Opinion Piece by James Vos MP
Shadow Minister of Tourism
[Extracts from speech delivered during the Budget Review and Recommendations debate in Parliament – 3 November 2016]
For the last two years Derek Hanekom has remained hopeful that the visa regulations would change in favour of tourism – this all while arrival figures plummeted and revenue was lost. In real terms the tourism industry has suffered a loss of R7,5 billion as a result of these disastrous regulations.
Clearly he has not done enough. Ultimately it was his job as Tourism Minister to safeguard the tourism sector from ill-conceived legislation and regulations and to ensure that the industry prospers from initiatives that drive demand.
In stark contrast to this, I submitted countless motions and submissions in Parliament appealing for the regulations to be changed by scrapping the Unabridged Birth Certificate (UBC) requirement and implementing e-visas, which will streamline tourism facilitation, reduce turnaround time and make visa applications safer and more reliable.
The use of unabridged birth certificates with the purpose of curbing child trafficking is ill-conceived. A birth certificate is not the most secure identification document. Rather, it is a breeder document to obtain a more secure travel document: a passport. Children who travel internationally should have a passport, or they should have been included in the passport of parents. Passports are made according to ICAO standards; there are no international standards for the security of birth certificates.
The fighting of child trafficking could be done more effectively at a fraction of the tourist – and government – revenue that now is being lost. South Africa sets an unfortunate example, just recently followed by Botswana, a country that should diversify its economy away from mining and towards services including tourism (e.g. as per World Bank reports). The same, on a larger scale, applies to South Africa.
To fully comprehend the impact of these regulations as it stands, the drop in total tourist revenue from 2014 to 2015, when 2015 revenue should have been $9,348 million plus 1% = $ 9,450 million. In reality UNWTO gives $8,235 million, implying a drop of $1,215 million, at 12.76 ZAR/USD average over 2015 = 15.5 billion Rand.
Given that the festive season is around the corner, which brings thousands of tourists to our country, urgent interventions are required to deal with the debacle currently unfolding at our airports as points of entry.
As if the UBCs were not hindering South African tourism enough, the following worrying statistics caused by a lack for properly trained immigration officers at OR Tambo for the period 1-18 October 2016:
• Visitors stand in line at immigration at peak times for between 90 minutes to 4 hours;
• 24 domestic and 9 international flight were delayed; and
• On average, only 40% of International Migration Services (IMS) counters are manned.
• 800 passengers have missed connecting flights due to the delays;
Due to these missed connections, airlines lost an estimated R1.6 million over this 18 day period. Clearly, our immigration office is underequipped and understaffed, costing our tourism sector and economy millions.
I have now received the statistics related to the number of counters at ORTIA and the staffing levels. They are as follows:
• International Arrivals – only 18 of the 43counters have the biometric system.
• CTB (Central Terminal Building) – only 5 out of 15 counters have a Biometric system,
• Transit – only 4 out of 9 have the Biometric system (linked to doing biometrics, this has done away with the transit visa requirement).
In total there are 35 biometric systems at ORTIA out of a total of 85 processing points within the terminal; in other words there are only 41% of the counters operational. This is simply unacceptable considering that our airports are major points of entry that should display our capability as a destination of choice for travel and trade. Without any further delay, more should be done to prepare our immigration offices for the influx of tourists expected during the festive season by implementing measures to ensure that additional points are operational.
The decrease in tourist arrivals and loss in much needed revenue will inevitably have enormous consequences for the tourism sector in South Africa. There is a real risk that we could lose jobs if these regulations are not changed.
According to the TBCSA, every 12 tourists coming to our country creates 1 job. The tourism industry contributes 9% of our GDP and employs 1.5 million South Africans. Its growth and success is vital to growing our economy and creating jobs for the 36% of South Africans who cannot find work.
A number of South African tour operators have indicated, on the record, that they have experienced significant reductions and cancellations in tourist arrivals. To first hand hear from those affected by these regulations, I have engaged many role-players in the hospitality industry and tour operators to find out what the impacts are in real terms and what should be done to remedy the situation. It is becoming clear that these regulations are discouraging tourists from coming to our country and therefore seeking destinations with simpler travel requirements.
The tourism industry is adding more jobs to the economy than mining, agriculture, manufacturing and trade. Yet the Deputy President and Minister of Home Affairs refuse to engage in exploiting this potential.
We will continue to push government to act in the best interest of South Africa by ensuring that visitors to our country are welcomed in an efficient and competent manner.