Converting SA to full e-visa system tripped up by huge backlog, tech challenges, says Sisulu

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Lindiwe Sisulu.
Lindiwe Sisulu.
Edrea du Toit
  • The tourism and aviation industries have both been hit hard by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Even before the pandemic hit, the implementation of a full e-visa system was used as an example of how it can be made easier for travellers to visit the country.
  • Although it does not fall directly under her department, Minister of Tourism Lindiwe Sisulu addressed the challenges at the annual general assembly of the Airlines Association of Southern Africa.
  • For more stories, go to the News24 Business front page.

The implementation of e-visas to facilitate travel to the country is being tripped up by a huge backlog in converting the paper-based system to a computerised one, according to Minister of Tourism Lindiwe Sisulu.

"We continue to advocate for solutions in the areas that support and enable aviation such as visa facilitation. A lot of work has been done by the Department of Home Affairs as a partner to the sector and most recently, the rollout of e-visas in various countries, including seven African countries was implemented," Sisulu said at the 52nd annual general assembly of the Airlines Association of Southern Africa (AASA) taking place near Kleinmond.  

"Yes, we have a problem with our visa system and a lot of work still has to be done regarding the ability to implement [more] e-visas. There has been many discussions about the inefficiency of our visa regime and we have taken a resolution to follow intercontinental trends. However, we have difficulties."

She acknowledged that a lot of complaints have been received from SA's neighbouring countries about the time it takes to obtain visas. 

"We have made a commitment to get on the e-visa issue as soon as possible, but the backlog is huge. Just converting what we have on paper to being computerised is taking a lot of time. We are sorry that we are behind. It is a technology and backlog issue," Sisulu told News24 Business on the sidelines of the assembly.

She applauded Zambia for its recent announcement on waiving visa requirements for tourists from various overseas markets, many of which are key source markets for most destinations within the southern African region. 

"The easing of the visa requirements is a stimulus for integrated marketing of the region. But we must do more than just advocate," said Sisulu.

Aaron Munetsi, CEO of AASA, emphasised that it is important for government to consult with the airline industry before making policy decisions. 

"As we saw throughout the pandemic, governments often make the right noises, but fail to follow-through with suitable actions or the appropriate support," he said. 

Examples he gave of how data-based solutions can help airlines and airports increase their competitiveness in terms of customer experience include touchless biometric scanners, e-passports, e-visas and e-waybills.   

"Governments promise to slash red tape to become more business-friendly, yet these are some of the low-hanging fruits that will lubricate the flow of legitimate people and goods between and across markets. By providing these positive travel and trading experiences, we will become more competitive and attractive in our own right, but crucially, also as destinations and markets for investment, tourism and commerce," said Munetsi.

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