The failure to implement electronic visas will continue to cost the sector by making it more difficult to attract visitors to South Africa. Figures provided since the rigorous and ludicrous visa regulations were introduced is proof of the devastating impact it has on the South African economy.
The total revenue for all air ticketing sales to SA dropped by 40% for June 2015 compared with June 2014.
The impact of the new visa regulations on the South African economy in 2014 was a negative R2.6 billion (€153.38 million) and the loss of more than 5 800 jobs with further rises expected for this year, according to a report commissioned by the Tourism Business Council of South Africa.
The report at the time predicted that in 2015, the number of foreign tourists lost due to changes in the immigration regulations would likely increase to 100 000, with a loss of 9 300 jobs and the total nett loss to the South African GDP of around R4.1 billion (€241.86 million).
Our tourism industry is still recovering from the disastrous visa regulations debacle, which, according to the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (Satsa), resulted in an estimated R7.5 billion (€445.7 million) loss to the tourism economy.
Make no mistake, these regulations, coupled with the superfluous unabridged birth certificate requirement, will continue to hurt our tourism industry if we don’t implement measures such as electronic visas that will make it easier and safer for tourists to apply, scrap the superfluous unabridged birth certificate requirement and adopt visa waivers for our key source market countries.
We need to streamline tourist facilitation to our country to make it easier for travellers to select South Africa as a country of choice when it comes to travel and trade.
With the rand at its lowest point in years, South Africa’s tourism industry should be thriving as a destination for foreign travellers – but, in spite of this, the government’s visa regulations continue to make it difficult for tourists to select South Africa as a destination due to its cumbersome visa application processes.
I have submitted several motions in Parliament calling for the introduction of e-visas, listing the myriad of benefits, whilst also highlighting the industry's support for their introduction.
There is no denying that implementing an e-visa system, whether on a global or regional basis faces bureaucratic impediments and would require a substantial investment to begin with – but the long-term benefits for the traveller and the country as a whole mean the end justifies the means. It would seem that the department is finally starting to see this.
If we implement e-visas, we will promote tourism, grow tourism spend and develop the economy to create more jobs.
Herewith the benefits of e-visas for visitors to South Africa for these simple facts: The introduction of electronic visas will not only provide a real means for protecting jobs in tourism, but present significant advantages by cutting turnaround times for the issuing of travel documentation and are, in fact, more secure than existing permits.
Electronic visas have also proven to be highly effective in comparable countries such as Turkey, which is widely regarded to have the best international practice when it comes to visa applications.
The use of technology in tourism is well established. For example, where electronic visas have been implemented, they have proved to be extremely effective, so it makes perfect sense to implement them here, given the recent visa debacle in South Africa.
With an increase in the demand for international travel worldwide, it is essential to have effective systems that simplify the visa application process. Thus, by implementing an e-visa system the SA government can prevent excessive waiting time at visa centres, reduce the workload of staff working at airports, embassies and consulates, and provide easier facilitation for tourists and business travellers.
The Turkish government implemented an e-visa application system in 2015, and within a short period of implementing the system, experienced an increase in visa applications, going from a weekly average of 400 applications to receiving more than 1,500 in just a few days.
Having due regard to the above, it makes sense to implement e-visas because it will reduce time and money by cutting the application and issuing process and, as a result, our country could see an increase in visa applications as well as the number of visitors, tourism spend and foreign trade revenue.