Industry Divided On New Visa Rules

Passport and visaCHANGES to visas for minors travelling to South Africa have now come into effect, but uncertainty lingers over the effects on the country’s tourism industry.

The South African Department of Home Affairs officially launched changes to legislation on 1 June, with all visitors under 18 years of age travelling to South Africa with both parents now required to provide an unabridged birth certificate to enter the country while travelling with both parents. Additional paperwork is required for minors travelling with a single parent, and further documents are required when when minors travel without a parent.

The legislation – which was delayed for nine months to allow the industry to prepare for the changes – has been met with mixed feelings from within the industry, with some accepting the changes as a necessary progression, and others expressing concerns that tourism numbers may suffer.

South African Tourism country manager for Australasia Lalie Ngozi told travelBulletin that the new legislation had been met by apprehension from some tour operators who fear the changes will send tourists to other destinations, but she conceded the changes were a “step in the right direction” to protect the safety of children.

Wildlife Safari managing director Trevor Fernandes echoed her call, telling travelBulletin that the industry and consumers have no choice but to accept the changes. “These visa changes are just media hype and if people are informed and have nothing to hide, it will just be like carrying another piece of paper,” he said.

But others are less convinced.

A&K managing director Sujata Raman told travelBulletin that the changes will “absolutely” have an effect on tourism, claiming that visa changes in any country affect visitor numbers. “Visas need to be consumer friendly and South Africa will lose [travellers] who haven’t planned well in advance,” she said. “The reality is that travellers do take visa changes into account, and it has a real effect on where they travel.”

South African Airways country manager Tim Clyde-Smith agrees, telling travelBulletin at a recent industry event that “every single operator in this room is suffering because of the changes”.

Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve marketing director Jacques Smit agrees that the more complicated legislation will have a negative impact. Like many ground operators, Smit is campaigning “heavily” against the changes in the hope that the government will ease the paperwork requirements for young families.

 “This will absolutely have an effect on the tourism industry,” he told travelBulletin, adding that family travel has been a “huge growth market” from international markets.

He also expressed concerns that school exchange programs between Australia and South Africa could be under threat due to the changes. But while the campaigning continues, he said the industry had a central role to play in easing confusion for travellers.

“It is up to the African specialist wholesalers to advise their clients correctly and accordingly to each individual’s circumstance to assist in making their travel to South Africa an easy experience,” he concluded.

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