London – If all goes according to plan, South Africa will be migrating fully to the use of an e-visa system for foreign travellers next year, Minister of Tourism Derek Hanekom told tour operators at the World Travel Market (WTM) London on Monday.
A pilot programme will be rolled out soon with the support of the High Commission of New Zealand, he said.
Hanekom also assured those present at his trade briefing that the negative impact of SA’s visa requirements – especially related to children travelling – will hopefully soon be something of the past as new visa regulations are expected to be Gazetted soon.
“SA is here at WTM London because it is one of the premium tourism events in the world. Last year, there were 5 000 exhibitors as well as media from all over the world,” Hanekom told Fin24.
He said President Cyril Ramaphosa made it clear that SA must make it easier for tourists.
“It is about finding a balance between the global effort to fight child trafficking and enabling children to travel,” said Hanekom.
“We want to send out a message of reassurance that these visa difficulties are a thing of the past. We have put off families who wanted to travel and now we are saying, 'We are a popular family destination and will make it easy for families to travel together'.”
For Hanekom, SA’s strong tourism selling point is that the country has a diverse offering all within one country.
“Yes, we have safaris and the Big 5. We also have experiences to suit every pocket – from affordable to the upper end of luxury experiences in private game reserves,” he said.
“We also have so much else - beaches, the city vibe, local culture, history and culinary offerings as well as adventure tourism.”
As for the challenge of safety and security concerns regarding SA as a tourism destination, Hanekom said the message being sent out is that something is being done about it.
“Just as we deal with big challenges like corruption and state capture in our country, we deal with the challenge of crime by escalating the struggle against it and the most popular tourist places are safe. We want to make them even more safe,” he said.
The Department of Tourism will, for instance, train and deploy 1 400 safety monitors as part of the expanded public works programme.
“Our message has consistently been that, although we have high crime and unemployment, we are systematically stabilising our country and creating a safe tourism experience,” said Hanekom.
* Fin24 is a guest of SA Tourism at WTM London.