With 10.3 million tourists visiting the country in 2017, the Department of Tourism is working hard alongside the Department of Home Affairs to push this number even higher.
This is according to minister of tourism, Derek Hanekom, who presented his departmental budget vote for the 2018/2019 financial year on Thursday (17 May).
“One of the most effective ways to increase tourist arrivals is to make it easier for people to travel to our country,” he said.
“A simple analysis of the arrival figures for 2017 shows that while visitor numbers from visa exempt countries grew impressively, the opposite is true for visa requiring countries.
“In 2017, after the decision that visas would no longer be required for Russian tourists, Russian visitors increased by 52%. In sharp contrast to this, after we imposed a visa requirement on New Zealand, the numbers dropped by 24%,” he said.
Hanekom added that discussions with minister of home affairs, Malusi Gigaba, to further lessen restrictions have been ‘most encouraging’.
“They informed us of their intention to introduce e-visas during this financial year. Meanwhile, they are working hard to have systems in place to recognise the Schengen visa and valid visas for the USA, Canada, the UK and Australia as sufficient for tourists to enter South Africa,” he said.
“We have also agreed to bring the requirements for travelling minors in line with the practice in the USA, UK and other countries. This will go a long way to boost family travel and end the traumatic experience of travellers being turned away by airlines,” he added.
The regulations aimed at minors were introduced by home affairs minister Malusi Gigaba in 2015 under the banner of preventing instances of child trafficking. However, by 2016, after many complaints and a huge knock to South Africa’s tourism numbers, the department said it would rework the laws.
According to data compiled by the DA, the rules cost South Africa as much as R7.5 billion, due to lost business from blocked tourists.
The promise of e-visas was first officially unveiled in a March 2018 parliamentary Q & A session – making it easier for tourists to enter into the country thanks to the online capture of visa and permit applications and capturing of applicants’ biometrics both locally and abroad.
The Department of Home Affairs has since confirmed that the first phase of the e-visa system will be piloted by the 31 March 2019.
It has further indicated that the rollout of phase one of the e-visa system will be at a foreign mission, embassy or local home affairs office yet to be determined, with the pilot phase initially covering temporary residence visas, adjudication of temporary residence visas, applications for waivers, applicant notifications and biometric details, it said.