New immigration laws should enhance, not hamper travel

Pretoria – The Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) has raised its concern that new immigration laws will hamper travel and tourism, rather than enhance it.  

The Council responded to the recent announcement by the Department of Home Affairs on the amendments to the Immigrations Act in a press release, saying that some of the new regulations pose a significant threat to the sustainability of the local travel trade.  

"We acknowledge, at the outset, the prerogative and duty of the Department of Home Affairs to protect our boarders and to tackle issues around trafficking of people especially, children,”  said TBCSA Chief Executive Officer, Mmatsatsii Ramawela.

She added that their concern lies with two specific regulations, namely the new requirement for an unabridged birth certificate for minors, and the provision for in-person collection of biometric data.  

Ramawela pointed out that these will have a significant detrimental impact on tourism, not only to South Africa, but also to the neighbouring countries whose tourism activities are closely linked to South Africa.  

As a signatory to the Tourism Child Protection Code, a programme facilitated locally by Fair Trade Tourism, she said that the travel and tourism trade appreciated government taking a tough stance against the commercial sexual exploitation of children, but felt that greater engagement was key to find a workable solution.

David Frost, Chief Executive Officer of the Southern Africa Tourism Services Associations (SATSA) said in the wake of the announcement his office has been inundated with letters of concern from tour operators all over the world.  

"The requirement of carrying an original unabridged birth certificate, or a certified copy thereof, as well as a sworn translation if needed, acts as an additional hurdle that damages our competitiveness as a destination. It creates a barrier to entry with financial and/or opportunity cost that a prospective tourist needs to overcome in order to travel to South Africa".

"There is wide spread confusion on exactly what is actually required" said Frost.  

"For example, in the event of a single parent who does not have contact with the other biological parent, an affidavit is required. But what information should this contain? Furthermore, foreign language birth certificates will have to be translated. All of this adds a time and a cost component that a potential traveller will now factor into his/her selection of a tourism destination, in addition to an added level of uncertainty".

This concern is echoed by the World Travel Agents Associations Alliance (WTAAA), the European Travel Agents' and Tour Operators' Associations (ECIAA).  

The Board of Airline Representatives of Southern Africa (BARSA) has also expressed concern at the potential impact of the regulation.  

It estimates that up to 20% of air travel to South Africa involve families with children and may therefore be impacted.

This will not only have a direct economic impact but will permeate the indirect impact tourism has on the broader economy.

The second area of concern relates to the move to biometric visas that requires ‘in-person' applications and the fact that data gathering points are currently only available in limited centres in certain countries that cover vast geographic areas.  

Ramawela said whilst the industry welcomed the Minister of Tourism's recent statement on this matter, she hoped further dialogue between the two ministries and the trade will yield positive results. 
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