TBCSA releases findings of latest VISA rules impact assessment study

Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA)
Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA)

The Tourism Business Council of South Africa (“TBCSA”) has released the findings of its impact assessment study on South Africa’s the new immigration regulations on the travel and tourism industry.

The study, whose outcomes were released at a national press club briefing this afternoon, was conducted on behalf of the Council by Grant Thornton. This is the second of two impact assessment studies the Council has conducted since the implementation of the new regulations

TBCSA has been vocal about the possible negative impact two specific changes to the regulations would have on the growth of the industry.  The changes relate to the requirement for tourists coming from countries whose citizens are required to have a visa, to now appear in person during the visa application process. The second concern area relates to the more contentious requirement for all minors travelling to and from South Africa to be in possession of an unabridged birth certificate in addition to their passport, where applicable.

The first study, commissioned in July 2014, assessed the possible impact of the regulations on the industry and informed the Council’s overall position throughout its various stakeholder engagements.  The latest study assessed actual impact of the new regulations since implementation.  Whilst it may be too early to provide a conclusive report on the impact of the regulation affecting travelling by minors, the outcomes of the study present clear evidence of the negative consequences these regulations are already having on the industry.

Key findings from the report show that:

  • In 2014, South Africa’s tourism industry’s lost direct spend of up to R886 million due to the changed immigrations regulations.  The study estimates that in 2015, the number of ‘lost’ foreign tourists is likely to increase to 100 000, with an estimated direct tourism spend of R1,4 billion;
  • South African tourism markets that are directly impacted by the changed visa regulations have been negatively impacted. Significant downward trends were noted for Asian, Central and South American countries.  China and India in particular have seen significant decline in demand;
  • Thailand, Peru and the Philippines are some of the few countries which require or recommend children travelling alone, with one parent or with a third party to have a copy of the child’s birth certificate in addition to a letter of consent from the absent parent/s.  However in the case of Peru and the Philippines, these requirements apply to citizens and residents of the country and not to tourists.  In Thailand these regulations do not apply to children travelling with both parents.
  • It would be more cost effective to implement the collection of biometric data on arrival at South African borders than to implement the same system in country at all consulates and processing centres;

In addition, the report covers a broad range of issues, exploring what other countries are doing to combat the issues of child trafficking. Furthermore, the report outlines the global state of birth registration and certificates, comparing visa regimes of various countries and sourcing commentary from various local and international role-players affected by the new regulations.

“Essentially, what the report does is to confirm the fears we have expressed about the unintended consequences of the new regulations”, says TBCSA CEO, Mmatšatši Ramawela.  Our first impact assessment report already gave us a glimpse of what to expect and sadly, we have not managed to successfully mitigate against some of the risks which were highlighted by the first report”

Ramawela reiterated that the industry was not against Government’s plans to address the issue of child trafficking or to enhance national security but rather that these objectives could be achieved without compromising the country’s tourism and overall economic growth potential. “What we are saying is, allow us an opportunity to engage and present alternative solutions which will not have such a drastic impact on our industry”

Going forward, the TBCSA plans to continue to monitor developments, provide the required information to assist businesses to better handle various cases, whilst also lobbying for the review of the regulations. “Although still unconfirmed, suggestions that a review of the regulations may be on the cards gives us hope. Despite the set-backs we have experienced thus far, we remain optimistic that we can find a win-win solution on this matter”.