Immigration reg debate rages on

Malusi+Gigaba+xxxThe face of Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba has become an all too familiar face of late as the furore around the immigration and visa regulations really begins to hot up.

This time, the Department of Home Affairs, which normally takes two months to hand over tourism and migration statistics to Statistics SA (which in turn takes about three months to interpret them), has managed to pull a rabbit out of a hat in a bid to counter the negative publicity questioning the logic of the recently introduced regulations.

The DHA astonishingly released the first three weeks of June tourist arrival statistics in a matter of a few days. At last! We’re dealing with some valid form of statistic, although in the DHA’s opinion the drop is “not as significant” as the tourism sector has “opportunistically” claimed and actually the economic decline and Ebola should also be examined as causes behind any downturn.

Let’s hope our inbound tourism colleagues continue to benefit from such a speedy tourism stats turnaround in future!

Meanwhile the outpouring of criticism against the regulations continues:

Cullinan Holdings CE Michael Tollman describes the situation as “no-win chaos”, while countries like Kenya and Mauritius reap the benefits of increased tourist arrivals from markets that South Africa is experiencing reduced demand from, like China.

And Gavin Tollman, global Travcorp CEO, in his most recent blogpost says the Government of South Africa has “remarkably and irresponsibly formed new laws, which will deter tourism, with total disregard to their consequence and without dialogue with the industry”. Gavin cites other nations that are investing in tourism and in fact simplifying their visa and immigration regulations to attract tourists. Yes, even security conscious countries like Australia and the USA seem to be able to balance their stringent security requirements with the economic imperatives of growing tourism.

Grant Thornton Report

The Grant Thornton report was released to the press this week in a briefing by the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) and has sparked a plethora of articles about the R4.1bn expected loss to South Africa’s economy as thousands of jobs are lost.

We’re even becoming infamous in the international press. Huffington Post reports that “South Africa’s tourism sector is in crisis” as the new regulations have prompted “dramatic falls in arrivals”, particularly from the world’s largest source of tourists: China. The number of Chinese visitors to South Africa has reportedly plunged 32% since last year.

The reports are also highlighting the concerns and confusion surrounding the “unclear and ambiguous” regulations because there is no specification around which documents are required. To add to the confusion, the Department of Home Affairs has now released a sixth version of its Standard Operating Procedures without highlighting what’s actually changed.

In Social Media, the debate falls largely into two camps: “Tourism and Travel stakeholders are being insensitive and are more interested in their pockets than in the safety of our children” vs “The DHA’s regulations are illogical and will have dire consequences not only on the industry, but also the country’s economy.”

visa regulations    Twitter Search

visa regulations    Twitter Search

For now, as an outbound travel sector, it is more difficult than it has been for the inbound tourism sector to quantify the actual impact seen in our businesses. We do not have government-issued departure statistics that would clearly define any economic impact.

ASATA will be releasing a survey next week to our members to try and quantify just how significant an effect the requirement for unabridged birth certificates has had on South African families’ appetite to travel. We encourage you all to participate so that we have concrete statistics to define the extent of the issue and to continue our efforts to find a solution that balances South Africa’s need to guard against the scourge of child trafficking with the need to grow tourism and travel’s contribution to the economy.

Join us in our call for #nobirthcerts!