Demand for local tourism services shows no major decline due to immigration reform. This view is supported by Statistics SA’s most recent release on migration and tourism.
The release of the latest figures, focused on arrivals and departures in March, enhances how we discuss the transformation of immigration policy.
The statistics were released as SA negotiated the full implementation of amendments to immigration laws and regulations, with its embargo lapsing ahead of the Department of Home Affairs-led immigration colloquium in Pretoria.
On its release, there was wild speculation about the likely effect of new immigration regulations on tourism and the economy.
Statistics SA notes that 3.22-million travellers passed through SA’s ports of entry in March. This includes arrivals and departures and is made up of 794,917 South African residents and 2.42-million foreign travellers. Among residents, there were 384,922 arrivals, 409,260 departures and 735 travellers in transit, while among foreign travellers there were 1,235,571 arrivals, 1,127,979 departures and 59,287 in transit.
A comparison between the movements in March last year and March this year shows an increase in arrivals for residents and foreign travellers. Foreign arrivals increased 0.6% over the period, while foreign travellers in transit increased 18.6%.
A comparison between the movements in February and March this year also indicates that arrivals, departures and travellers in transit increased for residents and foreign travellers. Foreign arrivals increased 9%, from 1,133,411 to 1,235,571, while foreign travellers in transit increased 25.6%, from 47,194 to 59,287.
The release shows that only 7% of foreign arrivals in March were non-visitors, while the rest came in as visitors, including those who made multiple trips in and out of SA, tempting one to say they did so without hindrance. Almost 64% were tourists, while 36.2% were same-day visitors. From February to March, the volume of same-day visitors increased 10.8% and the number of tourists increased 7.6%.
Based on this data, it cannot be correct to say there has been a sharp decline in the number of foreign travellers arriving in SA since new immigration regulations came into effect. SA’s regulations are not onerous, but rational, as they are applied similarly in some other countries.
Statistics SA’s figures show that the UK remains SA’s biggest — and growing — overseas tourism market, with an increasing number of tourists, despite legislative changes and the new regulations.
The distribution of overseas tourists should enrich discussion. It was as follows for March: Europe 136,104 (66.1%); North America 31,764 (15.4%); Asia 19,619 (9.5%); Australasia 10,172 (4.9%); Central and South America 4,168 (2%); and the Middle East 4,082 (2%).
The 10 leading overseas countries were the UK, with 43,456 visitors (21.1%); Germany, with 32,110 (15.6%); the US, 25,978 (12.6%); France, with 13,552 (6.6%); the Netherlands, with 8,916 (4.3%); Australia, with 8,533 (4.1%); China, with 6,471 (3.1%); India, with 6,080 (3%); Canada, with 5,786 (2.8%); and Switzerland, 4,083 (2%).
Most tourists — 702,709 (95.8%) — visited SA for holidays, compared with 26,324 (3.6%) who were here for business and 4,208 (0.6%) for study. It is possibly safe to conclude that SA remains one of the world’s most desired leisure holiday destinations.
How people relate to statistical data is in large measure influenced by their context, speaking position and, of course, interests — that which is at stake, at least for them. But the government bears the responsibility to promote what is in the national interest, for all.
Dialogue on how best to reconfigure SA’s international migration policy should continue in the spirit of the recent multi-stakeholder immigration colloquium, which looked at various policy options.
This column first appeared in the Business Day.