Unabridged birth certificates: SA 'own goals' not over despite latest waiver


Now that international minors no longer need an unabridged birth certificate (UBC) when travelling to South Africa with their parents, the local tourism industry is asking: what about SA minors travelling overseas?

The Department of Home Affairs announced the UBC waiver for foreign minors on Monday.

In the view of the Association of Southern African Travel Agents (ASATA), not waiving the UBC requirement for SA minors travelling overseas is an "outrage". The association's CEO, Otto de Vries, said in a statement on Monday that the certificate requirement had stifled outbound tourism.

ASATA's Market Index Report shows that total turnover from the travel sector affiliated to ASATA exceeded R39.5bn in 2017, and supports thousands of jobs.

"ASATA has for several years called for a thorough consultation process with industry to develop requirements that balance the need for security with economic growth delivered through travel and tourism," said De Vries. "Although the South African government started to roll out a new child passport which includes parents' details, this appears to be inconsistently applied and is not an adequate solution."

Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, CEO of the Tourism Business Council of SA, told Fin24 on Monday the latest waiver is a victory for inbound tourism, but there is still a long way to go when it comes to getting the UBC requirement for SA minors waived. The council originally pitched the full removal of the UBC regulation to the Department of Home Affairs, but other legislation, like the Children's Act, still stands in the way of a UBC waiver for SA minors.

Family travel 

SA Tourism acting CEO, Sthembiso Dlamini, said in a statement on Monday that in all SA's tourism markets family travel is a key driver for arrivals. 

"The waiver announcement will allow us to proactively and aggressively market South Africa as a family friendly destination again," she said in a statement.

During a recent road show by Dlamini and a team from SA Tourism to the UK, Central Europe and North America, feedback received was that SA was starting to lose ground in the family travel market to competitors, with families choosing other destinations due to the regulations around travelling with minors.

"With this changed, we can now work on regaining this market," said Dlamini.

Chris Zweigenthal, CEO of the Airlines Association of Southern Africa, said the latest waiver will help South Africa regain its competitive position as an attractive tourism destination.”  Although intended to curb human trafficking, the association estimates SA's travel, tourism and hospitality industries lost hundreds of millions of rand over the past five years as a direct result of the restrictions and how they were implemented.

Lee-Anne Bac, a director at the specialist tourism unit of international consulting firm BDO South Africa, meanwhile, said SA has been scoring own goals with the certificate requirement.

She notes that former president Zuma already promised years ago that the UBC issue would be sorted out, but nothing came of it.

"Now that the waiver has officially been posted on the website of the Department of Home Affairs, airlines will believe that it has been waived for foreign minors," she says.

"There was such a waste of resources and energy that went into trying to overturn the UBC regulation."

Research by BDO estimates that - conservatively speaking - SA lost about R10bn per year since 2015 due to the UBC requirement - and that in a sector which creates jobs for unskilled people and has low barriers to entry.

She too says there are other ways to handle human trafficking, instead of "killing" the local tourism industry. In the UK, for example, they have social workers employed at airports to watch the behaviour of minors travelling with adults.

UPDATE: The TBCSA said in a statement on Wednesday November 13, that, after noting ASATA's concerns due to outbound travel by SA children not having been addressed, it has had a fruitful engagement with ASATA and the minister of tourism on the way forward.

This will include proposals and recommendations from the TBCSA and ASATA on practical ways that could be implemented to ensure smooth travel movement for SA children without compromising security.

ASATA CEO Otto de Vries commented that the organisation had a very constructive meeting with Kubayi-Ngubane to address its concerns.

"ASATA is committed to engaging closely with the Tourism Ministry, the Department of Home Affairs and the TBCSA to assist in finding practical solutions to the problem. We will continue to lobby for these onerous requirements to be removed, as they have been for foreign minors," says De Vries.

ASATA has for several years called for a thorough consultation process to find a balance between the concerns of government around safety and security, while also looking at the needs of the travel and tourism sector.

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