SA e-visas prioritised as sticky ease of access continues to hamper tourism growth
Cape Town - The movement of people across our borders is a priority not only for South Africa's newly re-instated Minister of Tourism Derek Hanekom but also for President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa announced at a summit on the African Continental Free Trade Area on Wednesday that "the easy movement of people across borders and countries should never be seen in a negative sense by us as South Africans".
He says a single currency for the continent of Africa must be considered. Ramaphosa spoke in favour of prioritising the ease of access for citizens of Africa counties in order to do business more proficiently as well as encourage the positive movement of people in the area of studying and skills sharing across the continent.
Minister of Tourism Derek Hanekom says the issue of visa regulation facilitation to improve tourism falls squarely on his shoulders, with a meeting set to take place with his Department of Home Affairs counterpart Malusis Gigaba in the coming weeks.
Hanekom, speaking at the Wesgro annual year ahead forecast for 2018/19, cited the importance of visa regulations in boosting the economic potential of tourism in South Africa.
In April 2017 Russia and South Africa instituted reciprocal visas on arrival for citizens of both countries. This has seen 50% increase in arrivals. In contrast, New Zealand clamped down on SA citizens visa free status to the country, with the Department of Home Affairs responding by instituting visa requirements for Kiwi travellers to SA in November 2016. The result has been has been a 17% drop in travellers to SA from New Zealand.
James Vos, DA Member of Parliament and Shadow minister for Tourism says the roll-out of eVisas is expected to commence in Q4 this year. Vos says Gigaba confirmed in a written statement "the roll-out programme for eVisas in South Africa will commence in the last quarter of the next financial year, by March 31, 2019".
The roll-out programme will be gradual starting with "Phase 1, Release 1, for applications for temporary residence visas, adjudication of temporary residence visas, applications for waivers, notifications to the applicant via email and biometrics captured at the Mission."
"The ePermit will be piloted at one Mission or local office in the last quarter of the next financial year by 31st March 2019. This is to ensure system stability. Once stable, more offices locally and abroad can then be gradually brought online.”
Traveller24 has contacted the Department of Home Affairs to confirm the details of roll-out and e-visa application process and is awaiting a response.
Vos says he had been calling for an eVisa system to facilitate easier access for tourists to South Africa, as well as the scrapping of the unabridged birth certificate requirement, which have both hampered tourist access to the country and seen a resultant decline in international tourist arrivals.
“South Africa’s tourism industry is still recovering from the disastrous visa regulations debacle which, according to the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association, resulted in an estimated R7.5bn loss to the tourism economy and a decrease of about 600 000 tourists.”
Hanekom says visa issues would be top priority in coming months, with a positive outcome expected as he believes he has the support of Ramaphosa in prioritising the issue. Added to this, Gigaba's tenure as Finance Minister has undoubtedly given him insight into South Africa's economy, "knowing very well that unless we do all sorts of smart things, we are not going to get economic growth."