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SSA Tourism welcomes the changes to the visa and travel documentation requirements that were recently announced by Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba. This is the foundation the tourism sector requires to boost international visits to our country.

Our tourism sector is very important for the country’s economy, and it needs to be nurtured for sustained inclusive growth.  Last year, about 10.2 million people visited South Africa and tourism outperformed other key industries in terms of job creation, adding just over 40 000 new jobs to the economy from 2012 to 2016.

According to a report from Stats SA, the tourism sector is a major job creator, employing more than 686 000 people in 2016, outnumbering utilities (118 000) and mining (444 000).  People working in tourism made up 4.4% of the South African formal and informal workforces, up from 3.8% in 2015, and this continues to rise.  Tourism already contributes about 8% of Africa’s GDP and employs 6.5% of the workforce – this equates to 700 000 jobs, a number President Cyril Ramaphosa is calling on us to double.

We are excited that he’s put tourism so firmly on our government’s agenda, and I believe that, together, we can all see this dream through.

"There is no reason we can’t double the number of tourism jobs in South Africa" - Sisa Ntshona, SA Tourism chief executive

In fact, we should be aiming higher, setting our sights on being one of the top 20 tourist destinations in the world, which would create millions of jobs. The recently concluded Jobs Summit, which was hosted by Ramaphosa, has further highlighted our responsibility towards creating employment opportunities in the industry. The announcement by the department of home affairs that restrictive visa requirements would be changed is the type of positive news the tourism industry will certainly capitalise on.

Crucially, the requirement that an unabridged birth certificate is produced for any children travelling, along with a parental consent letter if the child is not travelling with both parents, has been relaxed.

According to the new regulations, this is no longer a requirement for non-South African citizens, but is still “strongly recommended”.  This is extremely encouraging and will definitely contribute to more visitors coming to South Africa with their families.

China and India are markets that have the potential to be significant drivers of tourism in our country in the future.  Up until now, the visa requirements have made this market hard to exploit as potential travellers balked at needing to travel long distances to a South African consulate and apply for a visa in person.

We anticipate that the process, which will allow visitors to apply via courier and then have their biometric details captured on arrival in South Africa, will make South Africa far more attractive as a holiday destination.  We look forward to seeing an increased number of visitors from these important markets, both in the tourism and business spheres.

"Further encouraging news is the announcement of a pilot project regarding e-visas for New Zealand passport holders next year" - Ntshona

With technology being at the forefront of most industries, this is a step towards digitising the visa process, which will benefit the South African tourism industry in the long run.

We have long recognised that tourism from other African countries and intra-African travel is an important growth market and, indeed, more than 80% of tourist arrivals come from our five neighboring countries.

In this regard, increasing the number of African countries whose citizens can visit South Africa without requiring a visa will further cement intra-African travel and South Africa’s position as the gateway to and from Africa.  The inclusion of North African and Middle Eastern countries on this visa-free list will open up new markets for visitors who could find other competitor markets in Europe or the US, for example, more difficult to access.

On the business travel front, the introduction of 10-year, multiple-entry visas for business people from China and India will most likely significantly stimulate business travel and make South Africa a more attractive destination for academic and industry conferences, especially when the similar provision that will allow 10-year, multiple-entry visas for African academics and business people are considered.

With the commitment from the department of home affairs that these visas will be issued to Indian and Chinese nationals within five days of application, coupled with those countries’ strong interest in doing business and spending leisure time here, we expect a significant stimulus to trade and economic growth between the Brics group of countries.

Another positive change is the planned introduction of e-gates. We anticipate that this will significantly reduce queues and delays at points of entry, which travelers say are frustrating, particularly in peak periods.

Overall, we’re confident that the mooted changes will drive increased visitor numbers and a subsequent boost to the economy from a rise in tourist spending.

SA Tourism remains committed to working with all government departments to ensure South Africa remains an attractive and easily accessible destination for the people who visit our beautiful land.

Ntshona is CEO of SA Tourism

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