WC Minister concerned visa rules could affect tourism accessibility

Cape Town – Western Cape Minister of Economic Opportunities, Alan Winde, has raised concern over the influence new visa rules could have on accessibility to South Africa as a tourism destination.

Winde announced on Monday that international and domestic arrivals to the Western Cape are at a three-year high and that establishments across the province welcomed a record number of visitors over the past festive season.

However, he earmarked accessibility as a critical factor in increasing visitor numbers.

Winde said following ‘Project Khulisa,’ a deep-dive investigation of the provincial economy to determine where the greatest opportunities for growth and jobs lie, tourism was identified as one of the Western Cape’s most promising sectors.

“Through Project Khulisa, we have identified tourism as a priority sector for the next five years. It is currently worth R17 billion and employs over 200 000 people on a formal basis and hundreds of thousands more on an informal basis. In a high-growth scenario, benchmarked against the successes of other regions which have focused their efforts and energy on growing this sector, we have found that it has the potential to create a further 324 000 formal jobs and R28 billion more for our economy by 2019.

We can only achieve this, however, if the national government joins our efforts to increase accessibility to the destination,” he said.

Winde added that he thought the decision of home affairs minister Malusi Gigaba to reinforce the rule that children are to travel with unabridged, translated versions of their birth certificates from 1 June poses a huge cost and inconvenience to potential travellers.

This could ultimately deter them from choosing South Africa and the Western Cape as a destination.

“Gigaba’s office stated that their previous claims that the translations will not be required are ‘neither here nor there’. On the contrary, tourists are either here or there, and as a result of this move, they might choose to not come ‘here’. This back-tracking also flies in the face of President Zuma’s announcement during the State of the Nation Address that a review of the legislation will be taking place,” he concluded.

Also see: SA’s visa rules for children may change again

Events and attractions

With a steady increase of visitors to the province between 2012 and 2015, the Western Cape Ministry have noted that events, well-known attractions and national parks remain massive drawcards for tourists.  

“We are seeing greater movement of tourists to regions across the province. Attractions in the Cape Overberg, such as the Agulhas National Park, which experienced a 130% increase in visitors and De Hoop, which recorded a 30% increase year on year, demonstrate this increasing appetite for adventure on behalf of our visitors. The Garden Route and Klein Karoo saw equally impressive growth, with both the Tsitsikamma National Park and the Wilderness National Park achieving over 20% growth in visitors year on year.”

He noted that events were key drivers in the coastal towns, where thousands of visitors attended festivals and markets.

As examples he mentioned that the Snoek Derby in Yzerfontein attracted 10 000 visitors, while the Matzikama Somerfees in Vredendal drew 3 000 visitors.

The iconic attractions in and around the metro, however, remained performance leaders over the summer season. Table Mountain National Park and the V&A Waterfront once again scooped the top prizes for visitor numbers, experiencing a 6.7% and 2.9% year on year increase in visitors respectively.

“Attractions which continue to reinvest and reinvent themselves are drawing higher visitor numbers year on year. In addition to the V&A Waterfront, which attracted 23.8 million visitors in 2014, Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens achieved an annual increase in visitor numbers of 29%, with almost 900 000 people passing through its gates. These attractions are seeing an excellent return on their investments,” said Winde.

Low-cost airlines increase accessibility

Adding to the need for accessibility, Winde said that they had noted an increase in the number of arrivals at George Airport just a few months after FlySafair started operating its Cape Town-George route.

Over 40 000 passengers travelled to George Airport in December last year, which is up from 37 768 in 2013 and 32 698 in 2012. The airport provides a perfect gateway to the Garden Route.

Tourism highlights for 2014/15:

To emphasise tourism growth in all parts of the province, Winde shared a few highlights from the past season:

-          Restaurants in the Overstrand reported 80% occupancy.

-          L’Agulhas and Struisbaai recorded 10 500 tourists to their visitor centres, double the local population. Shops in the area reported sell-outs of stock. 

-          The Bontebok National Park, in the Cape Overberg, welcomed 16 429 visitors for the year, up 17.9% from 2013.

-          Mossel Bay reported a 30% increase in international tourists between November 2014 and January 2015, compared to the same months a year ago.

-          Hessaqua welcomed 40 000 visitors over the summer season, reporting an increase in domestic tourists.

-          Also along the Cape Garden Route, the Tsitsikamma National Park attracted 34 890 visitors last month, up from 31 960 In December last year and 20 561 in December 2012.

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