Chaos, rudeness, apathy, and an apparent lack of understanding of the visa and e-visa processes, at various South African embassies – including the London and Mexico City offices – could be costing the country major tourism revenue losses and growth of visitor numbers to key tourism source markets such as Mexico.
Tourism Update has seen first-hand how one “very influential” Mexican family is on the brink of cancelling a R120 000 (€5 840) trip – excluding the in-country spend etc – since one of the party of six has had her visa denied less than two weeks before the family’s arrival date.
Calls for urgent assistance to a number of high-level individuals at national government departments – Home Affairs, Tourism, International Relations and even South African Tourism – by Tourism Update and the South African-based DMC, Alpha Destinations, have largely gone unanswered.
As Founder and Director of Alpha Destinations, Angela Matthews, told Tourism Update: “The trip is at 100% cancellation status. The family has said if one of their party cannot get a visa to make the December 20 departure, they will cancel their entire trip. Which means they forfeit all the money paid upfront.”
According to her, this will result in “very bad word of mouth” by what she terms as a “wealthy and very influential Mexican family”.
Matthews, whose company specialises in the Latin American market, first approached Tourism Update about three weeks ago, highlighting negative feedback she was receiving from numerous customers about bad service and delays at the SA Embassy in Mexico City.
Tourism Update escalated her concerns to the Ministry of Tourism and SA Tourism. And while the Ministry noted the concerns at the time, there has been little feedback or assistance to date.
Matthews added that while the e-visa system has been rolled out in Mexico, a number of clients who have tried to submit their documentation online have been met with an error message on the site. "One client was told they had to physically appear at the Embassy to submit their application,” she explained.
According to Matthews, it’s also becoming more difficult to apply for visas with increased red tape around the type of documentation required.
“Other African countries, including Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya, are making it easier to obtain visas and South Africa is making it harder. We are certainly going to, if not already, lose tourists to countries that provide ease of access regarding the visa regime,” she commented.
Many of the countries mentioned above now offer visas on arrival. “South Africa cannot even get its e-visa programme working optimally,” said Matthews.
“It’s clear the e-visa system needs to be continually monitored and problems identified and fixed. Because the delays in the manual system are unacceptable.”
In 2018, 12 500 Mexican tourists visited South Africa. But the Latin American market in general is rapidly increasing. According to Statista, around 399 000 visitors came from Latin America in 2022, and 608 000 are projected to have visited by the end of 2023.
Following no response from the parties contacted by both Tourism Update and Matthews, she reached out again last week to say that while all five (of the party of six) had finally received their visas from the SA Embassy in Mexico City, the sixth member had had her visa denied by the SA Embassy in London.
The feedback report (seen by Tourism Update) states simply that her visa application was denied on the grounds that she did not possess a long-term residence or permanent residence visa in the UK.
The traveller is a young student who showed them her six-month University of Westminster card.
“In my 20 years operating as an inbound DMC, I’ve never had a visa denied,” said Matthews.
Again, Tourism Update sought assistance and urgent media comment from the Department of International Relations and Cooperation. Several calls and WhatsApp messages to the media spokesperson were unanswered. An email address for South Africa House – provided by the Ministry of Tourism – was forwarded and a one-line answer suggested that the person impacted should launch an appeal – with no details provided on how to go about this.
Matthews told Tourism Update that the girl’s father had personally visited the SA Embassy in Mexico City, had resubmitted all documentation and they had promised to assist. The girl has now couriered her passport from London to the Embassy in London. And Matthews and her clients continue to hold their breath.
“Yes, our clients are responsible for their own visas but if our visa regime makes it so complicated, South Africa is going to lose out on growing a key source market,” she said.
Numerous tourism bodies and associations, including the Tourism Business Council of South Africa and FEDHASA, have been vocal about the need for an efficient e-visa system.
CALL TO ACTION – please email email@example.com if you or your clients have experienced similar delays or frustrations.