South Africa’s new visa rules are turning visitors away

Table Mountain, a popular tourist attraction in South Africa, is one of the seven wonders of thr world.
Table Mountain, a popular tourist attraction in South Africa, is one of the seven wonders of thr world.
Image: Reuters/Mike Hutchings
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South Africa’s tourism business index is at its lowest level since 2011, as visitor numbers decline due to the country’s new visa regulations.

The declining performance of the industry is attributed to South Africa’s new visa regulations that are making it difficult for international visitors–particularly those travelling with minors under the age of 18–gain entry into the country.

The latest index score, which decreased by 16,3 index points from the first quarter of 2015, also hit a four-year low since the third quarter of 2011. The tourism business index (pdf) is conducted by the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA).

South Africa’s tourism sector, which contributes at least 3% of GDP annually and employs some 1.5 million people, is performing below normal performance as the new visa regulations are deterring international visitors from visiting the country.

Under South Africa’s new visa requirements, anyone traveling with a minor under the age of 18–either to and from South Africa–is required to present an unabridged birth certificate at the port of entry in South Africa, in addition to a normal passport and visa.

The new visa regulations, mainly geared towards countering human and child trafficking and improving border control and security, have been place under review by South African tourism minister, Derek Hanekom, while the South African-based BRICS think tank, has proposed less stringent regulations for international visitors from other BRICS countries.

Adding to South Africa’s tourism woes, is the new requirement for international visitors to apply in person for a South African visa to ensure that biometric information–obtained through fingerprints–are reliably collected. Using biometric information for visa application is a well-known best practice in many countries, but in South Africa’s case, visa processing centres in foreign countries may be few, and far from the places of residence of international visa applicants.

Consulting and advisory firm, Grant Thornton, recently conducted a study on the impact of South Africa’s new visa regulations to the tourism sector and found that during the first quarter of this year, South Africa lost 150 000 international visitors and $128 million in direct spend, compared to the first quarter of 2014.

In addition, visitor numbers from 11 out of 12 top source countries declined, with the exception of the Philippines, for which visitor numbers remained unchanged.

The six source countries which experienced the most significant declines in visitor numbers are seen here: