Visas a storm in a teacup

2015-07-08 06:00

LEBOHANG MAFA, Willows, Bloemfontein:

RECENTLY there has been what I see as unwarranted and alarmist noise made by the tourism industry “experts” over government implementation of the revised visa rules.

At the heart of this is the requirement that parents travelling to South Africa with a child or children without the other parent, will be required by law to produce an unabridged birth certificate for each of the children. An unabridged birth certificate bears the names of both parents.

Not only have claims and arguments been malicious and absurd, they have proved to be more ridiculous with each passing day.

Recently-released tourism data by Statistics South Africa indicated a decline of about 6% in the number of foreign tourists coming onto our shores in the first half of the year. A phenomenon that, according to these industry experts, is the steepest decline since the advent of democratic South Africa.

What I found to be absurd was the reasons advanced as the main contributing factors to the reduction in visitor numbers. To argue that newly-implemented visa rules could have been the main reason or played a part in the reduction of tourists, is not only flawed, but also misleading.

I am saying this is wrong, because the new visa rule only came into effect as of 31 June, so anything that affected the tourists’ destination preferences or choices before 31 June cannot and does not have anything to do with the visa rule. I find this to be a lazy and unfounded analysis.

Needless to point out, the tourism sector is one of the most highly-seasonal sectors in our economy – but also playing a role is the fact that this sector is a personal service-based sector. How tourists are treated and serviced while visiting South Africa has a much greater impact on their decision to revisit and to spread positive word about our country to their friends and families back home.

Not once has these so-called experts ever reviewed the tourism product, with a view to improve and offer a well-packaged tourism product, which will position us as a viable alternative tourism destination from point of entry to point of departure. Nor have they looked at how we welcome tourists at our airports, in hotel receptions, during sightseeing, at our restaurants, and so on.

We have never had critical discussions on how we could package the product differently to make it more attractive.

What government has introduced to the tourism sector is what is called a shock, and this normally has a short-term impact and, at times, unintended consequences, which is nothing new to our economy.

We get these shocks each month in the form of fuel price increases, yet our economy still finds a way to absorb this and run normally again. Arguments that this will lead to job losses is exaggerated.

The same will happen with these travel restrictions once tourists get used to the fact that in order to visit South Africa one needs those mentioned documents – I do not see why tourists would not come here.

However, these so called industry experts needs to stop bad mouthing this process as though its meant to prevent tourists to come into south Africa. This is purely to make sure that as a country we play our part in fight against child trafficking and we promote the rights of children to live and be children free from harm.

We as a country did not invent this visa rule, the majority of Western countries have a similar requirement.

To make this noise when our government joins what advanced democracies around the world are doing, in terms of creating a legislative environment that puts the rights of children first, is worrying

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