The recent re-hashing of South Africa’s immigration regulations providing ‘clarity’ on the requirements for foreign minors to gain entry to the country has done nothing to help the destination market itself as a family-friendly destination.
In fact, amending the wording has simply provided an obfuscated message to our overseas tourism partners and travelling consumers, and has only served to sow further confusion among local industry stakeholders who are now left to explain what this means in practice for tourists coming to South Africa.
One need only read the recent article in the Daily Telegraph to see how one of our major source markets has interpreted the amended regulations. The headline reads: “Parents should still carry birth certificates despite relaxed rules, warns South Africa”. Need we say more?
According to the amended regulations, where a child presents a passport containing the details of his or her parent or parents, an immigration officer shall not require the child to produce a birth certificate. Our key source markets typically do not issue passports including the names of both parents, so this amendment will not ease access in any way.
The Gazetted regulations also state that children who are foreign nationals and who are visa exempt are strongly advised to carry supporting documents as stipulated in the advisory since they may still be requested to produce them when travelling through a port of entry of South Africa.
In essence, we are leaving it to the discretion of the immigration officer to, at random, request additional evidence and question what he or she deems as a “suspicious” individual.
What training has taken place in this short period to equip these individuals to make this decision and deal with these detained individuals? As organised tourism, we have no knowledge of this.
Would you risk coming to a country when there’s a chance you may pique the interest of an immigration official and be refused entry for 24 hours while you source documentation? Where will they keep your young family until you produce the proof they want?
Why ever would you put your family through such a gauntlet when there are so many other destinations that are rolling out the red carpet to welcome this lucrative tourism segment?
While yesterday’s Tourism Update article references the Home Affairs Ministry as having consulted with IATA as the representative of the airline industry, it must be said that IATA is a bureaucratic regulatory body. We have not heard from foreign carriers flying to South Africa that, as a result of these amended regulations, their check-in counter staff will cease demanding the documentation when families check-in.
And until we hear this, in our view the amended regulations change nothing.
In fact, despite this, airlines have been advised by the local airline association, that proving parental consent for travelling minors is still a requirement and that it “strongly” recommends that parents and/or accompanying adults continue to carry the required documentation with them.
If we want to position South Africa as a family-friendly holiday destination, this requirement must be scrapped unequivocally and the message disseminated to our key markets must be clear: we are open for business to any family, not just those that fit the two-parent mould, which frankly in this modern society, is ridiculous to expect as the norm.
By maintaining any requirement to produce an unabridged birth certificate or related documentation, even in certain circumstances, simply places a further deterrent to families who may be considering a holiday in South Africa.
If the President truly wants to see the tourism sector deliver the numbers and associated economic growth and jobs, he needs to intervene and scrap these regulations outright so that the industry can support his attempts to stimulate the economy.
The simple point of departure, Mr. President, is to sit down and ask the private tourism sector, the very people who can deliver on the tourism growth you desire, what it is we need to grow.
What we should not have done is start with the exact perpetrators of the draconian regulations that have retarded our industry for over three and a half years. The result has quite simply been the fudged wording of those same regulations.
Start with us, Mr. President. We are a well-organised industry, we can be accessed easily, and we are ready to get to work.