Statistics SA just released figures that show a 9% decrease in international tourist arrivals year on year, with the largest market decline being attributed to the Chinese market. The number of Chinese tourists decreased by a whopping 28%.
I am trying very hard not to yell “told you so”, because the industry did say that this is exactly what would happen as a result of the, quite frankly, ludicrous, immigration rules introduced in June this year. I refer specifically to the fact that, in addition to a passport, people travelling to South Africa with children are now required to produce an unabridged birth certificate in English, as well as a letter of consent from each parent, if they are not present. In addition, tourists applying for a visa need to apply in person.
Consider how difficult this is for Chinese tourists when there are only two South Africa High Commissions in China. It means travelling hundreds of kilometres at great cost. In some instances it costs in excess of R1000 for the unabridged birth certificate and its translation.
One can easily appreciate how this makes South Africa a less favourable leisure choice in most markets. It is logical that if you make it too difficult and too expensive for people to come to South Africa then they probably won’t. The world is spoilt for choice and we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.
When we raised objection to the legislation with a senior official at the Department of Home Affairs in Johannesburg some time back, he was quite adamant that the legislation was necessary, as South Africa needed to be seen to be doing something positive to counter “the scourge of child trafficking”. He explained how trafficking was at an unacceptably high level and that it was hoped that the additional requirements would act as a counter and discourage trafficking in South Africa. I then asked him whether he thought that immoral child traffickers would find it difficult to fake the additional documentation, if they had already managed to forge the children’s passports? He replied that that the measures weren’t perfect, but that they would be a deterrent.
I know that I am not alone when I say that I cannot see how this legislation is affecting anyone but honest travellers. I cannot understand why we can’t just take the biometrics of all children entering and exiting the country?
In a report by Grant Thornton consultants, it is estimated that the new requirements could cost the country more than R40 billion, and that 21 100 jobs are at risk nationally as a result of the new birth certificate requirements and an additional 80 100 jobs could be lost as a consequence of the new requirement to appear in person at an embassy to render biometrics.
I cannot fathom how Minister Malusi Gigaba hopes to defend this legislation in the context of our current growth rate and unemployment levels, particularly in view of the critical contribution that tourism is expected to make.
This unacceptable state of affairs has got to be fixed, or responsibility borne for the consequences.