We have met with tourism sector to clear up visa concerns, says Hanekom

Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom has met industry leaders over their concerns that changes to the visa regime, announced by Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba in September, were vague and unclear.

Hanekom acknowledged there was a "little bit of misunderstanding" among industry members over amendments to the rule that required travellers to SA to produce documentation proving parental consent for travel, "perhaps because of the way it was communicated".

The policy had been widely criticised by the industry, and Gigaba had announced that regulations would be relaxed.  

Minors who are foreign nationals will no longer require a copy of their birth certificate and consent from both parents to enter the country, Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba said.

Gigaba added that proof of parental permission would only be required in high-risk situations. He said, however, that it was still strongly recommended to carry these documents in cases where grandparents or one parent alone were travelling with the child.

This, the tourism industry said, created confusion.

Gigaba’s changes were released days after President Cyril Ramaphosa unveiled an economic stimulus package, which included a promise to make SA more attractive to travellers.

Hanekom said that the visa regime amendments, which will be gazetted before the end of October, would bring SA’s travelling minors policy in line with countries such as the UK, who, according to Hanekom, say "it would be useful" for travelling minors to have proof of parental consent.

Child trafficking shouldn’t be dismissed

"Combatting child trafficking shouldn’t be dismissed as an unimportant thing, and at the same time it shouldn’t act as a disincentive [to tourism]," Hanekom said, speaking on the sidelines of the Jobs Summit in Midrand on Friday.

The challenge now lies in implementing the changes to the visa regime and training immigration officials, ahead of the festive season, he added.

In September, Gigaba also announced that visa waivers would be extended to several countries including Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Ghana, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Iran, the State of Palestine, Belarus, Georgia and Cuba.

Visa requirements for the massive tourism markets of India and China would also be simplified, he said.

Hanekom stressed the importance of ease of access with an e-visa to SA being piloted in New Zealand saying that it makes a "very big difference" to tourism numbers.

According to data from Statistics SA in 2016, tourism contributed 2.9% directly to gross domestic product. This was higher than the agricultural sector, with tourism employing one in every 23 people, and low barriers of entry into the sector.

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