South Africa’s new immigration regulations were having a very tangible negative effect on tourism to the country, President and CEO of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), David Scowsill, told a recent gathering of the trade.


Speaking at a dialogue hosted by the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA), Scowsill said that key inbound operators were reporting year-on-year bookings down between 60% and 80% from markets affected by the new regulations, such as China. “This is probably the top issue that this country needs to solve in order to get back into growth mode for the industry,” he said.


Scowsill emphasised that tourism was a very competitive industry. “You need to make it as easy as possible for people to come to visit you.


“It is absolutely right that we need to be focused on this issue of human trafficking,” he said. However, he added that there were many different ways to do this. Scowsill described SA’s new immigration regulations as a blunt instrument to address a very complex problem. He suggested that the collection of biometric data should be done on arrival. He also pointed out that back office technology allowed for thorough checks, even when visa applications were made online.


“I am very heartened listening to President [Jacob] Zuma’s remarks on this because clearly he is going to have a review on this particular situation. Here in South Africa I would urge you to find a way to resolve your visa dilemma.”


Also speaking at the dialogue, Taleb D Rifai, Secretary General of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), suggested visa access was directly proportionate to tourism growth. He used the example of Turkey which in 2009 introduced visa on arrivals for Russian travellers. A year after the introduction, tourism from Russia grew from 1.5 million tourists in 2009 to 8.6 million tourists in 2010. “The impact is clear; how we do it is our challenge,” he said.


Rifai pointed out that 62% of the global population needed visas prior to arrival when travelling internationally. “The good news is that five years ago this figure was 76% so we are making progress, but we are still denying ourselves two-thirds of the market.”


Rifai said Zuma’s recent statement was “absolutely significant”. “It is the beginning of a process that will lead to something.”


Speaking in a question and answer session, Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom said the department would be engaged in a discussion, facilitated by the deputy president and the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, with the Department of Home Affairs on the regulations. He said this would include the requirement for in person visa applications as well as the requirement that children travel with unabridged birth certificates.