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Home Affairs vs Tourism… battle lines drawn!

The battle lines have finally been drawn in public between the Departments of Home Affairs and Tourism, and this time the debate is whirling around the job losses that the new immigration regulations will likely cause for the South African economy.

The latest Tourism Business Index of the Tourism Business Council of SA business performance levels indicate that business performance levels across the tourism value chain have dropped from 99.9 points in the first quarter to 83.6 points in the second quarter, the lowest performance level since the third quarter of 2011. The drop is largely due to the impact of new visa regulations on overseas tourists, especially those sourced from China and India. President Zuma promised a review of the regulations in February, but as yet there has been no public announcement of any change to the regulations.

Grant Thornton Advisory Services, cited in the Times, says R1.6bn has already been lost in the first quarter. “This is really a catastrophe — we haven’t experienced this decline in tourism in the past 21 years,” said Lee-Anne Bac, a partner and director at the company. “It’s such an important industry to our economy — it creates jobs, it’s an easy entry for entrepreneurship and it is dominated by small business. It’s a key part of the growth potential of our economy, and we are giving it away to our competitors.”

TBCSA CEO Mmatsatsi Ramawela says: “Hotel rooms are empty, jobs are on the line. The long-term effect will be irreparable for South Africa if we do not come up soon with a solution which both protects South Africa’s security and the industry — it would be devastating.”

This week, the opposition DA called on Home Minister Malusi Gigaba to take heed of the private sector’s concerns regarding the decline in tourist numbers. Beverley Schäfer, DA Western Cape spokesperson on economic opportunities, tourism and agriculture, said: “These [visa] regulations can potentially destroy 22 000 jobs, split families and prevent people from entering SA that could positively contribute to our economy.”

Schäfer is reported have said: “The goal in the National Development Plan (NDP) is to create an additional one million jobs in the tourism sector, which Minister Gigaba has put at risk in his refusal to back down and his department’s recent denial of a negative impact on tourism.”

Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom has also finally added his voice to the furore this week saying he was worried about the impact the regulations were having on the tourism industry. Minister Hanekom said the number of visitors from China had dropped by nearly 40% and the picture for other markets was similar. He also questioned Gigaba’s basis for imposing these regulations during an interview on Radio 702.

Minister Gigaba hit back almost immediately saying he found it “offensive” that the tourism industry was placing profits above children, also criticising Minister Hanekom for going outside normal cabinet procedures.

And so the battle ensues…