various issues of importance regarding visa regulations, highlighting the negative affect the UBC requirement has had on the tourism industry.


After discussion, Minister of Home Affairs, Aaron Motsoaledi confirmed the abolishment of UBC at points of entry with full support from the President, says Tshivhengwa.


Not the first time


This is not the first time government has spoken about scrapping the UBC requirement for inbound travellers.


The regulations were changed in December last year, and updated again in April. The advisory on the Home Affairs website, which created more confusion and uncertainty within the trade, said (and still does) that the new requirements for children travelling through South African ports of entry: “A copy of a birth certificate / equivalent document may be required.”


“The regulations were changed according to global best practice, but there was failure to implement this. What industry has said is that unless government reverts to pre-2015 regulations, we are not going to be able to bring the trade and airlines with us to have confidence that UBC documents are not a requirement,” says Tourism Advisor, Gillian Saunders.


There needs to be buy-in on the ground with government officials in order for things to go smoothly, she adds.


Tshivhengwa does say that attention will be given to the language and wording of communications around the issue, and certainly the Department of Home Affairs will need to update their advisory.


Next steps


Moving forward, Tshivhengwa says that the Immigration Advisory Council needs to meet. He understands that this meeting will take place on October 16. Following that, Home Affairs will make a formal announcement, he says.


“As soon as the announcement has been made, we will be talking to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). They have to be in agreement with the wording that has to be put on the systems between IATA and the DHA. The DHA must sign off on the wording and then IATA will then go and change the systems.”


An aviation industry expert says there shouldn’t be much of a delay in getting the information onto the systems. “As soon as it has been gazetted and becomes law, then the airlines can make the change and they can do it pretty instantly because IATA will post it on Timatic and that will alert the airlines. I don’t see any particular challenge in terms of timing, but obviously they won’t do anything until the ‘i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed.”


Lessons learnt


SATSA’s David Frost says that while the news that the UBC requirement is going to be done away with once and for all is very welcome – the news is long overdue.


“At SATSA, we really took on the struggle from 2015. For four years we have had to endure this insane imposition,” says Frost.


He says the damage to the trade has been immense. No one has the actual numbers but operators estimate that they have lost 30% of their business trade.


“It’s important that both private sector and government take lessons from this debacle and move forward in finding ways to grow tourism. We need to make sure we are saying – South Africa is open for business,” says Frost.


Tshivhengwa agrees that a lot of damage has been done, but feels that with the UBC saga put to bed, it’s time to look for new opportunities.


He says he has been in discussion with South Africa Tourism about how to make a big splash in the various markets. “Once this issue has been done and dusted, we need to go out there and create confidence.”