Picture: SUPPLIED
Picture: SUPPLIED

The competitiveness of SA’s tourism sector is still being weighed down by confusion over the travel requirements for children, the visa regime for visitors from certain countries, as well as concerns over safety, which could intensify following recent xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals. 

This is according to David Frost, CEO of the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (Satsa), who was responding to the most recent tourism and migration data released by Stats SA. The agency reported on Monday that the number of arrivals and departures for foreign visitors and South Africans declined in July 2019 from the corresponding figure in July 2018. 

Overall, foreign travel arrivals have declined 5% on an annual basis, according to the agency’s latest data on tourism and migration, while arrivals and departures for South Africans declined 11.8% and 11.6% respectively.

The number of tourists from nine of the top 10 countries accounting for the bulk of overseas tourists to SA in July declined.

The 10, which make up 74% of overseas tourists to SA, are the US, the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Australia, China, Brazil, India and Belgium. China led the declines, with visitors falling 21.3%, with only the Netherlands seeing an increase (of 6.3%). 

When it comes to Southern African Development Community (Sadc) countries, tourists from six of the 10 leading regional countries — Lesotho, Namibia, Zambia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Botswana — declined year on year. Tourist numbers for the remaining four — Angola, Tanzania, Malawi and Swaziland — increased.

Though the visa regime is being eased with the introduction of e-visas for certain markets, a great deal still needs to be done in this regard for SA to be viewed as a destination that is easy to visit, Frost said.

There is also still confusion surrounding the requirement for unabridged birth certificates for travelling minors, which are still required in some instances, he said. 

In April the home affairs department moved to clarify its advisory on the travel requirements for children moving through SA ports of entry. In some cases, however, such as a child travelling with one parent, a birth certificate or equivalent document may still be required. 

“We are encouraged by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s stated intent to improve the red tape surrounding visa issuing, but in reality the actions taken have been slow and not widespread enough,” said Frost. 

Key markets such as China and India, and even a high-spending African market such as Nigeria, are still greatly affected by restrictive visa regimes or lack of capacity at foreign missions to issue visas, he said. 

Negative international reporting about the safety and security of tourists has become heightened in recent months after the deployment of soldiers on the Cape Flats and the xenophobic attacks in Gauteng, Frost said.  

It was still too soon for Satsa to forecast the extent to which concerns about xenophobia and crime were affecting tourist numbers, Frost said. However, this concern was “one of the single biggest threats to SA’s tourism sector”.  

donnellyl@businesslive.co.za