Tighter visa requirements a key factor in worst arrivals decline in 20 years
SOUTH Africa has lost about R1.6-billion in direct spend from foreign tourists in what has been described as the worst decline in international tourism in more than 20 years.
This is according to a tourism report released by accounting company Grant Thornton.
The company based its findings on national tourist figures for the first three months of this year.
The Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism Agency has warned of a possible effect on the metro’s tourism, which in 2013 saw more than half a billion rands pumped into businesses by foreign tourists.
The drop in foreign visitors comes in the wake of new laws requiring tourists to apply for visas in person at South African embassies abroad, as well as to have their biometric data captured.
Parents travelling in or out of the country with children aged 17 and under must have an unabridged birth certificate for each child, showing both parents’ details.
The visa section of the act came into effect in October, while the birth certificate requirement came into effect last month.
Tourism experts have hit at the regulations, saying they could cripple the country’s international tourism, causing a massive blow to the economy.
A report released in April by the Tourism Business Council of SA confirms the drop in numbers.
SA Tourism Update, an overseas and domestic tour operator newsletter, highlighted earlier this week that countries like Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Mozambique were also feeling the effect of the decline, which it attributed to the new regulations.
Grant Thornton advisory services director Lee-Anne Bac said the report showed a “bleak” decline in foreign tourist arrivals for the first quarter of the year.
The number is equivalent to 1 600 tourists – or four jumbo jets – a day.
“The 6% decline in foreign tourist arrivals equates to a loss of 150 000 tourists when compared with the same period last year,” she said. “A loss of this magnitude in foreign tourist arrivals is unprecedented. We have not seen such a dire decline in 21 years.”
Bac attributed the decline to several factors deterring tourists from travelling to South Africa, including the Ebola pandemic in West Africa, economic decline in some source countries and South Africa’s new immigration regulations.
She warned that this decline would force tourism owners to fight for the shrinking foreign tourism market.
“There will most definitely also be job losses, especially among niche tourism operators that focus on specific foreign tourism markets.”
Port Elizabeth tourism specialist Peter Myles said the basic principle of tourism was to make it as easy as possible for people to travel.
“The more difficult it is to get from one destination to another means the more likely it is that tourists will select another destination – there are many choices,” he said.
Boardwalk Casino and Entertainment World general manager Brett Hoppe said that China and India had been identified as Sun International’s growth market.
“Sun International’s 12-month forward bookings from July onward show that inbound tourists from China and India are 70% down,” he said.
“It is very worrying. Sun International identified these two countries as growth markets based on the previous increase in bookings. All of a sudden the market just dropped and we saw a sharp decline in bookings from inbound tourists from these countries.
“Various industry bodies are having meetings with the role players to discuss this.”
Hoppe highlighted that other countries were relaxing visa requirements while South Africa was tightening up. Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism chief executive Mandlakazi Skefile yesterday said that up-to-date figures relating to foreign tourists and financial losses for the Bay would only be released in September.
“We are not yet sure whether the loss affected Nelson Mandela Bay – we will only know after September.
“Should the numbers have decreased, this would have a negative effect on the tourism spend if the number of bed-nights are decreased as well,” she said.
For 2013-14, Skefile said, tourism was one of the highest contributors to the Bay, bringing in more than R522-million, which sustained more than 3 700 jobs.
Skefile said last year’s tourism occupancy survey had shown a drop since 2013.
The surveys indicate that 383 183 foreign bed-nights were sold last year, compared with 407 885 in 2013.
SANParks spokeswoman Fayroush Ludick said that while there had been a drop at three Eastern Cape parks, this was balanced by an increase in domestic tourists.
Comparative figures provided by Ludick for April to June last year and the same period this year show that the Addo Elephant and Mountain Zebra parks had a decrease in foreign visitors, while the Camdeboo Park had seen a slight rise.
However, the same period showed a rise in domestic tourists at all three parks.
“Even though we have had a decline in foreign tourism, domestic tourism figures are looking good – giving us an overall increase in visitor numbers.”