Cape Town - With one day to go until the Department of Home Affairs implements new visa regulations, the South African tourism sector is bracing itself for disaster, according to Alan Winde, Western Cape Minister of Economic Opportunities.
From June 1 2015 minors will be required to travel to and from South Africa with unabridged birth certificates.
Winde said another clause which has raised concern in the sector is the need for biometrics when applying for a visa, often resulting in a potential traveller having to travel to a visa processing centre for finger-printing.
In some instances, this entails a lengthy trip to the only such centre in the country, or even a neighbouring country.
“The most worrying aspect of this process has been the lack of consultation. It’s the eve of the implementation of the unabridged birth certificate requirement and the Department of Home Affairs only released the special operating procedures, which outline the detail of this requirement, a week ago. Even at this late stage, there is still confusion as to whether the document will need to be translated,” said Winde.
He said the tourism sector was painting an alarming picture.
“We already know one major hotel body is expecting to be down over 20 000 bed nights.The South African Tourism Services Association (Satsa) predicts there will be a major decline in traffic from 90% of their fastest growing markets, namely Russia, China and India. I understand Satsa will be taking this matter to the office of the Public Protector," said Winde.
“Air China has postponed the launch of its direct flights to South Africa, so we are seeing the very real and detrimental consequences of these regulations.”
Terry Murphy, owner of the Cape-based African Budget Safaris, said he had already noted a marked decrease in international travellers wanting to visit South Africa.
“I’ve had people expressing serious interest and after I send them all the requirements, I don’t hear from them again. Tour operators who are enquiring for groups planning multiple country tours tell me that the unabridged birth certificate requirement is going to be a major problem," said Murphy.
"Normally groups would do Kruger Park and then go to Vic Falls. We are seeing Kruger Park fall off that itinerary now. Groups are travelling straight to Vic Falls and cutting us out.”
Winde said the Western Cape Government’s Red Tape Reduction Unit has been analysing the regulations.
“Home Affairs seems determined to forge ahead with implementing these regulations, despite pleas from the private sector. Being solutions-focused, my Red Tape Reduction Unit has devised a set of proposals which, if implemented, would lessen the negative impact of these rules," said Winde.
Part of the solution proposed is that Home Affairs needs to urgently create the capacity and efficiency needed to process applications timeously.
Winde had received a report, for instance, that a tour group from India travelling with children had been incorrectly denied visas.
“The Indian consulate has expressed concern because in that country, passports contain the details of both parents, hence passports should clearly be accepted as an equivalent document of an unabridged birth certificate,” said Winde.
He said Home Affairs should embark on a training programme to make sure all staff understood the legislation.
“We have to ensure that Home Affairs staff understand the legislation to prevent unnecessary refusals. The regulations are already stringent; misinterpretation of the laws will only further frustrate visitors.”
Another of the red tape unit’s recommendations included re-evaluating the no visa on arrival policy.
“We should also be looking at e-visas, which are used widely across the world. With e-visas, biometrics can be done on arrival, eliminating the need for potential visitors incurring the additional expense of travelling to visa processing centres for fingerprints to be taken,” said Winde.
The Red Tape Reduction Unit had requested reports relating specifically to problems linked to the unabridged birth certificate at points of entry, namely at Cape Town International Airport and Cape Town Port and it would be analysing these as they came through to look at ways to ease the burden for travellers into and out of the country.
Winde said he will continue to engage with Minister Malusi Gigaba and his national department on the issue, including forwarding reports on problems with the new visa regulations to his office.