What not to do
JB Cronjé, tralac Researcher, comments on recent developments in the South African tourism industry
The South African Reserve Bank recently released its Second Quarterly Economic Review of 2015 indicating that despite a weaker currency, which would normally make the country a more attractive destination, the tourism sector recorded a decline in numbers and expenditure. According to the Bank, “tourist spending accounts for almost 95 per cent of the ‘travel receipts’ item, the largest revenue component in the services account of South Africa’s balance of payments”. The balance of payment statement provides a comprehensive record of transactions between residents and non-residents of an economy for a given period. Tourism and business travel are significant foreign exchange earners especially during a time of continued declines in the international prices of South African export commodities.
Over the past four years the number of tourist arrivals showed a steady increase amid the continued weakening of the Rand. However, the rate of increase in travel receipts showed a notable decrease during the first half of the year when compared to the same period in the previous year. According to the Bank, the main reasons for the decline in tourist numbers could be ascribed to “new legislation requiring that visitors travelling with a minor should be in possession of an unabridged birth certificate from 1 June 2015. The capturing of biometric data, including a personal appearance when applying for a visa to visit South Africa, was already introduced at an earlier stage”. In response to the criticism the Minister of Home Affairs responsible for the controversial legislation reportedly said “That the number of travellers dropped because of the new visa regulations is always an opinion. And the Reserve Bank is entitled to its opinion and also entitled to be wrong.” A few days later, a report by Statistics South Africa, confirmed (based on data obtained from the Department of Home Affairs) the detrimental effect of the legislation on tourist arrivals, especially individuals younger than 18 years, since its implementation.
The new legislation, which has been implemented in phases since its publication in May 2014, intends to protect minors from human traffickers and the country from criminals that threaten national security. Since late 2014, prospective travellers from countries not exempt from visas, including BRICS partners India, China and Russia, must apply for a visa in person at a South African mission or consulate abroad and have their biometric data captured there. This has been particularly concerning for travellers from geographically vast countries such as China and India where the country has few representative offices. In effect, prospective travellers from these countries must incur additional costs to visit the nearest South African mission in order to secure a visa. Forward-looking countries install biometric scanners at their ports of entry and obtain the required data on arrival in order to remain welcoming tourist destinations. This is because they know travellers view visa application processes as an inconvenience. When the cost or hassle of obtaining a visa exceeds a certain threshold, travellers are deterred from travelling to that particular destination.
The other legislative change affecting the South African tourism industry is the requirement for all minors travelling to or from the country to be in possession of a birth certificate in addition to a valid travel document and visa, where required. This requirement applies in all cases where a child is travelling with one or both parents, a third party adult or unaccompanied. The objective of this requirement is to combat child trafficking. In June 2015 the Minister of Home Affairs said in response to a parliamentary question that only 23 instances of child trafficking have been recorded over the past six financial years. Child abduction is a global problem but international efforts to prevent it do not include the presentation of birth certificates in addition to travel documents. Birth certificates are not valid travel documents and many countries do not even issue them. Consent from one or both parents is normally sufficient.
Despite numerous efforts from representatives of the travel and accommodation sectors including the Minister of Tourism to advise the Minister of Home Affairs about the negative consequences of the regulation, even before its adoption, he has obstinately gone ahead to implement it. As early as February 2015, the State President announced in the State of the Nation Address to “prioritise the review of visa regulations to strike a balance between national security and growth in tourism.” A few months later in June 2015, the government announced in a Cabinet Statement the formation of an inter-ministerial team “to address the unintended consequences brought about by the implementation of this regulations”.
The “unintended” but not unforeseen consequences of the ill-conceived regulation could have been avoided had regulatory impact assessments been conducted during the early stages of its formulation. Cost benefit analysis would have considered the welfare impacts of the regulation. These regulations will not deter persons with ulterior motives from finding loopholes to cross the country’s notoriously porous land borders. A more nuanced approach is needed to balance the need for a thriving tourism sector between national safety concerns and the risk of child abduction. Currently, the economic cost caused by the regulations far outweighs any potential benefits. Urgent action is needed.
Statistics South Africa, 2015. Tourism and Migration: June 2015. http://www.statssa.gov.za/publications/P0351/P0351June2015.pdf
SARB, 2015. Quarterly Bulletin: September 2015. https://www.resbank.co.za/Lists/News%20and%20Publications/Attachments/6883/01Full%20Quarterly%20Bulletin%20%E2%80%93%20September%202015.pdf
Donnelly, L, 2015. Malusi Gigaba hits back at visa regulation critics in Mail and Guardian, 28 September 2015: http://mg.co.za/article/2015-09-28-malusi-gigaba-hits-back-at-visa-regulation-critics