South Africa to overhaul visa rules after tourism slump

Embarkation officers with the Superstar Virgo helping to arrange passports by nationality.
Embarkation officers with the Superstar Virgo helping to arrange passports by nationality.ST FILE PHOTO

JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - South Africa said on Friday (Oct 23) it will overhaul its controversial new visa regulations after the tourist arrivals fell by six per cent earlier this year, the biggest decline in six years.

Introduced in June, the new rules demanded that visitors apply for visas in person at South African embassies to have their biometric information taken.

But after months of digging in its heels, the Department of Home Affairs has announced it would ease these restrictions.

"In countries where there is no South African mission, the Department of Home Affairs will receive applications, including by post, and capture biometrics of travellers on arrival at ports of entry," the government's statement said.

"To address concerns around the geographical spread of countries like China, India and Russia, certain measures will be put in place to ease the process of application, in particular for tourists."

The decision comes after President Jacob Zuma established a committee in August to investigate reports that the tourism industry had been badly impacted by the change.

Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom said in July figures for the first quarter of the year showed a "worrying drop".

According to Statistic South Africa, tourists from China decreased by 38 per cent in the first quarter compared with the previous period in 2014. India was down by 13 per cent.

The six-per cent decline in overall tourist arrivals was the biggest fall since 2009 at the height of the global financial crisis.

The regulations still require children from non-visa-exempt countries to travel with unabridged birth certificates in addition to their passports when entering or leaving the country.

The rule has caused widespread confusion, but Home Affairs has strongly defended the measure as necessary in the fight against child trafficking.

The department is also considering the introduction of long-term multiple entry visas for frequent travellers.

South Africa is one of the leading tourism destinations in Africa, with officials aiming to attract 12 million international tourists by 2018.